ROBERT MCNEIL: I have found the best place to break away from familiar habits

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We are such creatures of habit. And not just you, madam. Me tae. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

We don’t like to get in a rut, of course. But a routine can be soothing to the soul, particularly if we are talking about something not too demanding.

I will be quite candid with you here and confess that I don’t think going out for a cup of tea is too demanding. Yes, shockingly, this is the new habit that I have acquired.

I am living temporarily in a strange place. Not that it is strange in and of itself. But it is strange to me. There isn’t a hill nearby for me to walk on so I got into the habit of hieing myself into town where I did another strange thing. I bought a book. From a bookshop.

Yes! Enough of Amazon! I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed browsing and seeing all the latest paperbacks laid out on tables. I spent a happy half-hour in that place and, indeed, bought not just one but two books on a special offer.

My main choice was The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, which is a retelling of events in the Iliad from a woman’s point of view. It’s all Greek to me but a wonderful read all the same, wearing its knowledge lightly and confirming my suspicions about Achilles. Man was a heel.

Unlike the lovely young sales persons in the shop. They’re always so pleasant nowadays. People of my generation who held such jobs in the past were nearly always surly. Such a nice younger generation today, at least in shops and restaurants, which I think has much to do with American ideas of service.

But I digress. Having made my purchase, I waddled furth to a nearby department store wherein I like to potter, sitting on the comfy chairs and watching the huge tellies. In that store, I decided to have a pot of peppermint tea (something I have had to stop asking for due to various verbal accidents; I just request peppermint tea now) and a scone in its cafe.

I’m not really a habitué of coffee shops per se, as I don’t know what to ask for and find the cakes beyond the ken of normal men. The steaming machines are too noisy and the tables not always too clean.

But this place was more sensible. It had a canteen feel, which I like. No muzak. Mainly middle-aged female clientele. All a bit Victoria Wood, I guess, but that’s just fine by me. Just the right side of genteel, I’d say. In this place of peace and subdued slurping, I read my book, ate my scone and drank my tea, in preference to reading my tea, drinking my scone and eating my book.

Next day, I went back and did the same thing, and I’ve been back pretty much every day or every other day since, though I now eschew the scone, which is a shame, but we cannot all be sybarites.

The main thing is it’s something to look forward to. And this is my point: we all need little things like this, something to take us out of ourselves – which is the best place for us to be.

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