the skinflint philosopher

Thrifting your way to a better life


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Sleep doesn’t help if it’s your soul that’s tired

Ah, that wistful, dreamy Land of Nod. So how much sleep do we actually need? By mine and Digger’s reckoning it’s usually ‘just another five minutes please’ in a bleary pleading tone as Tiddler decides resting is all far too boring and it is actually high time she brought all her teddies in for approval, then sits on our heads, then pulls the warm duvet off us to giggles of laughter (from her) and steadfast resistance from us. It is a bed-ridden tug-of war.

This week, like a child possessed with an imaginary alarm clock, she has timed my week off work to coincide with a phase of  her circadian rhythms going haywire. Never fear, we haven’t had bedtime trauma and tears, but rather she has lain in bed for around two hours after normal goodnight, chuntering to herself and the motley crew of cuddly animals, and if you dare to poke you head around her bedroom door she then expects another five minutes of hand holding and telling me I am her ‘best-favourite’ (not yet three and already canny to a spot of currying favour) before I can escape again. Despite this, she is then up with the proverbial larks. My other mumsy friends are still enjoying toddlers who not only sleep for a good twelve hours at night but still nap off for two hours in the afternoon. Tiddler clearly hasn’t taken that memo on board, and seems perfectly fine on her reduced sleep.

Meanwhile, Digger and I are crossing swords over who is snoring, who stole the duvet, who pinned the duvet down and nearly garrotted the other one, who is sticking their leg out over on the other side, who is too hot, who is still using a hot water bottle even though it is June (#islandlife), who is flapping the duvet too much when they turn over and letting the cold air in. Imagine this going on for a few hours until we finally succumb to utter fatigue and fall into a deep dreamless state of nothingness that lasts for approximately thirty minutes until Tiddler decides our heads are the comfiest pillow to bounce up and down on. There were three in the bed and the little one said, roll over, roll over! You get the picture I’m sure. I finally understand the concept of rugby player’s cauliflower ears.

The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying ‘sleep is the best meditation’,  and I like this one too by E. Joseph Cossman, ‘The best bridge between hope and despair is a good night’s sleep’.
There is so much research into sleep, from the effects of deprivation and how that influences cognitive skills and memory let alone the physical toll on cell regeneration and the like, and also positive gain such as firing up brain activity by forming pathways in neurones while you dream away. So much more is yet unknown. The classical philosophical takes include Decartes, he of ‘I think therefore I am’ sort of concluding that each sleep is like a little death, and far more other things to consider can be found here.

To cut our long story short, as part of our minimalist/let’s-get-rid -of stuff-because-we- can’t-take-it-to-Bulgaria-with-us-anyway drive, we have mutually reached a decision to sell our double bed. And when we purchase again in future, we are going to throw thrifty skinflintery to the wind and get a king size instead. You can’t put a value on a good night’s sleep.

 

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Calling all travellers….

Digger and I have tried to sit down recently and come up with ‘some sort of plan’ for our overland travel – we are thinking France, Italy, Greece- to take us and our paired-down possessions to Bulgaria this September. We definitely don’t want to travel for more than a couple of hours a day, as Tiddler will go on strike if we keep her in the car seat too long. She is after all used to #islandlife, where nowhere is really more than a thirty minute drive, and anywhere further than that, well those are the back of beyond parts of the island just for the ‘locals’. Even we only go there on special occasions and then usually under duress, and possibly wishing you had a phrasebook.

Not being experienced European travellers we don’t really know where to start,  so I’m here doing a shout out for some suggestions please. We will probably be starting off by waving goodbye to Blighty and driving off the ferry in Le Harve or St. Malo.
From there- where shall we go? What shouldn’t we miss? What should we miss? Any advice, or things we should know? Travel ideas on a shoestring? All ideas/suggestions/travel horror stories welcome! Thank you!

 

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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.


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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.

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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.

 


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Philosophy in motion

Poetry in motion,
All that I adore
no number nine love potion
could make me love her more.

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Thinking a little bit about movement today, in that Tiddler is a constant whirlwind of motion, learning to jump two feet together off the sofa, wanting to hold our hands to be swung up as we walk, giggling as she spins herself in a spiral in the pool. She is showing a toddler fascination with how to balance, and climb, and wriggle and how to control each and every aspect of her body to explore and play and immerse herself in this world. Heraclitus said ‘all is motion’ and that seems certainly true.

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To try and ‘transfer’ some of this energy (as we all know our school boy science of energy can neither be lost or destroyed, although our sofa might be on it’s last legs before too much longer at this rate) we decided to do a bit of skinflint craft tinkering. Our marble run was created out of an empty cardboard box, paper art straws (that we glued on in doubles in order to make them stand proud enough to contain the marbles) and is propped up against the sofa (poor sofa) to use.  There is a definite enthralment with toys like this- the movement, the noise, the randomness of the pathways taken, that make this freebie craft project/toy a sure fire hit in our household. The marbles of course were used at one time for rewards for potty training, see towards the end of this post here, but have now been repurposed for this racing, bracing game. Hours of fun at minimal cost.

 

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Following my most recent post, which erred on the side of doubt about our future, I promise to gee myself up, and take note of Hemingway’s quote below. We cannot remain still in our lives by accepting motion instead of action.

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The Everest vs Marianas Trench equation

It’s been a bit of a mixed bag the last week or so.

Highs:
Being on the Easter holidays, and so having real time to do more with Tiddler. We have hunted eggs, played in the garden, went on a horse tram, had picnics on the beach, done all manner of crafty creativeness. I said to Digger “ah, this will be what it is like when I don’t have to work any more”. Pavlov might have his dogs salivating at the ring of a bell, but switching off our usual timetable for the last two weeks makes me consider again how our ‘normal’ lives show a similar, if less physiological, reaction. It is now this time, so we must do this. Here is my day, these are the planned and expected activities to take place, in this particular sequence. How freeing it has been to be outside the loop temporarily. I have relished being my own glitch in my matrix.
We managed to get everything down from the loft and sorted through. I discovered old love notes, Tiddler’s baby clothes, memories from my student days. We know we cannot store or take everything with us. I have thrown things away. I have put things to one side to look through later. I’ve donated seemingly random possessions to local groups- cushions inners to a charitable craft project, books to a community library, old bed linen and duvets to the school textiles department. We took a load of junk to a car boot sale and came back with over £100 in our pockets.

Lows:
Digger managed one day off over the whole fortnight. Weather is good, so making plenty of hay while the sun shines, and while the work is to be had in the last few months before we go. He has come to an arrangement with some acquaintances of his who are working without pay for him at the moment.  In return, when we leave he will give them his customer list and facilitate the ‘transfer of goodwill’. He calculates their wages in lieu will be a quarter of what he hoped to raise. It is better than nothing, but not the lump sum we were hoping for. It makes me consider how unwilling we as a society are to put a financial value to something that is not a physical, material object. People will happily stump up the cash for something they can possess in a tangible form, but will, as happened in some cases, laugh in the face of a suggestion that introductions, loyalty and hard work are worth anything at all.

However, packing away after the car boot sale, I joked with Digger as he had told me not to bring Tiddler’s shoes. With little wear and tear, and a good named brand, I thought we might get a little something back if we could sell them given that they retail new for £32, though he insisted no-one would want them.
“How much did you get for them?” I asked. Digger flatly denied selling the shoes.
“Well I didn’t sell them, so it must have been you”.
Seems that Digger was not being particularly obtuse, but two pairs of Tiddlers shoes and a pair of wellies ‘walked’ off without payment. Those are the items I recall, but perhaps other things were stolen too in the hustle and bustle of the day. It filled me with an unexpected sadness. I’m not denying that I had made the decision to sell what might otherwise have been ‘sentimental’ items because we have to downsize our possessions, but now I felt tricked. I felt Tiddler’s personal space had been tarnished in some way, by someone else’s selfishness. I hope I am wrong, and they were taken due to real need, but it has shook my faith a little. It makes me consider too the wider implications of our forthcoming venture. We are lulled into a sense of security here, my home for ten years, as we are relatively safe, low crime rates, good community involvement. The standard gently mocking phrase about the locals here is that nobody bothers to lock their front doors, and will happily leave their keys in the ignition while they pop to the post office. I’ve never been that laissez faire, but we implicitly assume our personal safety. I need to not be the country bumpkin on tour, but yet I cannot fear the wider world for myself, or Digger, or particularly Tiddler, or this adventure will be over before it has begun.