green man, red light


I cross a busy junction in London regularly, and noticed something yesterday as I waited with maybe sixty or seventy other commuters.

It’s a pedestrian crossing, so comes complete with red and green men.  The crossing is on a bend in the road. A busy road in Central London.

The traffic lights began to change, amber to red, signalling the traffic to temporarily cease its urgent flow through the arteries of the capital.

Around me, several people urged forward as the red traffic light shone brightly.  Some cast a glance at the vehicles looming down on the crossing, presumably to check that the drivers were obeying the rules of the road. I moved forwards too, moving around someone in front of me; someone diligently waiting for the little green man to shine his instructive self.

Across the other side of the road, the other 50% of the crossing pedestrians were also dividing into two groups for a couple of seconds.  Those who acted upon the traffic signal and those awaiting the pedestrian signal.  A melee briefly ensued as human beings paused, thrust forward, side stepped and chose.

I wondered about motivations.

Rule breakers and rule followers?
Safety conscious and risk takers?
Aware of bigger picture and focused on linear instruction?
Patient and impatient?

How did we divide up and were these behaviours and motivations present in other aspects of each of our human lives?

when French toast trumps oatmeal…


If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you will know about Sheldon’s breakfast routine. For anyone who doesn’t, Sheldon, the main character, has a set breakfast on each day of the week. It’s an occasionally recurring comic theme. In one episode, Penny, a neighbour, is over in his flat cooking French toast for breakfast. Sheldon points out that Monday is oatmeal day. At the end of the scene Sheldon throws the French toast in the bin, remarking “smells good, what a shame it’s Monday”.

Today is New Year’s Day. Happy New Year.

I have just been out. I passed a large number of people walking, in groups. It seems customary that we go for a walk on this day, either to visit friends or relatives, or maybe just to walk off the Christmas excess.

In a few days it will be Monday, and for many of us we will return to work. That’s the routine. Work during the week, weekend off – for most of us anyhow.

Does it ever strike you as strange how we structure our activity around the structure of the day, week or even the year?

Why do we walk on this day, not on the 4th or the 19th or March the 8th? Because this is New Year’s Day, and custom says we have it as holiday and we walk.

Why do we start work on Monday? Because that’s what we seem to have set up as the norm. Sunday, the day of rest. Handed down from religious belief over centuries.

I notice at work how it has become quite commonplace for people to work from home on a Friday. An emerging time bounded custom or practice.

How much is our activity, our freedom, our choice governed by routine, custom and historic ritual structure I wonder?

We largely get up at the same time, maybe retire to bed at the same time. Eats meals to a schedule. Do things on certain days, at certain times. This is fine if that works for us, but I wonder how much of this is without conscious thought? Just a pattern, a ritual. How much is driven by societal conformity, by organisational rhythm, by peer expectation?

Maybe we should more consciously choose what we do and when? Do what we want or need, right now? Do what makes us happy in the moment?

It doesn’t have to be oatmeal Monday. You can have French toast, just because you feel like it and it smells good.

Happy New Year everyone.