the skinflint philosopher

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


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The philosophy of Snow White

Tackling as we are, the thrifter’s life in Bulgaria, we are always trying to scrimp and save wherever possible. For example, I spent some time this week attempting to mend Tiddler’s story book and that has given me a few things to think about.

The backstory of course is that we set off from England as my good and faithful readers know last September, in Leo the campervan, though while sufficient for our basic needs on the two month journey pottering through Europe to get to Bulgaria, was rather lacking in library space. So, a swift calculation means Tiddler (i.e. me) has been reading the same twenty story books in some sort of spiraling rotation for around five months, with my nemesis the pop-up book of Hansel and Gretel appearing on a far more regular than it was due basis. Who knows why Tiddler loves this story so much. I think I made a rod for my own back when I once ad-libbed that the witch was ‘burnt up to a crisp’. Now if I don’t add that specific detail in every time I read of Gretel’s fiendish escape plan I get reprimanded by Tiddler for missing out part of the story i.e. the grusesome nasty bit.
There are a smattering of English language books in the bookshops here, but very expensive, and the town library was no help either. So Granny Westcountry kindly scoured her home for my niece and nephew’s old books and popped them in the post to us as an emergency package of books as frankly, if I have to read Hansel and Gretel one more time there are going to be consequences.  Much excitement all round! The joy of new (to us) books! Unfortunately, seems Tiddler’s cousins had been a bit heavy handed with Snow White and the seven dwarves, and a book had arrived which needed a good dose of TLC.
“Are books alive?” Tiddler asks. Inward snigger from me at the innate cuteness.
“Do books have skeletons?” Cut-off snigger as I have to answer honestly, “Well they do have spines, that much is true”.
“Are books made from lots of ingredients? Have we got the ingredients to mend this one?”
So given the circumstances, I don’t want to throw this book away, and I also believe strongly in the importance of Tiddler understanding the need to take care of her possessions. Money doesn’t grow on trees and all that. Things do still have a value, and a use, even if they are old. Why replace something if it is not broken. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. I think you catch my general drift on this theme without resorting to further proverbs. Suffice to say, this is not just about money. Rather that I want Tiddler to be happy when she grows up. I cannot make her life a luxurious one, or guarantee no sorrows or troubles, but I hope I can equip her to be content with her lot, which will foster the skills of being practical, with common sense, and the emotional stability to make wise decisions.

Question: “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”
Answer: “The one who is happy”

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Quotes to give us a few more thoughts on this theme today:
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Sails, gales and sales

So turns out Digger had a very bumpy sea crossing yesterday, and then after arriving at my parent’s at ten minutes before 1am after driving all evening, couldn’t get my mother to hear her mobile which she had taken up to bed (and actually switched on for a change) in order to come down and let him in. Problem eventually resolved once she’d worked out how to answer it. My mother and technology is a bit water and oil-  she would likely be thrown off a ‘silver surfer’ course as bringing it a bad name.
All of which meant Digger was quite happy to have a lie in this morning and no rush with the unloading. It was raining heavily anyway. Then the rain continued. Then continued a bit more. He started twiddling his thumbs. He started to worry that he wouldn’t be able to get it unloaded in the torrential downpours, that were gushing down my parent’s steep driveway. He started calculating the silly-o’clock time he would have to get up tomorrow morning to unload before setting off on the journey back up to the ferry. Thankfully, matter all now resolved, weather cleared, boxes and behemoths unloaded and stored, and now down the pub for a well earned pint with my dad.

I have been busy too- Tiddler and I swam and then went to play with her best friend E. He had a whole houseful of toys to share after the very sparse conditions in our house at the moment on the toy front.
In between this gadding about, I managed to sell online today the following items that didn’t meet the grade to fit on the van yesterday (i.e. were not a power tool or an unidentified metal item), and the first set of pictures below have already been paid for and collected! Not their real monetary value mind you, but enough to buy the roof bars for Digger’s ladders.

 

Also in the pipeline are sales on these, which are due to be collected at the weekend.

 

No interest as yet in these below though 😦

So what is value? The financial value of an item is surely in the eye of the beholder, whether for a artwork masterpiece or a second hand furniture-selling Thrifter. Better a pound or two in my pocket right now is my logic, than me having to dump these at the tip and get nothing for them at all. Things I love, and have put up for a crazily low price for what it is, such as my desk and the leather chair, and the 1930’s oak dining table, simply have not garnered any comment. Other items of tat, such as the used kitchen red plastic dustbin, have sold for not much less than their price brand new.
Each to their own I suppose.

 


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So long, and thanks for all the pish

In a rather self generated anti-climax, I have just finished my last day of work. Having tallied up the numbers, it turns out I have spent over a quarter of my life working there. It also means that I have spent three quarters of my life attending school- either as a teacher or as a student myself. Given that I am not yet forty, that should be, by bonafide socially-aware folk, either a little bit inspirational, or emotional, or at the very least duly noted.
However, I managed to cunningly avoid most of the folderol through a combination of techniques including ‘hiding’ in my office during breaks, actually continuing to do my job during the day rather than dithering about in the staffroom, and finally scarpering off home promptly on the final bell rather than go to the drinks and speeches at the official ‘do’ for fellow leavers and retirees.
Am I an immensely ungrateful person I wondered to myself? Or am I just anti ‘fuss’? I found the thought of it all a little overwhelming, and felt happier making my own arrangements for the next few weeks with the colleagues and friends I know more personally, and fully intend to keep in touch with.  I googled Atelophobia and Katagelophobia, and while those are the extreme, I think I felt a little bit on the weak end of that spectrum about this.

Dear readers will know of my visit to Iceland in the spring, see the post here,  which resulted in a thank you gift of a bottle of Prosecco from a student. I had been storing this away as had decided this was going to be my treat to myself on my last day. Digger however, had clearly forgotten that memo and took himself off moonlighting as a night-time office cleaner to help out a short-staffed friend (every penny counts in this run up to cessation of paid employment), so having shunned the staff party in the end I had a quiet night in with Tiddler tucked up in bed, a mug of hot chocolate, and a good book. Not necessarily everyone’s idea of painting the town red, but I felt quietly content in my own little way. (Digger and I shared the bottle of Prosecco the following night by the way with a home-cooked ‘date night’ meal, so it wasn’t all bad!)

This led me to spending a bit of time thinking and philosophising about goodbyes. Who are the goodbyes for? The one who is leaving, or the ones staying behind? Ancient yogis following Sanskrit texts uphold the notion of abhinivesah, or ‘clinging to life’, which also looks at the concept that holding on to things- people, places, the status quo- can actually cause more pain and sorrow than the short, sharp sadness of a goodbye. After all, with a goodbye, or closure, it means also the opening up to fresh, new things. A rejuvenation of sorts.
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I also thought about JD Salinger’s words in Catcher in the Rye-“I was trying to feel some kind of good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t you feel even worse.”  A similar sort of idea I suppose, in a ‘West’ meets ‘East’ kind of way.

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That being said of course, as a result of the great technological advancement of our world, things are different. It is not the pilgrim fathers sailing of in the Mayflower, doubting whether they would ever see, or even hear news of their families again. It is not the loaf-stealing convict children heading off to Bot’ny Bay.  I won’t need to be sending rolled up message on the feet of pigeons, or messages in bottles, or signal tower clacks and semaphore messages to keep in touch. I won’t need to be looking out for smoke signals to translate the news from back home.  It will simply make me more distant, and ties more loose. Some friendships will no doubt fall by the wayside, through nothing more that passivity and thwarted intentions from either my side or theirs. Others will endure, wherever we go and whatever we do.
Is it adieu, or au revoir? Hopefully a simple case of Mañana Hakuna Matata!

 


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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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Is happiness on your bucket list?

Bucket lists, for those familiar with term but not sure of it’s origin, were things to do before you ‘kick the bucket’, i.e. die. That phrase in itself is linguistic derivation from, amongst possible choices, stepping off a bucket on a hangman’s noose, the bucket or beam a pig is hung from once slaughtered, or even from the French trebuchet for balance. All meaning that this post is starting off on a much more morbid theme that I intended when I wrote the title. Bear with me folks!
So if our bucket lists are things to do to make us happy, why should we wait before we do them? Do they have to be grand schemes- only swimming with the dolphins or base jumping off the Matterhorn actually count? My happiness quota today got filled as simply as by spotting the first baby courgettes forming on a plant in our yard (after I had planted the seeds much later in the year than advised on the packet).
In order to help us consider what to add into that scribbled down bullet-pointed bucket-kicking list, be it on a calendar, a back of an envelope, or just in your head, please make sure you include ‘Be happy’ on there too. So to help you out with your philosophical thinking for today, the article here and the audio that goes with it might throw a few sage insights your way.
http://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/happiness-0

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