A few weeks ago, I wrote about my quirky obsessions (‘Life in Laytonia’ 17).

Obsessive (pre-Covid) hand-washing, all our tea and coffee mugs going directly from the anally stacked dishwasher into the mug cupboard, each handle of each mug placed at a 45 degree angle facing away from me.

The reason I emphasise ‘facing away from me’? 

Because my brother, after questioning my sanity, told me I was positioning the mugs the wrong way.

‘Frankly, I think you’re bonkers anyway, but if you’re going to go to all that trouble, you shouldn’t have the handles facing away from you.’

But that’s the way I like it.’

‘No!  You should have the handle turned towards you.’

‘Why?’

‘Easier to pick up.’

‘Listen, whose obsession is this??’

And that got me thinking…

Is my compulsive hand washing, my unnecessary tea & coffee mug routine, my weighing myself every day (I’d forgotten to mention that one), unhealthy obsessions or healthy habits?

What is the difference between a habit and an obsession?

“An obsession is an idea which occupies your mind and makes you think continuously about it.  A habit is a tendency for a person to behave particularly in the same pattern.”

Hmm…

I can truthfully say that washing my hands, weighing myself every day – twice actually, before my shower or bath and after – arranging tea & coffee mugs in a certain way, dishwasher stacking and re-stacking, are not things that I continuously think about. 

And that got me thinking…

Habits change, as we grow older.  

Note: ‘as we grow older’.  At the stage of life to which I’ve grown, I doubt my habits/obsessions – quirky or not – are likely to change any more. 

My habits have changed radically over the years.  Take a simple thing like reading the newspaper.

When I was very much younger, I read a newspaper in a totally different way than I do today. 

I would start on the back page and devour all the sport, especially the soccer gossip.  I would get very excited if Bradford City got as much as a mention. 

In the close season, I would read every inch of cricket newsprint that mentioned my beloved Yorkshire, particularly seeking out anything about my even more beloved Freddie Trueman, whose autographed photograph I treasured for years.

I would read all I could about my tennis idols, Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle.  Stan Smith.  Goodness, how my heart raced when I read reports on Roger Taylor reaching the second round at Wimbledon.

In later years, it was Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Illie Nastase, Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, et al.

As I got older, I would still start on the back page, but reading from back to front, I would continue.

I would take in the business news – checking on my share portfolio (ha-ha) – the foreign news, the leader column, readers’ letters, general title-tattle, finally reaching the main headline on the front page. 

It was all a diversionary strategy to put off the dreaded moment of starting work on whatever episode of whatever comedy series I was writing at the time.

Now, in my declining years, I don’t bother with the sports pages other than to read about today’s tennis greats, the likes of Rafa, Roger & Djokovic.

I’m not interested in today’s Premiership prima donnas.  I grew up at a time when the nation was stunned by Albert Quixall’s £45,000 transfer fee.  I remember George Eastham going on strike for restraint of trade.

Today, I open the newspaper and head straight to the obituaries. 

NO – it is not morbid.  I merely like to know which of my contemporaries have gone to that Green Room in the sky.

After the obituaries, I read the letters to the editor, especially if I have recently dashed one off myself.

My outbox is crammed with unpublished letters to The Times. Here’s the latest unpublished missive, emailed on the 17th September:

Sir,

One of the most vital comforts during this wretched pandemic has been the good weather and especially the light evenings.  

As we rapidly approach October, is this not the year that the clocks should not be turned back?

I would further add, that not only should we stay on British Summer Time, on the 25th October this year, we should put the clocks forward by one hour and enjoy a few more hours of precious daylight.  

It would help everyone’s sanity as we go into what is bound to be a miserable, and for many, a lonely winter.

Yours faithfully,

George Layton

Makes sense to me.  Clearly not to the editor of The Times readers’ letters page.

Comments to the editor of ‘Life  in Laytonia’ please…

Having digested the obituaries and the letters, I head for ‘Today’s Birthdays’.  Always cheering to see who’s still around.

As I read the list of birthday boys and girls, my daily conversation with Moya never varies:

Guess how old So and So  is?

She is usually spot on.

I thought he/she was much older.’ or ‘I thought she/he’d died years ago.’

And as I hand over the paper:

God, I’m older than nearly all of them today…

I seem to have gone a little off-piste this week, but it’s good to know that I’m not after all a weird obsessive, just a creature of habit. 

Habits, I grant you that may appear odd, quirky and irritating to some.  I’m thinking of the dishwasher here, and not irritating to some – just one.  And you know who she is!

                                                        * * * * * * * * * * *

Talking of birthdays, I am writing this on Monday 12th October.  The birthday of my dear friend, Robin Askwith.

I didn’t have to read that in The Times, I have already sent him a birthday ‘Tweet’.

I have been thinking of writing about Robin for some time.  What better day to do it than on his 70th birthday?

We have known each other for the best part of 50 years and I have no idea how or where we met, but it is inevitable that we did. Curiously, we have rarely worked together.

In the late 70’s/early 80’s we were both members of a travelling circus of hopeful wannabees that regularly performed in seedy upstairs rooms in Soho or in musty church halls, hired for the purpose. 

Sometimes, we’d perform in trendy production offices or inside buzzy television studios.

When I say ‘regularly performed’, some of you may have twigged that ‘perform’ is another word for audition.

We were all rivals, giving each other insincere but sincerely well-acted ‘good luck, mate’ wishes, as we vied for the same roles.

Some of these actors remained only acquaintances, some became mates, and a few became very close friends such as Robin and I.

And this is why:  Robin is a one off.  He is unique and one of the funniest people I know.

We can go for months, even 2 or 3 years, without seeing each other.  This not a bad thing because when we are together, he makes me laugh so much that every bone in my body aches and I need a break.

He starred in the successful Confession films.  Not only were they hugely popular, the audaciously graphic, and uninhibited directness of the Confession films became a serious threat to the Carry On franchise.

Where the Carry On films relied on sniggering innuendo that may have been daring in the 50’s & 60’s, in the 70’s they became anodyne compared with the sexually explicit confessions and antics of Robin Askwith.

I know this because Jonathan Lynn and I were commissioned to write a Confessions style Carry On film.  Our brief was “Boys, make it filthy.”  We failed miserably.

Robins’s long career has been defined by the Confession films.  Not a bad thing.  50 years on they are fondly remembered and have a cult following.  They are the Donald McGill saucy postcards of the cinema.

The films’ success, however, belies a body of work in a long career that includes working with Pier Paolo Pasolini and Lindsey Anderson.  If you can locate the Radio 3 programme Free Thinking on the BBC Sounds App in which he is interviewed by Matthew Sweet, you can find out more about my friend Askwith.

Happy Birthday Robin – 70 years young!