SIX THINGS I CANT DO WITHOUT by Ronny Flynn

 

Throughout my life I rejected the notion of habit and routine, associating them both with inflexibility, stagnation and altogether leading a boring life.  I laughed at colleagues and friends who always sat in the same train seat when commuting; went to the same place each year for holidays, and ate the same breakfast every day, at the same time of day. Of course, I was blinkered to the dozens of routines I carried out that were necessary in order to avoid chaos and meet the many responsibilities of life.

In recent years though, routines have become pleasurable, and I have no desire to avoid them. For example, I have no regular waking time or  bed time, but when I do get up, I drink a litre of water, which I feel hydrates me and sets me up for the day.  Breakfast is important, and involves chopped fresh and dried fruit, muesli or porridge and coffee. The fruit differs daily though, and sometimes we have toast or croissants or waffles ( lest I be accused of gross hypocrisy- see above). Making and taking breakfast happens slowly, and having to get up and out quickly in the morning is an assault on the senses these days. Whilst cleaning and refilling the coffee machine one morning ( a pleasurable routine), I decided I could not live without it, and then thought of several other things. These are they.

The bean to cup coffee machine

I grew up in the 1950’s when coffee was powdered Nescafe brand, and also came in bottles mixed with chicory essence. It always had to be taken with milk and sugar perhaps to disguise the taste. Despite living in Sri Lanka for three years as a child and seeing where coffee was grown, it was years before I was introduced to freshly ground coffee. In the late 1960”

60’s I worked part-time in a coffee bar where I learned to make ‘frothy coffee’ later to be called cappuccino, and I remember frothing the milk but can’t remember if fresh grounds or instant powder were used.

Over the years and helped by travels abroad we used stove top espresso machines, cafetieres with hand plunged milk frothers, and in 1988 a gift voucher allowed us to buy our first espresso machine. But we still had to grind the beans and knock out the grounds and clean out the machine thoroughly each time. Roll on 25 years to some memorable domestic coffee experiences. The first was with our dear editor Joy, who had brought a divine coffee machine from Sydney to Honiara, Solomon Islands. After two of the coffees she made, I was in love (though it may not have been a bean to cup machine). The second and third were on home exchanges near Brisbane where a couple we have come to like a lot majored on super-duper bean to cup machines. However, these were quite large and therefore expensive. Our kitchen was smaller, so we used our small and quite adequate espresso machine and forgot about the bean-to-cup home experience.

Just last year on another home exchange in Vienna though, we found the ideal ‘our-sized’ machine in the apartment we stayed in. This DeLonghi Cafe Corso machine was easy to tweak to our requirements, and made lovely coffee every time. Our existing small and lesser-fitted machine was tired so we bought the bean-to-cup one, and it’s in use every day. From only occasionally drinking coffee at home as I was too lazy to fiddle with the machine, I have become addicted. I don’t care if coffee is bad for me, I need it and want it and would take the machine as my luxury on a desert island!

My Fitbit

When I started taking fitness seriously in the year 2000, I used machines at the gym to log my progress. I then started running and bought a simple stopwatch, then one with a heart rate monitor,  then graduated to a GPS tracker  which logged pace, distance and time but I never learned to use the GPS properly. Technology whizzed along, while my use of it stayed still until the advent of the fitness tracker, which I acquired at the end of 2013. These Fitbit trackers were user-friendly to technophobes, synchronized easily with phones and laptops, and were small not clunky.

My latest model has been long superseded, but my ChargeHR monitors my heart rate, my sleep, my food and water intake, my exercise and calories burned, and enough extra to meet my needs. On two occasions I have been offered a free replacement or a bargain-priced upgrade, and have chosen the free replacement. It’s enough. If I want to obsess about my resting heart rate, my calorie intake or my sleep patterns I can do so. If, on the other hand, I just want to congratulate myself for getting up and out for a couple of hours a day, I can do that as well. If I don’t want to look at anything, I can just use it as a watch, knowing that the information is safely stored as long as the tracker is charged. I have not joined any groups or entered any competitions; my fitness is an entirely private endeavor but it doesn’t have to be.

The four measures I regularly care about these days are my steps per day, the number of floors climbed, my water intake, and my resting heart rate. I set my steps per day to 10,000 right from the start and have never been inclined to raise or lower the target. Sometimes I walk considerably more, sometimes much less but I like to see that the total at the end of the week evens out the peaks and troughs. Maybe if I had had a Fitbit years ago I would not have punished myself as much as I did, as the evidence of my efforts would have been visible. In France we lived at the top of a hill and could regularly record 70 flights of stairs a day. Now, living in the flattest part of England, it is lucky if I reach 10, including our indoor stairs. I even ran up hills in France, and am looking forward to our move to the South Coast where there is a hill to run up close to home.

My running shoes

I started running in late 2002, and must have run through dozens of pairs of shoes, and many different brands. I have broad feet that many brands of shoes do not cater for. They were plagued with bunions for many years, but since having them removed in 2009, I have been foot comfortable when running, even if my fitness levels have gone up and down when I took  breaks from running. When I wasn’t well enough to run, I still wore running shoes for walking as they are supremely comfortable and strong. In the past few years I have discovered trail running shoes which have a firmer grip and seem more durable, and more recently, waterproof trail shoes. These are all-purpose shoes that I can use for running, walking and splashing in the rain. Over time, I have refined my choices to my few favourite brands, and bought a new pair on-line when the current ones showed wear on the soles.

The last time I bought shoes it was because cookies stored on my computer shoved the brand in front of my face at half price, and with two clicks and a password they were mine. We are planning two plane and train long breaks where all I will take for my feet are a pair of trail shoes, and a pair of indoor shoes, such is my confidence in them. Running has seen me through stressful work, got me going when I thought I wouldn’t run again, and definitely improves my mood. However, I more often than not have to push myself out and am glad to return, so the inner slug is still there! Having the shoes near the front door reminds me that you have to work at keeping fit.

My smartphone

In the 1980’s before the spread of computers and the internet, the Filofax was a small book that acted as diary, notebook, planner, address book and much more. Losing it was seen as a disaster, though I felt this a bit extreme while at the same time as keeping it close. Roll forward 30 years and the smartphone is a thousand times more useful and a hundred times more compact. Even though I only use a fraction of its capability, this phone embodies the life I love to live. I can keep in touch with loved ones, and see their faces and hear their voices when I call them. I can read articles and even books on it, keep up with the local, national and international news, manage my correspondence and  write documents, although this a little fiddly if they are long. I can pay bills, do all the shopping I need, plan holidays and other breaks. It even has a torch to help with dark times. I love how it has made instant knowledge possible – all questions can be answered in less than a minute.

The phone has an excellent camera and stores and groups my pictures in a straightforward way, so I can record life as it goes along. It has opened out choice  of communication in a pleasing way – I can text, What’sApp message, Facebook message, telephone or email someone. It has taken the stress and worry out of being apart from loved ones. I remember the days when there were only letters sent overland or by air mail, and the telephone if you had access to one, and have nothing but praise for current technology.

Notebook and pens

Possibly because of my age, or maybe a residual sense of mistrust for technology means I never travel without a notebook and pen, be it just a small one. I could use my smartphone as a diary or a notebook, but haven’t learned how to do this. I started keeping a diary of events seriously in 1981 when Brian and I discovered holidays in France. For many years they were only kept at holiday times and then daily when Kiran was born and for three years when we lived in Solomons. Recently, Brian found some of the entries from our travels in California, and shared pages with Kiran who is living in Los Angeles for a few months (the marvel of smartphones again!). My diary entries are not personal and rarely go beyond the descriptive, but they do give a flavour of what we did and the atmosphere surrounding it.

With a set of fine writing pens, a soft pencil and sharpener, I can also use the notebook for the drawing I often plan to do but never get around to. I have pretensions of taking drawing and painting seriously, but haven’t managed to keep it up. As well as a record of what I do, I also enjoy making lists. I like to keep these notebooks but we now have so many and are moving, so they will have to be culled. I may move to writing more on line which at least saves paper, but I can’t yet give up a notebook and pen.

My eyeglasses

When I was young there was a saying that ‘men never make passes at girls who wear glasses’ and I remember being embarrassed when I needed to wear them for reading at age 13.  We were not so poor that I had to wear the dreaded National Health Service round rimmed spectacles, once hated but now highly fashionable.  After two years my eyes were back to normal, and remained so until I was at university, when I again wore them for reading for a few years.  After that, my sight was good for years.  I remember complaining about how bright the lights were when I visited my ageing parents’  house, as their eyesight was deteriorating.  Now I find it hard to read in dim light even with glasses.  As I got older I needed to wear glasses for reading again, but by the time I was 55 I had graduated to varifocals to improve my all over vision.

Two years ago I discovered reactolite lenses, and these are now part of my must-haves.  Unless the sunshine is tropical, the lenses deals with Northern European sun and save the need for separate sunglasses. Without these glasses, my ability to use my phone, read and write with my other essentials would be much more limited.

At the beginning of this article I complained about people with habits and routines. Writing this has brought just a few of those I clearly possess to the fore, and made me see that I probably have many, many more.

PS  Number 7  and yes I have just found another:  I can’t do without my portable, non aerosol air freshener spray.  The spray is pocket size and aeroplane cabin friendly. It would be wonderful if public toilets in towns and cities, on trains and boats and planes had air fresheners. I also find that very few hotels, offices and private homes, even home exchanges have them in their loos.  If I could wish an air freshener into all shared lavatories, I would be a happy woman!