Monday, March 10, 2014


When I was a child I hated routine. For example, every Sunday evening when Songs of Praise came on at 6.00pm it was time for me to go and finish the weekend homework, then put my school uniform out for the morning. My radio alarm went off at 7.30am every morning and  I'd lie there listening to the Radio One news, then at just before 7.35am Tony Blackburn would play whatever was number one in the chart. I'd get up to catch the 8.20am train to school. And so the week went on, with one thing following another in the same order that it did the week before.

There were times when I felt trapped by the predictability of my life as a child. Imprisoned even.

But looking back, one thing I didn't feel was the sheer terror of not knowing what was round the corner.

Knowing what's going to happen next is a great comfort.  Knowing bath night is Sunday and Wednesday. Bedtime on school nights is 9.00pm, lights out 9.30pm. Knowing that on Monday night tea is always at 5.30pm and it's sausages, Tuesday it's Spag Boll. The lunchbox contains the expected. Breakfast is cereal* or toast, take your pick, except at weekends when it's bacon.

Thing is that routine doesn't mean stagnation. Pocket money rises, bedtimes get later, trust deepens, personal responsibility increases.

But every day, there is routine.

This really came home to me when we had a troubled child who had never had any routines. He was old enough to tell the time of day, but had no idea about clocks and telling the time. Our main clock is our kitchen clock, one of those large fake church clocks which runs off an AA battery and has Roman style numerals. The child couldn't get his head around half past this or ten to that.

I'd wake him up in the morning and say he had to be downstairs in a quarter of an hour. After breakfast I'd say "You've got ten minutes to clean your teeth and put on your shoes, we need to be in the car at twenty past eight."

I might have been speaking Greek.

One Saturday morning in Poundland I bought a little plastic digital clock, and gave it to him. He cottoned on that there are 24 hours in a day, and 60 minutes make an hour. He started carrying this little clock everywhere he went around the house. He sat with it propped next to him watching TV or playing a computer game, it went into the garden when he played a bit of wallsie with himself, and obviously it went to bed with him.

It became his guardian, his blue blanket.

We realised he'd been living in a void, where everything that happened to him came from nowhere, he had no way of knowing that something was going to happen in half an hour so he could prepare mentally. No way of structuring his activities or his mind because he had no idea where he was in the day.

We put post-it notes over the Roman numerals on the kitchen clock with numbers on them, so that IX became 9.

When we said  "Be downstairs  ready to put your shoes on in 8 minutes", he'd be there. Or at least, if he wasn't, he knew how late he was being. In the car he'd monitor the dashboard clock and notice ""8.34. Yesterday we were back at the traffic lights at 8.34. We're going to be early." He even used to monitor commuters , such as a student we'd see walking along the dual carriageway every day "He's normally past the tree by now, he's late this morning."

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think to myself "It's about 2.15am" and I check the bedside clock, and guess what, it's 2.15am. Maybe I've got the internal clock thing too bad. Or maybe I love the reassurance of knowing what the time it, and how long I've got before the next thing I have to do has to be done. Either way, helping looked-after children appreciate routines and understand the time can be a big thing.

* Funny thing: my laptop tends to correct things for me, and the first time I typed "Breakfast is cereal", the laptop typed "Breakfast is feral". Which it sometimes is, spooky.


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