the skinflint philosopher

Attempting to thrift our way to a better life, with a toddler in tow!


It’s better to light a candle than curse at the darkness

The latest ponderings this week have led me to attempt a ‘light’ themed post this evening. A group of my facebook chums have been hitting me hard this week with fantastical illuminated pictures and selfies in the streets of Kolkata, as Diwali celebrations reach their peak. As a true ‘festival of light’, championing light over darkness, good over evil, and hope over despair, then while these alone are all logical events to get the party started, but for the diehard skinflintists (is that another invented suffix I’ve just created?) amongst us, then celebrating the goddess of prosperity Lakshmi must also make perfect sense. Look after the paise, and the rupees will look after themselves (to adapt a thrifty proverb) , though I admonish myself as this is far too flippant a comment for the millions who will see Diwali in under the strain of abject poverty.
Diwali falls at the same time as our Halloween, where ‘evil’ in the shape of a witch or a ghost might come a-knocking at the door, but they are easily pacified with a chocolate bar. That guy from The Exorcist would have had a much higher success rate if he’d crammed his pockets with mars bars and maltesers. This then is perhaps a festival of the dark,  the absence of light, where the only light we have is the faintly glowing pumpkin lantern to give of a flickering sense of warmth at the door, and the all pervading aroma of burnt pumpkin as the candle singes the lid. This at least subverts the normal evening ‘flickerings’ you get in every house across the nation, as the TV channels zombify us with their pulsating electromagnetic waves.
On our little rock, we have our own traditions, so it is ‘Hop tu Naa’ rather than Halloween, and you get sung a rousing chorus of ‘Jinny the Witch’ when you open the door instead of being threatened with a trick. Tiddler is not too sure of the motley crew of frankensteins and vampires that keep turning up on our doorstep, but is playing along and handing out the treats as long as she can hold on to Thrifter at the same time.  These poor kids deserve a calorific boost for sure, as while across the pond you are all busy carving the soft skinned flesh of a pumpkin ‘like a hot knife through butter’ these poor little critters have to stick to the custom here and try and carve a turnip lantern. I tried this one year, and I’m not joking, don’t even bother with a chisel but dive straight in with the pneumatic drill.
To finish then, my philosophy today then is taken from the greatest man of literature himself, the shining star that is Rabindranath Tagore. I can imagine him thinking of the clay Diwali bowl-shaped lamps when he penned the following lines, and please excuse my poor translation, but these beautiful lines hopefully still resonate deeply with you.
” Who will continue my work?”, cries the setting sun.
“I, my Lord” says the earthen lamp, “I will do the best that I can”
Now feel free to interpret that as you wish, but I like to take this is an early 20th century version of the modern meme ‘not all heroes wear capes’. In life we may be humble clay and earth lamps, but what we are willing to do and give can be not only of vital importance, but an honour.
Happy Diwali, Halloween and Hop tu Naa to you all.

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One small step for Digger….

Digger has pulled his proverbial socks up and been for a meeting today to start negotiations to potentially sell his business. Now we are talking the most preliminary of preliminaries here, so we are not holding our breath just yet. He is invigorated however with the possibility of a (small to middling) lump sum to show as a return for the daily slog, in all weathers, that he has invested in the company over the last four years. For you dear reader, this could be the very start of something good. If Digger is not tied here any more, then in theory neither is Tiddler and Thrifter, so the big OFF (off island, off grid, off on a jolly) may be that little bit more attainable. We are all watching this space.

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The fine line between naughty and nice raspberries

I’ve been watching a programme this evening presented by the po-faced Ms Robinson (temporary link here though it will expire in 20 days) discussing the questions no-one apparently likes to ask (though she relishes it, you can tell). This episode of ‘Britain’s secrets’ sees her being cabbie-driven from one address in leafy London to another to discuss parenting skills and how the interviewees rate themselves on a scale of 1-10. Of course, to make avid and controversial viewing, we are treated to a whole range of methodologies- the pushy parent, the benign neglect, the attachment parenting- I’m amazed at the terminology regardless of the practices involved.
Our choices as parents no doubt influence many aspects of the child’s life- both now and in the future. Our own (possibly unachieved goals) may get foisted onto a child, our own bad or good experiences shape our decision making, and certainly at Tiddler’s age, we dictate clothes, food and even friendship choices. Given that this is Thrifter’s first attempt at parenting, I guess so far it is all pretty much untried and untested and therefore fertile ground for opinion making. Even being an aunt to two hasn’t really had much of an impact, as those not-so-little cherubs are across the water and seen at odd intervals only.
Fundamentally of interest here, is that Tiddler is testing the boundaries at the moment. We have seen this week the start of a sort of angry raspberry blowing shenanigans going on. That delicate raspberry sound, cute and lovable from a bubbling baby, giggly as a toddler on the tummy, has now somehow been subverted into a Tiddler equivalent of the two-fingers up at authority. It can mean ‘I’m crying about something and want you to know how really cross I am’ all the way down to ‘you expect me to eat peas with the skins on?’. My own parenting choices are laid bare here I suppose if I even admit to the onerous task of peeling the skins off a bowl of petit pois for the sake of getting a few more greens in.
So we have told Tiddler, in some convoluted attempt at modelling good discipline rather than shouting after bad, that naughty raspberries are not acceptable. But that nice raspberries are.  A good skinflintery motto is of course ‘A stitch in time saves nine’ and perhaps this is really what might be the real measure of successful parenting. Acting in advance, rather than managing the collateral damage. Teach a child that an outcome (raspberry) must be tempered with intent (nice), and the whole world could end up a better place.
Go out into your day tomorrow folks, and blow someone a raspberry.

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The tiger, the witch and the wardrobe

With winter around the corner, and Digger needing a home for his newly acquired jumpers (see post here), Thrifter thought it was about time to sort through the wardrobe and remind myself of some of the winter clothes I haven’t seen or thought about for a few months.
Digger usually keeps his work clothes in a box on top of the wardrobe, leaving most of the space inside for me apart from his two ‘smart’ t-shirts, one shirt, and one pair of tailored trousers that he deems worthy enough all to be hung from hangers, and which gets worn once a year to a wedding or a funeral. For Digger, all the rest is simply work clothes, and therefore can go in a heap without him being too worried.
My work clothes require (a little) more care, and although Digger jokes that I have too many things that I never wear, he is clearly very much mistaken, as apart from a couple of drawers for smalls, this wardrobe is it for the two of us and our finery. I specify that I have more need of clothing variety- work, play, outdoors etc- whereas his attire seems to combine all of these in some sort of multi-functioning combo. I think this may well be a Digger thing, rather than a man thing in general.
As Halloween is just around the corner, Tiddler accompanies me on the Great Wardrobe Exploration with the Witch mask, so we of course have to bring Tiger in as a lion substitute for the photoshoot before we tidy up. It is without doubt, a fashion-lovers worst nightmare. There is no order, no logic, and not very much to work with, but it functions for Thrifter, and that is what counts.
I’m thinking again of project 333 and my question in this post about the clothing guru minimalists, who perhaps tailor their wardrobe to thirty items, but have their autumn thirty items, and their winter thirty items, all tucked away for when they need them. Or, who buy a new thirty items at the end of each clothes-shopping dry spell.
My concern is of course thrift, but also the unseen consequences of our actions. Cash cropping cotton, while war rages and famine hits in Sudan. Sweatshop workers killed in building collapses in Bangladesh. Landfill of our wasted garments in the very cornerstones of our countryside. We cannot solve these big issues, and so we often fail to make even the most basic of connections between ‘us’ and ‘them’. How we live our lives, is not a private, insular matter any more, and so perhaps we owe it to ourselves, and ‘them’ to simply have a little more care.

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53 quid! Has it got gold thread?

Digger has been gifted three jumpers today (sweaters I think, for the American audience) from one of his customers who no longer needs them. They are, to put it plainly, something that Ray Mears would happily sport on his jaunts around the countryside without fear of jeopardising his survival credentials. High fashion no, but eminently practical for the Man (or Digger) about town in this neck of the woods, to mix my metaphors. They are green, they have suede shoulder and elbow pads, they have a waterproof (but breathable) lining.  Fundamentally, if someone has doodled on their design pad in answer to ‘what does Digger want to wear for work in the winter?’ they couldn’t have hit that brief any better.
Two are barely worn, but one is brand new with the label and price tag intact, prompting the phrase that makes the title of this blog. Clearly Rumplestiltskin had no part to play in the weaving of these garments, as no golden thread in sight, but suffice to say, the idea of spending £53 on a jumper strikes both of us a little bit excessive, so Digger is happy to supplement his winter wardrobe with a technologically sound freebie.
And so I think to myself first with a chuckle, of Mark Twain considering how to spare the blushes of his neighbours , in that ‘Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society’.
But then I also think of the following quote, with more of a truth in it, that it should not be about what we look like, or our Emperor’s new clothes, but what we do and how we act, that should and will be the reality of how we are remembered.


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Apologies to the Royal Mail

The three of us have just been for a walk in the autumnal gap between showers, and Tiddler has spent time kicking a ball and trying to pick up as many beech seed cases as she can get in her hands at any one time (verdict: not many). Digger held Tiddler up to place into the red letter box a postcard to a bonafide pen pal in the original sense of the word, in that we write to each other with paper and pen. Our skinflintery of the day was making good use of a stamp- one that had been re-used from a letter sent to me, as a result of careless franking at the post office.
My literary chum, an elderly gentleman I met when learning how to lay bricks in a canal lock (it’s a long story), and I correspond about what’s growing in the garden, what the weather is like, and what we have been up to. He has no concept of email, and even the thought of a computer is a bit of an anathema to him. He spends his time doing good deeds for the English countryside heritage with his engineering and practical skills, and sees it as no sacrifice that he does little or nothing for himself.
So our postcard today was just to say, we are thinking of you, even if you feel sometimes you are alone. I hope someone does the same for me one day, and if they stick a re-used stamp on it, I won’t mind at all.

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How to live in a barn and other stories

Thrifter’s birthday was a month or so ago, but blogging today because these two just arrived as gifts in the post, a little belated as as they were coming across from the States. Well worth the wait though, and so a big thank you for my good friend Taster who clearly knows me well.

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‘The children who lived in a barn’ is a whimsical, but often harsh children’s tale of five children whose parents go missing, and they are forced to camp out in a kindly (stereotypically ruddy-faced) farmer’s barn till their parents return. It isn’t all ginger beer and sandwiches as Enid Blyton would have us believe. Oh no, these children get accused of theft and ‘sluttish’ (in the original sense of the word) behaviour. Written in 1938, it really marks a time when rules seemed illogical, where it was perfectly normally for primary age children to be home alone without running water or hot food for weeks on end, but heavens forbid they turned up to church in a dirty pinny.
‘How to build a log cabin’, is a 1939 DIY bible for the backwoodsman. With the author’s own experience of living and constructing an authentic pioneer cabin, furnished with not only the ‘forefathers’ necessities but also Native American skilled craft furniture, and all delivered with a lot more practicality and a little less poetry than Walden. With some ingenuity (probably referenced on p35 for practical timber haulage)  I had to prise this book out of Digger’s hands when he spotted it, and may need to take further action before long and lock the tool shed so he can’t get out and be tinkering away just yet.

The link between the two of course, is our desire to, before too long, pack up our troubles in our kit bag (p124). We don’t know yet if that adventure will see us in a barn or a log cabin, but at least we have the reading matter to hand, so we’ll be able to smile, smile, smile.

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Empathy and epiphany

I’ve been away for a few days on that ‘busman’s holiday’ otherwise known as a school residential trip.  Now as this was the first time that Tiddler and I have been parted for more than an 8-hour working day, it certainly created a tug on the maternal heartstrings. Calling home of an evening only got Tiddler confused, and by all accounts she spent quite a time trying to look for a teeny-tiny version of me holed up inside the handset.

Now while I’ve been woken up in the small hours many times over the last two years, for Tiddler’s teats, teeth and tantrums,  I’m not sure I quite expected to have a 4.45am (ye gads I’ll repeat that, 04.45) wake up call by 14-year-olds who hadn’t yet gone to sleep. Luckily for me, I had the schadenfreude satisfaction of watching them struggle their weary bones up a hillside the following morning, in a mist of fine Yorkshire drizzle, to wonder at and wander over an awe inspiring stretch of limestone pavement.

My befuddled thoughts, due no doubt both to lack of sleep and intense doses of YHA carbs and coffee, turned towards Tiddler’s potential 12 years from now. How can we predict a real future for that 14 year-old, when so many influences and factors are outside our control? A child should learn by their mistakes, so we are told, but as parents we want to educate (in school and in life) our bundles of joy into making valid judgements in the first place.

Considering that, I think I need to teach Tiddler first and foremost, to have empathy. Empathy for people (particularly snoozing teachers) and the world around her, and the rest should just fall into place. quote-when-you-start_16525-4.png