29 February 2016


The more I watch the US sitcom The Big Bang Theory, the more I find myself relating to Dr Sheldon Cooper's quirks.

For those who aren't familiar with the show, it focusses on the lives of four scientist friends - including Sheldon - who are all afflicted by varying degrees of social inadequacy. Although his behaviours are never named, he displays not only obsessive-compulsive tendencies, but also traits common to those on the autistic spectrum.

One episode that I particularly identify with is The Werewolf Transformation, which is about his adherence to routine. This all unravels when his regular barber is taken ill and is unavailable to give him his scheduled haircut.

What upsets Sheldon most is that his routines are designed to prevent a descent into chaos, yet this disruption to his plans doesn't have any dire consequences. 

'I have spent my whole life trying to bring order to the universe, by carefully planning every moment of every day,' he tells his friend, Penny. Now, he fears, he has been wasting his time.

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography
To a degree, of course, we all find routines comforting and it can be unsettling when they break down, whether they were seemingly ordinary activities or something rather more special. 

My boyfriend and I used to celebrate Bonfire Night with the same friends every year, enjoying drinks, dinner and a firework display in their garden. Until the year we woke in the early hours of the following morning to find their neighbours' shed on fire. 

Although the neighbours blamed the electrics, our guilt-ridden hostess attributed the blaze to one of our rockets and swore never to light another firework - and that was it, the sudden death of a fun-filled tradition that I'd thought we would carry on forever.

It may not even be our own routines that we miss when they change. I've lived in my flat for 21 years and so have become accustomed to my neighbour's patterns of behaviour and have been quite upset when various people have moved on.

When the elderly couple opposite left, oh, how I missed their over-the-top Christmas lights that signalled the start of the festive season and welcomed me home like a beacon on dark December evenings. When the new residents, in turn, moved out, I missed their cat for weeks afterwards - I was so used to seeing it in the living room window.

There is still the comfort of the familiar all around, however, such the barking of a neighbour's excitable dog as she heads out for her evening walk and the jangle of the rag and bone man's bell as he drives down our street every Monday morning. 

And now I have a new neighbour across the road, who is a night owl like me - probably because he's an astrophysicist. We've never spoken, but I feel a strange companionship when I look over and see him working at his computer late at night. 

Perhaps, in the end, that's why these routines are so significant: they don't just provide stability in our lives, but also a connection to the world around us. Even those that seem mundane or peripheral to our existence play their part, though you may not realise how important they were until they're gone.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Helen.......We are all so disconnected from each other in so many ways these days, that I think you're right. Our routines and connections to others, no matter how seemingly unimportant, give us comfort and stability.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, ocdtalk. I only came to this realisation during the second draft of this post. Sometimes I don't know where my posts will lead me when I start them!