The brick wall

This is the way we do things here.

This is the way it is done.

This is the brick wall we learn to love because we live with it, day in, day out.

This brick wall is home: it is that special way the table is laid; it is getting from A to B in minimal time; the way a pack lunch is made and what hour it is eaten; the temperature of the bath water and the decision when to towel dry; the date of the spring clean; and the assignment of food types to days of the week, for example, fish on friday, and the roast on sunday.

Parents die and the house is sold; only the wall remains.

This is the way we do things here.

This is the way it is done.

This is the way it has always been done.

I guess I like horror stories and survival stories because you get to see the characters outside of the narrow confines we all impose on the world. The wall is broken down. Uncle is swallowed whole by the Manta beast as he is polishing his prize collection of  cricket bats, the  same ones he polishes every Sunday. The bath mat that should have been washed last week is forgotten as the zombie hordes descend, and everything is definitely not as it should be.

The best walls are in a state of disrepair, or pulled down piece by piece.

We cling to these habits because they make us believe we are continuing a tradition but they aren’t always very practical.

Grandfather Joe may have squirted lighter fluid onto the barbecue to get it started but it don’t mean you have to. Not all picnics have to come out of hampers, though Auntie Sue, thought hers was quite fancy. Napkins are not mandatory. Toilets and carpeting are not like strawberries and cream. Dinner time is not a fixed hour and a table that can comfortably seat four is an accessory not a designated meeting point.

The wall is make-believe.

Every person has this desire for order because the reality of  chaos and sudden death that surround us make it necessary to  survive. If you want to fry your breakfast on your car bonnet, go to work in a balsa wood suit, or eat your dinner out of the sink there is nothing to stop you apart from convention, circumstances, and the danger of becoming a social pariah.

These routines enable us to live our lives without frequent rest stops in prisons and psychiatric wards  but they are also really annoying. If a person is fixed on a way of doing things there isn’t much that’s going to stop them except a time machine and a carefully thought out dose of Skinnerian conditioning. Indeed, there are moments in life when the only option is to step aside so the other person can do exactly what they were going to do anyway.

And all this because family members – out of choice or necessity – got stuck in a rut. This is the way we get close to them – by repeating the worn-out habits. To quote Johnny Thunders, who himself took the line from the “Better living through TV” episode of the US sitcom, The Honeymooners: “You can’t put your arms around a memory.”

That’s right – once those old-timers done kick the bucket, you´ll be left with all your absurd rules. It’ll just be you and the brick wall, baby.

And like a memory,  you can’t put your arm around a brick wall. But we all know you’re going to try, because it’s what we do every day of our lives.

Imagine a family made of brick all lined up together to make giant wall.  Ain’t they just the cutest?

At heart I am a Pavlovian. Salivating dogs and bells are not a world away from the way we all respond to the world. The main distinction, I guess, is they act from instinct to the stimuli they receive and we use a select set of responses to achieve agreed outcomes. They also look pretty cute in bow-ties.

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