the skinflint philosopher

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


Last days and alien space trees

I have not fallen completely into a wifi-free zone, just with the demands on our time over the last few weeks during the big ‘getting off the island’ shenanigans, and now the eccentricities of living with Granny and Papa Westcountry in their sprawling, full-to-the brim home while we are in an eclecticly bizarre sort of limbo, mean this is my first chance to sit down and type.

In the last week on the island, I think it is fair to say I drank a lot of coffee. Tiddler and I were fortunate to meet and say farewell to different friends from all different parts of our lives at coffee shops, parks, homes, beaches and woodlands. We did the grand tour, Tiddler waving like the Queen with curiously rigid fingers, fitting in everyone on our itinerary as best we could. We were given beautiful, thoughtful going away presents – a customised ‘travelling tin’ with minature champagne bottles and a citronella candle (to allow a future romantic moment on an European beach somewhere without having to sup bubbles through a midge net), a soft warm woolen blanket with the island’s famous tartan in soft toned blue and purple hues, a silky soft toy version of our island’s national and instantly recognisable wiley sheep, messages in cards that went far beyond a simple ‘good luck and we’ll miss you’. Further gifts and cards wait still fully underwraps with dates pencilled on the envelopes for Tiddler and I to open over the next fortnight when both our birthdays will fall within days of each other. Tiddler says thank you and goodbye and showers hugs and kisses on everyone before switching interest to something else, leaving I and Digger to see and feel more keenly the shadow of a tear in someone else’s eye, as well as our own.

In between all this we sold off the last of our furniture and Digger’s ladders, camped out on rolled up blankets on the floor and ate our meals on a picnic blanket in our former lounge. Tiddler queried her absent toys, but quickly found an old broom handle became an imaginary horse, the picnic blanket a pond, and the electric reading key- well I don’t know what that became as we couldn’t find it on departure and had to ask bashfully for our landlady to forward on our final meter reading. Possibly stuck in the garden somewhere I imagine as a sort of snail signpost.

We also managed to make a few last visits to some of our favourite haunts on the island. Tiddler enjoyed a run around an area of woodland that spilled out of a more formal garden, discovering mysterious and hidden places at every turn.

She spent sometime contemplating the beautiful views, even on the cusp of a summer storm.


Digger and I also wanted to make a point to say farewell to the tree planters. To a degree we feel that we, (and also Tiddler in terms of enthusiasm with a plastic spade and time spent trailing round after normally grizzly bearded blokes who take her under their wing and let her boss them around with tree planting instructions), have left a little part of a living legacy of our time on the island through the ground we have cleared and the trees we have planted. It is also of course, how Digger and I met, and how the seed of this idea we are now trying to embark on all really began.
We felt it fitting therefore to do a little bit of stealth birdboxing on some of our current tree planting sites. Digger had previously made some rustic looking birdboxes using a section from a felled tree. They had only gathered spiderwebs and snails in our own garden (despite many avian visitors for seed) and they had now long begun to shed their bark. Digger wouldn’t bring them in the van. I didn’t want to throw away something he had made. So we found a more suitable home for it, and perhaps they may enable a little more life in the woodland other than just the trees themselves.

The following pictures show Tiddler’s master plan- find a suitable tree, instruct Digger how to get up it from a safe position on the ground, put up the birdbox, admire the view, and then give the tree a final hug.

We also had a last look and tidy up at one of our large planting sites (due for it’s official opening at the end of the month) a commerative site of 1267 trees to mark the island’s fallen soldiers, and home also to lots of other trees including ash trees from space!


It is a shame we will not be here to continue to see these grow, but hopefully we, or at least Tiddler will be able to return to a beautiful broadleaved woodland in the future, where right now she spots frogs and ducks and hitches rides in wheelbarrows.

The final thing to say about the last week is Digger’s comment, driving my overladen car on to the ferry. I’d refused to throw anything else away, steadfastly bagging up my last house plants and squeezing them in, wrapping duvets over my knees in the passenger seat. We had to keep the windows wound down to ensure there was enough oxygen. Digger expressively forbade me opening the boot or side door for fear of me somehow launching half our possessions and Tiddler across the tarmac in some sort of jack in the box ejector seat scenario.
I’d mentioned my keyring felt very light, with no house key, and no work keys to weigh it down.  Digger smiled. ‘I have no van key, no shed key, no metal shed key, no house key. Nothing. All we’ve got is your car key. I like it. I like having no keys’. He turns to face both Tiddler and I. ‘Now lets get on that ferry’.






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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Bay day

Tiddler and I have been doing a bit of mud wading this morning, as we checked in on the tree planting team at the large site we are working on clearing and replanting. The glorious (managed) gorse fires there of the autumn have been replaced in a winter sludge and it has been some weeks since we braved the weather and the mire.  The hardy workers though were willing to share their builder’s tea (for the non-UK readers that means tea so thoroughly brewed your teaspoon will either stand up of its own accord, or possibly just melt)  and mince pies with us even though we only turned up just in time for the tea break. There is something about turning your back on the Christmas razzmatazz that is going on seemingly everywhere else on this isle on the last Sunday before the 25th, and instead sharing some open air minimalism for the eyes and a camaraderie hygge instead. Clive is modelling a great beard these days so pretty sure Tiddler figured Santa was doing a bit of wilderness moonlighting anyway, particularly as he gave us an unexpected gift to take away- a bagful of beautifully crunchy crisp bay leaves, and strict instructions on infusing the flavour into bread. The Christmas solstice may traditionally mean bringing the greenery indoors for the winter for the sprits to survive, but the greenery will still be out there, if you step out into


Smashing bashing

Tiddler and I are just back from our end-of-the-week dose of skinflintery stress therapy. No squeezy stress balls, or hot stone massage for us (though that wouldn’t go amiss on the odd occasion now the autumnal weather is a-coming in).  The benefits of physical activity are well documented, be it releasing endomorphins, improving oxygen intake or even just getting you out in the sunshine for your Vitamin D boost, something this little rock has limited hours of even in ‘high’ summer. I like this philosophical take though, that it is a ‘purest experience of freedom’ to push yourself to your physical limits. Now I can in no way claim to be up there with those guys, running long distances, but I’ve done myself proud with burning a few calories and a few tension demons with scrub bashing today.

Ah, the lovely story of how Digger and Thrifter met. Planting trees, with a local volunteer group to re-green our windswept isle, I spotted a man who looked like he knew which end of a spade was which. Always a handy aphrodisiac to a practical self-sufficiency minded thrifter of course and the rest, as the proverbials would say, is history.

However, on account of the gales and the hooleys yesterday, Digger has had to do his Saturday work today instead. This means Tiddler and I ventured out without him today on our usual Sunday jaunt, this time to do some serious damage to an area of unkempt gorse, brambles and bindweed, in order to clear it for winter tree planting. I cut and clear, Tiddler picks blackberries, and the time passes in a lovely glow of September sun and warm muscles. The chat, gentle and flowing between the workers, is punctuated occasionally with L’s humming Simon and Garfunkel tunes that have been on in the van. There is plenty of time for free thought, and the mediative action of repetitious labour reaps its own rewards. A gift at the end of hot tea and cake, with a communal flask and cups, and the distribution of apples from a garden for Tiddler to take home in a doughnut bag.
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Any activity is good for the body and soul, but an activity that brings life back into a wasteland, that will help build a woodland environment, and gives Tiddler an understanding of how we each should give something back- well that is pretty worthy in my book.