I grew up in the countryside, surrounded by rolling fields, endless horizons and the sort of weird and wonderful rituals more commonly seen in an episode of Midsomer Murders. Lavender would be planted outside front doors to ward off unwelcome visitors, wheelbarrows of oysters would be raced through streets to celebrate the new catching season, and metres-high effigies would be burned while we danced around them.
These community rituals were on top of my own family rituals. My mother was part of a family of Irish Catholics, the sort of religious where your commitment is best described as ‘lapsed’ but you’re definitely calling a priest on your deathbed. We went to church on a Sunday, but would leave before the end to get the roast out of the oven… Jesus figurines would pop up in dark corners of my grandparents’ Victorian house… And, when someone died, their passing would be mourned with a badly organised funeral, and arguments about which whiskey to serve.
But I grew up and decided I was way too cool to be bothered with any of that. For me, the very definition of adulthood was being able to experience something new each day. I felt that holding on to these rituals and traditions in any form would only hold me back. I think a lot of us feel like that when we’re growing up; we want to put aside childish things and yet, in doing so, we turn our back on the wisdom that stabilises and protects us.
Of course, gallivanting around doing exactly what we want, when we want is, let’s not deny it, bloody fabulous. It’s a lifetime of waking up at the start of the school holidays and seeing nothing but empty days stretching before you. We forget though that, for most of us, a few weeks of this was enough to get us moaning, ‘I’m bored’. We need a bit of structure to give us something to rebel against.
So now I look for ways to stay on the straight and narrow. I can’t say I’ve returned to my Catholic roots, and I don’t think the local council would approve of me burning effigies in the street, but I’ve found a few little things to put my faith in instead.
These include, but are not limited to: searching through the emails my closest group of girlfriends and I sent to each other when we first moved to London, forwarding the funniest on to them as a reminder of how long we’ve been friends and how little we’ve grown up; Sunday brunch with friends and papers and avocado on toast; a walk down at the river, watching the ducks bobbing along with the current, and picking the houseboat I’d live on if I could live anywhere.
There’s nothing like nature to make your problems feel small and insignificant; it’s a reminder that time ticks on, and this too shall pass.
I’ve spent half my life rebelling against rituals, so the irony that I now seek them out is not lost on me. But today they’re less an act of mindless tradition and more a moment of mindful communion, with others and myself. Is that terribly indulgent? Probably. But so is building statues to gods and racing wheelbarrows of oysters through streets, so I think it’s allowed. And, if it’s not, well, that’s OK too; I’ll just make a ritual out of breaking the ritual rules.
Follow Harriet Minter on Twitter @HarrietMinter
Photograph: Mark Harrison for Psychologies