In Music, Nature, Philosophy, Science, Words

So, having advised you all to spend your weeks of isolation sitting under a tree, I’ve discovered that I crave the occasional change of scene. Fortunately, the scene is changing day by day, as buds burst and petals drop, but I can feel a creeping sense of repetition with which I’m not entirely comfortable. When are these flipping blue skies going to end?

Oh, there they go.

I used to dream of a life that went wake, wash, dress (if you can be bothered), eat, walk, work, gaze at trees, eat, work, walk, marvel at the wonders of nature, eat, play Scrabble, watch a film, wash, undress (if you can be bothered), sleep. Who wouldn’t? But now, like too much Battenberg cake, that repeat pattern is losing its flavour.

We have a strange love/hate relationship with repetition.

I’ll say that again.

We have a strange love/hate relationship with repetition. Take TV. We love the chance to revisit an old classic. I watched an episode of Some Mothers Do Ave Em the other day and it was like discovering Shangri-La. Sometimes you have to go back to find true innovation. But Google the word ‘repeat’ and you’ll find newspaper articles going back over many years, bemoaning the proliferation of repeats on TV. The fact that each article is repeating a complaint made by the one before is an irony that seems to be lost on them.

According to one in the Daily Mail from 2009, “half the programmes on TV are repeats”. They make this sound like a bad thing. For me repeats are a welcome respite from the tyranny of all those blockbuster series that you’re made to feel you should watch or else your life will be a worthless waste of time, yet never quite get round to and probably never will. Repeats are like an old friend that makes no demand on your time and doesn’t make you feel bad about neglecting them for years. They remind you that it is OK to miss out.

Sure, the likes of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Homeland etc may be works of art, but then so are the Pyramids and the Sistine Chapel and I’m perfectly reconciled with the likelihood that I will kick my bucket without having ticked them off. Isn’t it enough to know there are wonderful things in the world without having to see them all for yourself? I’m still busy exploring the souk of my own mind. There are many passageways I’ve wandered down repeatedly yet there are always new things to discover. I’ve recently come across a charming little shop that sells disorientation by the jar. I doubt I’ll ever find my way out.

Then there’s music. Buy a record and you don’t just listen to it once. Well, unless it was that Cornershop album that you bought on the strength of Brimful of Asha. It’s also a known fact that audiences are much more responsive to old classics than they are to new songs. That’s why the pubs are populated by covers bands and the proclamation “This is one from our new album” is the surest way to empty an auditorium?

Even films bear repeat viewing โ€“ many times over in some cases. So when does repetition become unacceptable?

We’re educated to avoid it in sentences. If, for example, I wrote that the use of the same word more than once in a sentence was not a good use of words, you’d probably regard the repetition of the word ‘use’ as a poor use of words. Not to mention the repetition of ‘words’. Or ‘repetition’…

So we work hard to find alternative words to complete our sentences โ€“ in fact, it’s a national pastime that even became the basis of a Radio 4 game show. Fortunately, English is as resplendent with synonyms as Kenneth Williams was with wit and so it’s usually possible to find the variety we crave. But then someone comes along and says, “Education, Education, Education,” and we think, “Ooh, that’s powerful.”

Hence our strange love/hate relationship with repetition. We live in a spherical Universe where everything that goes around comes around, and in that sense, I suppose, repetition taps into our feelings of both birth and death. Familiarity gives us comfort โ€“ and then it breeds contempt.

Time for my walk. Where’s that dressing gown?

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