The more I age, the more I am realising that I am becoming a creature of habit – if I haven’t arrived there already.
Of course, working for a living generates its own creature-of-habit routines – up at seven, feed the hens, take the hound for a walk, wait for the bowel movement, feed the wee bugger etc. No, I’m talking about the habits that we establish and partake of when we’re in our free time and we’ve moved beyond merely going through the motions.
For me, this might be an espresso and a KitKat at precisely 3pm on a Saturday afternoon after the weekend jobs have finally been completed. It might be reading a book for an hour before bed. It might be an Our Father and Three Hail Marys before the match. It might even be something as mundane as a walk on a Sunday evening as I’m mentally attempting to hold Monday at bay. Increasingly – and this is no word of a lie – I experience déjà vu during the weekend, even when I’m trying to enjoy my espresso and KitKat. Didn’t I do this before? Of course you did, clown. You did it this time last week – and the week before.
It’s not that I find that there’s much wrong with being a creature of habit; there is a certain comfort of familiarity to be had from knowing what’s around the corner, what to anticipate and what to look forward to. But rather, I remember what it was like to be impulsive from time to time – that weekend away to Galway at the drop of a hat; a Bloody Mary party on a Wednesday night for the craic; two Kitkats instead of one (calm down).
And then I look at Waffle and I wonder if I might learn something from the way he spends his time. In contradiction, Waffle is both a creature of habit and an impulsive fool. Every time I light the fire, he will appear by my side excited and wagging, expecting a few scratches behind the ears. Every time I open the freezer door he bounds over looking for an ice-cube to crunch on. And every time I open a beer, he will appear, knowing – or at least suspecting – that my mood might evolve into a sympathy for yet more playful scratches.
These are the incidences where Waffle can be counted on to behave exactly in the same manner, although these are routines which have less to do with me and more to do with him looking for that comfort in familiarity.
Then there are other times when he acts on impulse, when instinct takes over and which normally means him riding roughshod over the house rules.
Some time ago, one of the weekly forays into town resulted in a new gift for Waffle: A rubber chewy bone. Green and purple in colour and squeaky in nature, I have lost count of the number of times I have taken that bone off him and fired it as far as away as I could; the persistent squeaking tended to grate after a while. Undeterred, Creature of Habit Waffle will return with his bone every evening and toss it at my feet. If I ignore him (which I often do), he picks it up again and then re-tosses it at my feet. Depending on the form at any given time, I might crack and decide to play a game of fetch or conversely, I might crack and tell him where to go. This latter eventuality might result in Waffle curling up at my feet and commencing a bone-chewing marathon – with all the squeak-ity-squeaks that will entail. Or, more recently, Mr Impulsive Waffle has taken to playing with himself (and his bone). This game involves him tossing the bone into the air and then trying to catch it, failing, picking it up and then throwing it into the air again. To change things up, he has also taken to rolling on the bone and snarling at it, as if fending off an imaginary attack and then sometimes, galloping from room to room like a ruddy horse, the bone between his teeth, as if in a game of self-fetch.
The downside of these antics for me (and Mr Impulsive Waffle) is that the squeaky bone tends to squeak a lot and eventually I will crack once more, wrest it from his toothy grip and fire it out the door.
As the result of one of these incidences last week, after the squeaking session became too much to thole and after the bone had been jettisoned from the premises, Waffle sloped off with a face like a slapped rear-end. Not five minutes later, he returned from a brief foray outside (he batters at the door to get out, then batters at the door to get in again) and curled up at my feet. By this stage my espresso and Kitkat had long been finished and I was flicking through Netflix looking for something which wouldn’t be too annoying. Focussed on the flicking I almost didn’t noticed when Waffle started up his game of self-fetch again, this time without the green and purple bone. I almost didn’t notice because there was no squeaking from the bone he wasn’t using and it wasn’t until one of his throws pinged the object off the TV screen that I finally snapped to attention.
“What are you at, fool?” I enquired, genuinely curious.
Waffle stopped halfway to retrieving his not-a-bone and I followed his gaze. It was a horse chestnut, otherwise known to people of a certain age as a conker.
This was one of those times when I looked at Waffle and wondered if there was anything to learn.
Undeterred by the loss of his bone and undeterred by my reluctance to play, Waffle had headed off looking for a replacement bone, found a conker, thought, “That’ll do,” and then returned for more frolicking fun. Habit combined with impulsiveness combined with ingenuity.
“That’s impressive,” I told him. “You’re nothing if not determined to have fun.”
I checked to make sure the TV hadn’t been adversely effected by the conker impact. It wasn’t.
“And at least it’s not squeaking,” I added. “As you were, soldier.”
But then he went and pinged it off the TV screen for the second time and the cocker went the way of the bone.
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