In the latest of her dispatches from the frontline of chitchat, Lou Conran finds herself pondering sandwiches and mortality.
Illustration by Claire Jones
I work from home so don’t get out much. Although I love self-employment, I do miss interacting with real people and sometimes I can go for a good couple of days without actually speaking to anyone. This can get a little problematic as I’m a social bee and if I don’t get stimulation from fellow humans I find myself having conversations with my imaginary husband in the bath.
So I have come to force myself into a routine of sorts. I’m not naturally a “disciplined” person and I’ve always said that I would be great in the army: maybe not the running up hills and blowing people up stuff, but the being told what to do stuff. I respond to orders. That sounds bad. I mean I am very good at someone else taking the responsibility for stuff, and not very good at trusting myself. This is obviously something I have to work on, but that’s a different column altogether (*gets pad out and starts scribbling*).
The routines I’ve got myself into are mainly work related but some are from childhood, and come from being barked at when I was young. “You must pick up your clothes”. “You must clean the dishes immediately after you’ve eaten.” “You must clean the bath with Jif when you’ve finished.” “You must eat your dinner or you’re not leaving the table”. “You must you must you must.” These are rules I’ve subconsciously followed while living alone, especially the eating my dinner until it’s all gone one, and ironically me finishing every morsel is one of the big things that is getting me down.
Anyway, I went to see a friend of mine for a cuppa the other day. I was telling her about me and my head, and what goes on in it sometimes and what I think I should be doing, and what I do that makes me unhappy, and she told me a short but inspiring tale about a woman she used to work with.
They were in the office one day, my friend and her colleague. Let’s call her Helen. The office was quiet and Helen was eating her lunch. Time went by, and out of nowhere Helen burst out laughing. “I don’t have to eat my crusts if I don’t want to,” she said through her chuckles. Now obviously, my mate thought Helen had gone off her rocker, so she just said, “You what, love?”
“I don’t have to eat my crusts if I don’t want to,” she replied. “I can’t believe I’ve reached the age of 41, and for the last twenty-odd years that I’ve been making my own packed lunch for work, I’ve always eaten my crusts. I hate the crusts. I hate the crusts! But I’ve eaten them because my mum told me I had to. Ha! I don’t ever have to eat them again!”
This story, however insignificant it may seem, was a massively important moment for me. I realised that throughout my life I’ve always had people telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. I’ve just blindly followed a routine that was set by other people when I was younger, and I actually don’t have to. I don’t. I’ve always had a problem saying no to people, no matter how much I want or need to. But because I was conditioned to believe that it’s impolite to upset or inconvenience someone, then I should do it. Being at someone’s house and finishing their raspberry cheesecake because it’s rude to leave it, when I don’t like raspberries, is something I have done on numerous occasions. But now I say no; I say NO to your raspberries, do you hear me?
The moral of this short tale is more poignant, because shortly after this revelation Helen discovered she had bowel cancer and lost her battle with it a year or so after. Having spent twenty-odd years doing something she didn’t want to do, she had one crust-free year before she passed away.
So, if you’re doing something you don’t want to do, if you’re in a routine you feel you can’t get out of, or if you just want to shake things up, remember: you don’t have to eat your crusts if you don’t want to.
Lou is a comedian, writer, actor, lover of curry and cheese, and is also a giant simple child.