the skinflint philosopher

Thrifting your way to a better life


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Banking the Icelandic way

Never fear, dear readers, upon reading this post’s title, that this is going to be some financial analysis of Iceland shareholders, banking and debt, because frankly, that’s all a little bit too complicated for me. The ins and outs of the 2008-2011 crisis and economic depression are as clear to me as Pink Floyd’s meaning of their psychedelic tune and lyrics to Bike the only bit of which seems to make sense is “I’ll give you anything, everything, if you want things’ or, the Icelandic version which of course could be ” I’ll give you Althing, Thingvellir, if you want Thingskalar”. Basically, I am not clued up enough on geo-politics and global economic wizardry to dare even try comment. Suffice to say, that Iceland is, in 2017, for any sojourners to that neck of the woods, definitely not a thrifter’s paradise. It is shockingly expensive.

I’ve had the good fortune to have just taken a no-cost trip to Iceland. Free, in that I didn’t have to pay out, but not free, in that I was leading a group of students on a residential educational visit. This meant, all totted up, that I worked evenings and three additional days for no pay, but still got paid my normal salary for the other days. But let’s not split hairs, I had no outlay of costs so I’m counting it as a freebie. We must celebrate our few-and-far-between perks for this job when we can, and I will certainly not grumble about this one.

Of course, I could now go into paragraph after paragraph of wondrous sights, majestic landscapes, and exotic smells (well, eggy sulphuric tap water is unusual enough to be regarded as fascinatingly glamorous even if you have to gag slightly while taking a shower. Note to self, hold back on the herbal shower gel or you end up with skin with a lingering aura of eggs benedict) but the tourist board do such a good job here I feel I’d be wasting my time. We hired a minibus, self-catered, smuggled in our own teabags (foiled however, because even when it is a British teabag, there is no accounting for the said water and the cow juice ‘Mjolk’ producing anything that tastes like you expected) and so managed to keep costs down to make it affordable for the students. Of course, they then spent all their free time (and spending money) supping 500 kroner coffees in wooly-bohemian-hygge cushion-laden coffee houses, and devouring 800 kroner bars of chocolate. Our Brexit pound meant their wallets took a severe beating.

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However, dusting the moths out of my purse, I found a real skinflinting gem. In downtown Reykjavik, where space is not an issue and paint colour is an essential, the bank premises are large and ornate. There are comfortable chairs and little tables. There is a free coffee machine, with a jug of real mjolk.  Although entering as a bonafide customer, and therefore able to claim, nay be entitled to, a quick warming beverage, it seemed foolhardy to brave the blustery snow and negative temperatures (Gluggavedur for those of you with the Icelandic lingo off pat) just to get into a coffee shop and offload my kroner. True, there were not any Danish (the good colonial power of course) pastries there to top up my calorific intake, but I could while away a pleasant hour or two in these circumstances. Double bonus; I was avoiding the extortionately priced gift shops at the same time. These Icelanders are geniuses. I could plan my itinerary around the location and opening hours of the banks of Iceland, and keep myself up to my frugal speed in full caffeinated style. Landsbankinn (Reykjavik branch) I salute you.

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Does anyone have any other favourite, must see/must do places in Iceland?  I’m sharing this website as it made me chuckle. I guess we all need a raisin in the end of our sausage, and that’s got to be better than sour whale!

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The ignoble art of lying

Let’s be clear before we begin, on our main definitions. I always think of the word ‘ignoble’ as meaning dishonest or not honorable, but it has a second meaning too. That specific adjective is one suggesting a humble origin, or a basic quality, and I suppose when we do a little bit of philosophising about lies and deception, both definitions probably ring true.

I’m prompted into this by conversations I’ve had recently with a few of my students (and parents). For us over here in the British Isles, ’tis the season of Options, whereby we must extoll the virtues of our chosen teaching subject for the delight and delectation of the masses. To GCSE, or not to GCSE (or A-level), that is indeed the question. We are asked ad infinitum “Do you think my son oblique daughter can do this course?” “What grade do you think they’ll get?” and so on. We of course, seek to encourage as many as possible to opt in. We love our subject. We think it is the most important subject there is. Without it, how can anybody possible function? Well truth is, they’ll of course get by fine without it in reality (though they may struggle at pub quizzes), but with it, you’ll peel back so many layers of understanding of how the world works you would think you were blind beforehand. So of course, for those students we embellish carefully and hedge our responses. On the other hand, where we see a student coming forwards who will definitely struggle with the requirements of the course, we employ a different form of truth telling, by highlighting difficult tasks and expectations and allow the implications of that to sink in. We are not lying, but are we slightly deceiving both?

Another seemingly straight forward question “Will you be teaching the course next year? How to answer this one folks? There is a choice of four possible teachers, including myself, so of course I give the standard (usually truthful) answer, that we simply don’t know, it depends on the timetables and we won’t know that till June. But the hidden lie, the absent truth, is that of course I won’t be here for the next academic year, (as we are taking our year or two out before Tiddler needs to start school herself) so it couldn’t possible be me. I will be off on a (hopeful) jolly. Why don’t I simply say that? I haven’t officially handed in my notice yet, and certainly most staff and students are not aware of me going, and I don’t really want to get into that conversation just yet. Of course, the students may be asking with the vain hope I won’t be teaching them and they can breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t get Miss Thrifter again, but I like to retain a little flicker of smugness that they might consider choosing the subject if they think they might get me again. We all like to be liked, at the end of the day.

According to the BBC ethics team ‘lying is an unavoidable part of human nature’. Back to our second definition then, a basic quality. The complicated nature of deception, lies and falsehoods are brilliantly summed up here, to get your brain into gear on this theme, and indicates how complicated we can make this. We can lie about something, which turns out later to be true. Our Homo sapien brains means we can manipulate our use of language to be stating a literal truth, while actually delivering a lie. We lie to protect other people’s feelings. Worse still, we happily attempt to lie to ourselves fairly often, even when we clearly don’t need a lie detector to work out that yes, it was me that ate that whole packet of maltesers all by myself. Should we therefore consider not the lie itself as a bad thing, but rather the underlying intention, and the potential consequences as the determining factors.

Tiddler of course doesn’t really know how to lie yet. We play a hide and seek game where she shouts out where she is hiding as soon as we start to look for her. We play a blindfolded guess the object game too. She is pretty good at feeling the object in her hands and guessing it from its shape or texture, but when she wants to blindfold us and give us an unseen item to work out, she invariable tells us exactly what it is as soon as she hands it over. I’m pretty good now at pretending I have absolutely no idea what is is and go through a good three of four guesses before I say the thing she has just told me. Perhaps she simply thinks I’m a bit rubbish at the game and need a clue. Poor Mama.
Clearly at some stage soon, she will start to lie. She already tells us when Mister Crocodile needs to go to hospital (usually as she has attempted to cut it’s leg off with a plastic saw from her ever expanding toolbox), or makes me cups of tea from swimming pool water, so she is capable of imagining, and surely that is the actual noble art of lying.  Sir Ken Robinson, a big cheese in childhood development, states that ‘imagination is the source of all human achievement’. It allows cognitive development, critical thinking, language progression, innovation and much more that this, the ability to lie. Is this indeed a purely human trait? We like to think we are the superior species in this sort of thing, but have a little look at this article if you are under the misapprehension that animals don’t get up to a little bit of ‘creative truth telling’ when it suits them.

Fundamentally then, without the ability to lie, we are without the imagination of an ‘alternative’ reality, and that might limit us in terms our aspirations, our relationships, and our happiness. Stick with the adage ‘do no harm’ and hopefully it will all work out fine. Even Santa has a part to play in all this, and I’m pretty sure he was a saint.

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Owl pontificates

As Tiddler hits the 2.5 year old mark she is developing a much greater ability to work on a project. Her attention span has improved, she understand the notion of an end product, and is quite happy to have my undivided attention, even if it is mostly to ensure I don’t end up with a full-body-glue-paint-sparkly bit-Tiddler-shaped-entity where Tiddler used to be.

Although our project this weekend was supposed to be a tiger, (see here for the explanation and our crocodile),  it somehow metamorphised into an owl.

Equipment:
Left over balloon from a party
Newspaper (free one that is delivered island wide. We don’t purchase newspapers. Radio 4 has got me covered)
Old drawer liner (a bit like sugar paper in texture for a final pale layer)
An old bottle of PVA glue (ideal for this purpose as I wanted to water it down so I could add in the water, shake it and get all the glue out so none wasted)
Paint
Marker pen

Cost: nothing new needed other than what we had in the house anyway, though I will have to purchase more glue now for the next project!

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Why did Tiddler choose an owl to make this time I wondered?  I couldn’t think of a book or a game  that we have been using with any mention of owls. Perhaps she was feeling her inner owl. Take your pick from below of what your inner owl is saying to you right now!

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Shriven me timbers!

As it is now the first day of Lent, the skinflint philosopher is pondering the whole pancake debate. As we know, whether with religious intent or not, pretty much the whole of the British Isles (and quite a bit of the wider world) will have chowed down on a batter full of delight yesterday (unless you were the poor muggins stood at the hob waiting for the rest of the family to get through their fill before you can take the weight off and sit down and eat one yourself). Any experienced pancake chef will tell you however that the first pancake cooked in a frying pan never works properly (is there some weird oil related physics going on?), so it is always advisable to have a ravenous Digger to hand to polish off the tatty or stuck together version before the beautifully circular ones start appearing thick and fast from your pan.

Of course, the logic of eating up the eggs and fats before the forty days of fasting in the run up to Easter meant the seemingly humble pancake was a perfect choice. Should sugar have been widely available back in the day (physically, and in terms of price) I’m pretty sure the great British public would now be having a long established annual celebration of Cake-and-Muffin Tuesday instead.
A good and prudent homemaker would not want any food to go to waste, so ‘using up the bits’ in a pancake made financial, as well as spiritual sense. Nowadays of course, for most of us, it wouldn’t be right without lemon or sugar, or cinnamon, or nutella and bananas- we in our times of plenty will push even the eggy/fatty treat over the edge of a calorific precipice. For some of us, it may well signify fasting, or another food-related forty days of change (I’m trying gluten-free, again, this year). I’ve suggested to Digger he stops looking at power tools on the internet as a positive thing (from my point of view) to give up (just really, I can’t get my head round it- it surely cannot engage anyone for that length of time. Seriously. Its not like they are performing a sitcom or the collected works of Shakespeare. Its just tools. Pictures of them).

In reality through, yesterday got me thinking more along the lines of preventing waste by eating things up. Our food bill is probably not large in comparison to many other families (see earlier blog post here)- we eat between us very little meat, we try and eat seasonally, we cook from scratch as much as time allows. But still, I think we probably over eat. I also like to have plenty of food ‘in store’ in case of random emergencies thankfully never yet to be seen, although to be fair, plenty of people on our little rock panic buy as soon as the ferry gets cancelled for 24 hours and shelves in the supermarkets are emptied out in fear of mass-starvation. Fear not my friends, I think we might just be able to hold it together till the next boat.
What is extremely rare in our house though is for any food to be thrown away. I’ve read plenty of blogs where people suggest careful meal planning and food purchasing prevents waste (and good on you if that works for you), but I find just the opposite to be true. By never having a set meal planned, we cook and eat what needs to be eaten first. Our meals may be on occasion slightly eclectic, but certainly never dull. Digger is always happy with leftovers in a lunch box for the following day, and Tiddler has clearly picked up on the vibe and has even been known to deny herself pudding on occasions until she has emptied her plate. I’m not holding out hope that that is going to be true for ever, but long may it last in the meantime. I suppose this means that a food skinflinter is in a sort of semi-permanent state of lent, if such a thing is possible, which by default may mean we are having a jolly good shriven. As long as it is motivational, rather than flagellation, it has got to be good.

My final thoughts are with Tiddler, as too little to toss the pancake, or take part in a Shrove Tuesday race or football game as tradition demands, we set to with some of her pals in order to get a little bit creative with our food luxuries. Pancake pictures feature monkeys, a cat, and Digger. I’ll let you figure it out.

 

Any particular things you are giving up, or starting, or doing differently for the next 40 days?