the skinflint philosopher

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


Prayer in the time of cholera

I had a discussion with friends recently about the power of prayer. Some were regaling us with evidence of long convoluted stories of times they and their young children prayed for random things (a pony, a clear view at the top of the mountain, a cure) and rather like Christmas day morning found those things waiting for them. They spoke of joy at having their prayers answered, and an inner peace for being able to voice their needs and doubts. Other told of feeling let down, full of wry disappointment and grief that the circumstances they had spoken out for were not resolved (a death, a financial problem, a falling out).  Other still spoke of thanks, and gratefulness and the feeling of immense goodwill that they wanted to share.

I sat rather quietly, not feeling particularly qualified to wade in with an opinion. It was only later, in hindsight, that I thought of something I really should have voiced. So if you are still reading, it gets a little bit personal from here on in. Turn back if you must!

In my early to middle thirties, having been independently single for a while, the reality of that began to hit home. My sister had two small children, friends were settled into couples and families, and life was ticking on. I worked hard. I spent my free time getting involved in activities- school trips, volunteer work, kayaking expeditions, scouts. They were all great. I had some fun times. But I realised unlike everyone else, I had no one to call home to, to say I had arrived safe, and to tell stories or our mini adventures. I hiked out with the scouts, seeing them through the highs and lows of learning how to camp or conquer a fear, but it wasn’t me who they ran to at pick-up time full of happy fatigue. I began to feel more of a facilitator, rather than a participant, at life.

“Oh ho” said my friends, “you need a man”. More easier said than done, on a rather small island. There are slim pickings for the slightly discerning amongst us. Even putting myself in what I thought might be the path of potential ‘outdoorsy’ suitors (kayakers, environmentalists, scouts leaders) simply meant I met lots of really nice chaps but none of whom floated my proverbial kayak, if you catch my drift. Or I theirs. This all reached a head at one point and I remember a gently boozy sunny May Bank Holiday weekend, wild camping with kayaking friends on an inaccessible beach, that I lay back and looked at the stars, the pebbles grounding me in my back, and formally decided with myself that the next working day I’d contact my GP and start the ball rolling to investigate using a sperm donation. If there wasn’t a ‘Man’ available for me, then stone the crows, I’d just tackle this head on by myself. I could be a single mum. Was this a prayer? At the time I didn’t think so, more of a gritting the teeth, this is the path I now choose.

The following day I met Digger.

Now for those of you missing the back story, see sample post here for earlier insights, we had both been volunteering for a number of years for our island’s woodland trust, planting out saplings to try and re-green this once wooded isle. We just hadn’t both attended the same session till that point. Digger’s reasoning was more altruistic. He loved trees. Me, I was man-hunting.

My version of the story is, I spotted him coming in from the top of the field with an iron bar across his shoulder and immediately knew he was The One.
He says, “Could you even see that far?”
I said “Well no, I couldn’t see you exactly given that I’m a teeny bit short-sighted, but I could see you were someone new (and a man) and there was a ‘frisson’ in the air, which I later understood meant you were The One”.
He says ” Are you sure you didn’t just have a touch of hayfever?”
I said, “Well who was it gave me their phone number that very day? Was I not your One?”
He says, “It didn’t matter whether I had given you my number or not. You had already decided I was going to be your Sperm Donor”
“Hmmm” I pondered. “Yes that is true. Luckily for you I decided to keep you as well”

So was this evidence of an answer to a prayer, or a wish, or a sheer determination to bend the rules of the world to work for me? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

So this sunny (if windy) Bank Holiday we have been back doing more tree-planting at the same site that we met. We checked on the growth of the trees we planted those years before, feeling very much relieved they hadn’t all died off due to poor quality control while we were swapping phone numbers. This time of course though, Tiddler is with us, helping to plant. The beautiful, awe-inspiring outcome of my hidden wish.

I’ll leave you with a final quote, of unknown origin, and I challenge you all to put it to good use, in whichever format, or method, or plan that works for you.

                                         ‘A hidden wish is no more than a wasted dream’

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(Trying to understand the title of this post? A little bit of inspiration and literary theft from here. )

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Man and Van

Latest update on our plans:
Digger has booked a self drive Luton and the ferry, so definitely that is it, our worldly possessions (other than what we can cram into my car) will be heading off this island the first week of August. Poor Digger will have to do a three day turnaround- 4 hours on the ferry and 7ish hours driving time each way to get what boxes and furniture we don’t want to part with down to my parents in the Westcountry to store for us while we are off on our adventures. Tiddler and I won’t go for this first run down, but all of us in my car will be making the (non-return) journey ten days later. This means that we will be living for those last days of limbo here with only pretty much what we intend to leave behind/sell in the last minute/donate/dump.

Digger also doubts that what we have will fit in one van load. We are rethinking and may have to attempt to sell more furniture. We will have to pack and mark some boxes to go on the van, that will only make it if there is room on the day. I am having to pack up and seal boxes and make decisions about items that I may need to jettison at the last minute. Some of Tiddler’s toys are too bulky to take. I cannot justify taking all her baby clothes and artwork that I have proudly accumulated. It is unsettling.


Paint, sheep and happiness

In our recent brief island Spring (one week of sun and then the rain and wind started again) Tiddler made the most of the back yard. We strung up a new bird feeder (new to us- Digger was given it to throw away with some garden rubbish but found a new home for it instead), we filled up the larger-than-my-hand scallop shell that I brought back years ago from a beach in beautiful Skye that serves us as a birdbath, we watered the beginnings of our strawberry crop and generally spuddled about. When there is a warmth on our skin, we uncoil ourselves from our wintery armour-plated self defences, and so everything becomes more soft and vivid somehow.

Tiddler wanted to paint, so we took inspiration from Curitiba and set to.  If you want a really detailed insight into this beacon of sustainable urban planning read here, but for those of us with small children and lots of jobs to do, read on. Despite all evidence elsewhere in South America and further afield for the sometimes appalling consequences of mass rural-urban migration, rapid economic transition and the resulting brown agenda, the Brazilian city of Curitiba has managed to show amazing success in the ‘green’ and community based arenas. From greening the city with parks, that double (or triple?) as flood protection and urban sheep paddocks, to bi-articulated Alcool (that’s not a spelling error before you tip me the wink) buses, to the trading of surplus agricultural products in return for garbage collection and recycling, the former mayor Jamie Lerner made some major and profound links and decision making in the built and living infrastructures of the city. So much so, that Curitiba is still rated, years on, as one of the happiest places to live in South America.

Curitiba1_Barigui-Park_(c)image bank ippuc

Anyway, I digress. Back to the painting. One scheme to prevent cars driving over a newly pedestrianised area was to bring in children to take part in art classes in the street, a habit that still continues to this day despite the mall being well and truly established by now. In our yard, Tiddler got the paints out and started splattering away, but then seemed to lose confidence and instead rolled out a list of instructions of dinosaurs, snakes, viking and other such fierce and roar-y creatures that I was required to paint. We went down Seurat’s route and opted for a little bit of post-impressionism on the fearful creature front.


I suppose my philosophising today is really about vision, leadership and goals. Visualising that Curitiba’s congested central urban network of roads could be transformed into a paved mall was a huge concept in itself. Jamie Lerner’s team suggested it could be done in four months. He responded that to prevent any of the shops and business taking an injunction before completion it was be done in 48 hours. And so it was.

Sometimes the ‘impossible’ is perhaps attainable, if we determine that it will be so.