Creature of habit


The world is telling me I have become a creature of habit. It started innocently enough this morning, when Sainsbury's sent me £1-off vouchers. I noticed that they were all for things I buy. No meat products, for example. Clearly they have targeted me according to what they see me buying after swiping my Nectar card. I thought no more of it. Then, a little later, up the High Street, I walked into Percy Ingle's. I have been avoiding it for a few days because the last time I was in there the plump girl behind the counter had had a bet with the other girl that this customer would want a vegetable pasty. I had started going to Ingle's in the first place because the woman at Greggs down the road whenever I walked in would say before I'd even said what I wanted: 'Got none hot, got some cold if you want.' Then today at Ingle's the same plump girl, who I think fancies me the way she smiles, and I could probably give her one, thought it amusing to put a vegetable pasty into a paper bag before even looking at me. Now this is all very pleasant, and yet, I'm also not too keen on my behaviour being tracked, even in such harmless ways.

There are certain shops where I only buy one thing, always the same thing. Next door to Ingle's there is a Muslim shop that sells spices that has a goldfinch singing alone in a small cage that I feel sorry for, though he sings beautifully, and here I only ever buy Patak's Chilli Pickle. I used to go to a Turkish shop at the end of the High Street to get this but for some unaccountable reason they stopped stocking it, despite many conversations with till-girls about how good it is. So now I go to the shop where Muslims stand around talking about jihad and occasionally look up at the goldfinch sitting in his cage high up on top of sacks of rice. I don't mind this shop. I quite like foreigners who want to remain foreigners, even better if their English isn't very good. I prefer strangers keeping their distance to bonhomie over my liking for vegetable pasties. This is why in my later years I will probably live in a place where hardly anyone speaks English and coconut is in everything.

On the way back home there's a newsagent where on warm afternoons like today I only ever buy a Solero, and not just any old Solero, it must be a Solero Exotic. One day I went in there and was looking in the freezer and the man who owns the shop, a Pakistani, shouted from the back, 'Out of Solero.' I thought, oh god here we go again. This is a shop I returned to this summer after an absence of 7 years. Because 7 years ago I went in and bought a top-shelf magazine. I think it was Asian Babes. Then I just couldn't face going in there again. Walking down the road after the Solero incident I thought to myself: he knows, he knows the Solero man is the Asian Babes man. O God.

By the time I've munched my way through the Solero I am by the shop where I only ever buy Mini-Cheddars, also run by a Pakistani. Boy have I had some conversations about Mini-Cheddars in there. I even affected his pricing policy when I noticed one week's Mini-Cheddar bags were a bit smaller than his usual Mini-Cheddars. He knew of course, in fact they looked to me like they might have come from opening up one of those economy bags containing a dozen or so individual bags smaller than normal retail size. So he introduced a dual-pricing system for his Mini-Cheddars. But I don't go in there when he has the wrong size, I wait until he's got rid of them all.

So today I walked by, I have a good idea how long it takes for a delivery of Mini-Cheddars to go down. Instead I carried the wooden paddle from my fully eaten Solero the dozen paces to the bin outside the infant school where I always deposit my ice-cream litter when coming home drunk in the rain and the thought struck me: what a creature of habit I have become (thoughts often strike me at exactly this point, possibly because it is a good mulling length away from my front door). And so I took my notebook from my top pocket and made a note to write something on it when I got back in, just as the old man with one tooth missing was walking by with his aged Cocker Spaniel, who I must have walked by many times while making a note in my notebook about something I want to write, so many times he must think I am making notes on him, or maybe I am making notes on everybody in the world.

I am one of those people who will just stop and stand there in the street, making notes on thoughts going through his head. Except in Hackney, I don't do it in Hackney. Or Stoke Newington. Even though it ought to be obvious I am just a crazy bum writing his autobiography on the pavement, I do become self-conscious that my notebook is a bit copper-like and the mere action of getting it out and writing like that can be a subliminal trigger in certain areas. It's surprising how this action works. For instance, once I was stopped by a policeman for doing nothing, and he took out his notebook to take down some details about me. And without thinking I took out my notebook to take down some details about him and he was completely freaked by it. Useful lesson, I thought. So I always take my notebook out now when I want to exert authority in a tight spot. Once I stopped in the street to jot down a passing thought and a man rushed out of his house thinking I was a plain-clothes traffic warden booking his car. A plain-clothes traffic warden, I ask you, how stupid is that? Of course, he himself felt a bit of an idiot trying to explain himself away to a guy in a big tramp-coat with two-days beard growth when it dawned on him I was just a guy writing his autobiography in the street and was not the slightest bit interested in his car. People respond to the action, if it is done well enough you can block from their eyes everything else about you. People are easy to control. This is basic occult science.

Back to single-item shopping. I have not even mentioned the shop at the Tube station where, when I am buying my ticket, I always buy a packet of Polo mints. What if, tomorrow, I do none of these habitual things again, as a deliberate stance? What power will that give me for such a minimal expenditure of energy? These habits are like pegs holding down a hot air balloon. Soon, I expect I will tear free and float off into the stratosphere with a new idea I've had, but for now I allow myself to be defined and circumscribed by a set of habits. There is nothing wrong with habit, but sometimes the world wants to show you the groove you are following, your monorail life. And, with shared amusement, quietly lever you out of it to take on new habits more appropriate to who you are going to become now. Just another after-effect of my recent 'Jupiter return', when Jupiter delves its expansive fingers not only into the big themes of your life but also into the smallest ones too, if you have a keen enough eye to see it. You can think you have an expanded consciousness for years, then it expands some more, and it's hard to be who you were before, not even habits are immune to the perception of the degree to which one has become robotic, you, who was never robotic, who rebelled from your earliest years against robothood.

And you look around, and think, if even I was so robotic, albeit in small ways, then what about all these other people around here, and you think, not only are their lives programmed, but they are programmable. I've noticed it many times, how easy it is to influence their behaviour by small nuances I might perform, or certain words I might say. Control words, let it be said plainly. And today, I am at the top of my game, I have removed my own residual programs and am ready to go. This is it, what are you waiting for? Let's go. And the chameleon calmly and precisely moves onto a different backdrop. For a moment, you catch a glimmer of the change out of the corner of your eye, and then it is absorbed again and cannot be seen. It is as if nothing has happened. But you're no longer over there now, you're over here. Watching, waiting, planning, quietly lifting off…