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Posted by Dirck on 9 January, 2012

After that bunch of posh, moneyed nonsense the past couple of days, let me rehumblify myself.  In one of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, Captain Aubrey ponders the losses that attend coming into money (as capturing some enemy shipping could bring to an early 19th century naval officer).  I don’t have the book at hand, so I will mis-quote, but the piles of money would see “the loss of the small contrivances” one has to undertake to make an underfunded living at least bearable.

Let me lay out some of the small contrivances of the past little while.  First to come to mind is bread.  During the cold months, I enjoy making bread, as it not only fills the house with the delightful smells and warmth of baking, but allows me to devour piping hot, fresh bread into which I know there has been put only a bare and unavoidable amount of mysterious chemicals.  With the addition of a ravenous son to the house, a loaf never goes stale before it simply goes.

The household finances are at a point where I no longer have to engage in my own soap-making, which is just as well, since a tiny, rampant human and a vessel full of lye in the same house would be a source of unspeakable panic.  To be honest, soap was never beyond our means, but the point of these efforts in my life has always been more about relieving pressure on the bank balance than filling an otherwise impossible need.  Some time ago, I mentioned my splurging on shoes, and the long-term economy they would hopefully provide.  My own “small contrivances” are generally manifestations of the same sort of approach; an apparently large expenditure that amortizes well.

A prime example of this is my enormous bottle of vanilla tincture.  Vanilla is a constant in my baking (bread aside), and in the stores, there are but two options; expensive delicious extract or affordable flavourless brown fluid.  Well, I went out and made my own; a bottle of rum, a couple of vanilla beans, and some patience, and I have three-quarters of a liter of delicious yet inexpensive cooking fluid.  Inexpensive per tablespoon (the natural measurement of vanilla), as I admit a pretty substantial initial outlay.

This inexpensive yet excellent vanilla is the foundation for home-made ice cream which has a similar approach to being inexpensive.  I spend about as much as I would on one of the little 500ml tubs of Häagen-Dazs, and end up with about thrice that volume of something as free of additives as the previously-mentioned bread and which at a minimum tastes as good as the “super-premium” stuff.

Am I bragging?  A little.  My point, though, is that there are benefits to saving money that go beyond merely having more money about the place.  There’s less processing, a greater sense of involvement in the final product, and an enhanced sense of self-sufficiency (possibly illusory, but present all the same).

There is, I’m happy to relate, a fountain pen connection in all this.  Fountain pens are another of these odd items that cost a lot (relatively) to get but end up as a bargain, and which serve to give the same sense of satisfaction through closer connection (you have to keep filling it) and simplification (you can, if you’re not a looney like me, pass through life with but one pen).  A certain amount of the self-righteousness found in fountain pen folks comes from the same place as that found in people with a thriving vegetable garden.

I sometimes wonder whether non-obligatory simplicity might not be worth the denial.  I still, I’ll admit, look upon those who chop of their internet connections and have a bit of a quiver (a strangely similar one to that which I get from looking at the obligatory texters), but there is also the curiousity connected to “a little feels sort of good, I wonder what a lot is like?”  Does the fact that it’s entirely voluntary make it less satisfying?  Possibly not; I’m not dabbling in pens to avoid starvation, and they still bring satisfaction.

The other item of pondering is the point at which these contrivances are lost in the face of wealth.  We see on television a sad subset of the “reality celebrity” who are apparently driven only by the cost of their lifestyle, and become screechy if faced with paying too little for their amusements.  How might the discovery of a neglected dollar in a jacket pocket affect that sort of wreck of humanity?  Even short of that extreme, though, how wealthy does one have to be to lose the joy in composing a meal out of what remains in a pantry that is one day too long past the last shopping trip?  As with the previous point, I find curiousity urges me to find out the answer….

Today’s pen, a fine example of enjoyment in getting-by: Dollar 717i

Today’s bargain ink: Wancher Matcha

Post-scriptus:  My knowledge of the use of umlauts is as imperfect as my memory of the Germany 101 class in which I first learned about them, back before Die Mauer was toppled, but I really can’t see how a human is going to manage to say “Häagen” without either ignoring the accent mark or achieving a serious injury.


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