Looking back now as I do over a span of eighty years, I cannot but conclude that from my earliest days and memories of all manner of folk, I have been richly blessed. I grew up to ever look around for “sign posts” and ways forward. An old schoolteacher’s ‘advice’ (a word which incidentally he seldom ever used, “Lest one day” as he put it, “Someone might take it”) of learning something new each day and then working out how to apply it, was wise counsel. I do however, with equal candour have to confess that I did not come smoothly and uneventfully to that conclusion, especially in earlier days.
Another old mentor of “blessed memory” (that is when, as a boy from the Fens and now a raw university undergraduate, I could decipher his Aberdeenshire accent) once said to me, “It’s no’ within your remit laddie ta dae people’s thinking for them. It’s a bit like entering yon room ben (in) the hoose (house), which is aye in a guddle” (a mess or untidy state) frae every creeshie and glaury rag aboot the place”. (The kind of room into which, possibly, clothes for washing and every item temporarily out of use, is stored). “They need posits and pegs, but ‘tis thae that need ta dae the toil and the hinging”. In words of plain English, by all means support and encourage; not on the basis of “if I were you” or even, “let me…” but by tentatively suggesting an outline plan, complete with “pegs to hang one’s thoughts on”.
Every one needs a routine in life, which is flexible, adaptable and reliable. One of the very first remembrances I have is of the way in which each day had its special place and meaning in the week’s activities. Indeed, each day seemed somehow for me, to be characterised and differentiated by, among other attributes, colour. For example in those days, Monday, i.e. washday, was a deep (what as a child I remember thinking of as “boiler suit” blue). In my childhood, it was a day entailing steamy boilers, dolly tubs, poshas• and huge wooden-rollered mangles, whilst the evening air seemed ever filled with that all-pervading aroma of steam, as clothes and other items were pressed with an old-fashioned flat iron.
It all seemed somehow to possess its own very distinctive imprint, which even today can, in an inkling, fill the mind with images and memories of days long ago (which often – Mondays especially – I wished I could have just ‘slept straight through’). Tuesdays were a mid-green day, during which a welcome sense of comparative calm and order seemed to be returning to the entire homestead. Wednesday was a bright-ish yellow day, a happy and active colour (it being market day) and so on. Sometimes when we had visitors, or perhaps in midwinter, when my mother – to our great relief – decided to ‘skip’ wash day and “just rinse a few things through” as she would put it, the colour was still blue but now of a brighter and lighter variety. Thursday was a mid-brown day; Friday pink; Saturdays were orange and Sundays, red. (and should you be tempted to think me somewhat “unhinged” for including this chapter of my blog at all, I can only respond:”Be my guest”!)
Similarly, we all need to acquire a familiar ‘feel’ or pattern or trend, on which we can rely as a sound basis for prediction. In short, we need a routine, in the form of a daily agenda. We rise, shower, dress, have breakfast, go to work or whatever, maybe we have a mid-morning cuppa, followed by more work, lunch and so on. Another mentor of days long gone, used to refer to routine as “that daily ‘coat-hanger’, which gives shape and meaning to the day”; a kind of skeleton if you like, of which, our task is to put “the meat on the bones”. I have been interested to learn from G.P. colleagues, how it is that patients reporting depressed mood (which, as later we shall see is not quite the same thing as depression) tends toward a notable increase between Christmas and the first week in January. In my next blog I will continue somewhat on this same theme , including a brief exploration into the meaning and worth of familiarity and routine.