Wednesday 20 July 2016


Not a misprint for knickers, which I covered in continent-wide depth and mathematical precision in 2013. Dau.II and her bloke had a two night break in a Spa Hotel a while back and I got the low-down during a Skype session a few days later. I asked, because I'm like that and the apple falls not far from the tree, if she'd come away with the shower caps. Apparently not, but she'd scooped the double-wrapped tea-bags & sugar sachets from the complementary tea tray.  The Bloke was in the background making loop-de-loop gestures around his head but eroded his high moral ground by coming into the foreground suggesting that the dinky bottles of shampoo and conditioner were more useful spoils of spa.

18ish years ago when the girls were tiny, I was in the international jet-travel stage of my life. As the Irish node of a European quango, I was off to Brussels or Oslo or Helsinki or Lausanne or Bari or Hinxton about once a month. In those days, before Ryanair started a drive to the bottom, you got a 'free' meal served with dinky cutlery on any flight over an hour. Just about functional for scooping some engineered food product from a melamine or tin-foil container, they were just perfick for small hands . . . so I popped a set into my carry on.  If I travelled on a different airline, I brought off a different set of mini cutlery, so there would be a choice at home. And, of course, I brought home the dinky bottles of shampoo from the *** hotel where I was billetted.  Is that bad? I guess. And it's not a victimless crime - the accumulated pilferring put a stop to the last "luxury" of international travel and contributed to the avalanche of throw-away plastic which is sent to land-fill after one use. Cheaper for the airline, a disaster for the planet.  I don't do that any more - too much stuff. I am the only person in The Institute who re-uses the throw-away plastic spoons - mine is now as brown as the inside of my works tea-cup. One advantage of rarely washing my cup, apart from saving water, is that nobody else is tempted to use it.

Back in my travelling day, that cup often came with me on foreign travel because the cups at continental dining-rooms were piffling little things almost demi-tasse in size. I need a good three cups of tea to re-hydrate in the morning and bringing my own, larger, mug meant fewer trips back to the buffet. And yes, I'd bring the little plastic packs of jam back home for the girls - especially if they looked exotic: Aprikose, boysenmarja, aardbei.  If I was in Nederland, I'd do my best to nip round the corner to an Albert Heijn and buy a couple of packets of hagel. I paid for the hagel but I think the jam was just as exciting to small girls . . . the taste of not bought but stolen apples.

I got some of my training in this in graduate school. My boss there taught me a lot about genetics and more than I needed to know about parasitology. But he also taught me how to live: how to be thrifty but not mean. He could ask for two fried eggs and a glass of beer in 15 languages. This life-skill only let him down once, in Turkish, when his order was received with looks of incredulity but delivered as two dozen fried eggs. We were on a field trip to Canada once and the flea-bag motel where we stayed had offended him, so, as we were leaving, he threw the toilet rolls and the waste-paper basket into the back of the car.  I remonstrated that this clutter would do us no good and he growled "Wha'? I paid for this. I could have been on the toilet all night from the meal we ate there."
Years later, we were visiting Boston when the Senior Center across the street had their annual stuff sale. He was delighted because he could buy himself a new top-coat against the forthcoming Winter. Plenty of choice in high quality men's over-coats - it was an affluent suburb - and Neil secured one for $5.  I congratulated him and suggested that it would do for many years if he got it dry-cleaned occasionally. "Dry cleaned??? It would cost $15 to dry clean and I can buy a new one next year for five bucks".

1 comment:

  1. This kind of thriftiness is still going on in graduate school. I have become a talented forager of biscuits/survival expert akin to Ray Mears because of it.