Christmas is a traditional time of gift giving in countries influenced by Christianity. Such gift giving has grown out of any proportions that any Jesus Christ that might have existed is likely to approve of. Sarah knitted us ear warmers and dish cloths for Christmas, which is my favourite sort of present – made by the giver. Not quite true. My other favourite sort of present is a book, which she also gave us and Chris and I gave each other. Mum’s favourite present is a donation to the Fred Hollows Foundation, so that’s what I gave her. It was great, we all got what we wanted and in some cases other people got things too.
This isn’t about trying to make us out as some saintly group of people who aren’t spending money. It is about getting what you want, and what you want being congruent with your other values. I read an interesting commentary by a friend on social media, about the value of congruence in life – how we like people who live by what they believe in. This sounds like a great ideal, but can be quite challenging if what you think you ought to do is different from what you want to do.
I was chatting about congruence with Sarah, in terms of the challenges of being vegetarian and liking meat. My suggestion is, that one can come to congruence over time, in loops. If you like meat but are trying to give up meat because you believe the planet will be better off with fewer people eating meat, you have a hard road because you will always get what you partly don’t want! Eat meat and feel bad about the planet. Feel good about the planet and sadly sniff the savour of meat on someone else’s BBQ. However, in time, if you deliberately bring the two conflicting thoughts together in your mind (in my case, think about happy little lambs turning into chops when I see them in the field and when I am offered meat), one’s ‘ought to’ and ‘want to’ can become closer, to the point that meat actually doesn’t taste good any more. You no longer have to fight with yourself.
But how do presents align with valuable rags and rusty nails? They align in so much as, items appear valuable when they are scarce. If one receives a plethora of presents, none of them seem so interesting or important. But when there are a paucity of items, every one of them seems special.
When we have cycled in remote places we have placed a lot of value on random rags and rusty nails. The only really regular cycle maintenance we do while touring is clean the chains. To clean one’s chain requires bike lube, which we carry (and dole out sparingly) and a rag. The rags get dirty, at which point they put as much dirt on your chain as they take off, so you need a new one. You might think a rag is an easy thing to acquire, but in places with no shops and where yurt dwellers have to sustain themselves for weeks on end without supplies, rags are very valuable commodities. The yurt dwellers don’t have spare clothes so repair their clothes until they are unrepairable, at which point they use them as rags for their own important purposes. One can be reduced to scouring four wheel drive tracks for rags and picking up an extra one if you see it so you can be sure you can clean your chain for a couple of weeks.
Rusty nails can also be very useful. When we were cycling in the back blocks of Tajikistan, our rear pannier racks (this was in the days before bike packing) started to break. First one crack, then another…we were running out of things to repair the racks with. There would be no town with shops for days of cycling and we didn’t want to carry 25+kg of load (including water and food) on our backs while cycling at 4000m. We started picking up rusty nails and pieces of wire that we found on the four wheel drive track and used them in crafty repair solutions. Even when towns became more frequent we still hoarded useful bits and pieces, until we reached the Osh bazaar, where rusty nails no longer seemed quite as special because we could buy as many hose clamps as we wanted.
Related to rusty nail resilience, I remain cognisant of how my grandparents lived. Their garage was full of parts of broken items that might once again prove useful, and random screws and nuts and bolts and suchlike. My grandparents lived through WWII when everything was scarce and that scarcity created habits they never broke. I struggle between being parsimonious to that degree, and being organised. I don’t like mess and I don’t see any point in having items that you can’t find, so our goods need to live in labelled boxes. When Mum was clearing out my grandparents’ house she found bags of string labelled ‘Long pieces of string’, ‘Short pieces of string’, ‘Pieces of string too small to be of any use’. This set of labels might describe the spectrum of people’s approach to preserving items. This could be used to create a spectrum of personality types on which one can place oneself in fun corporate team building exercises.
- No string kept
- Long pieces of string in a labelled bag
- Long & short pieces of string in labelled bags – Jane
- Long, short and too small pieces of string in labelled bags
- Varied pieces of string tangled together in a box – Chris
However many presents you have received or given this holiday season, and whatever their nature might be, I hope you have had fun in the giving and receiving. COVID years make one more conscious than ever that the only time to enjoy life is in the moment of living it.
“I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!” the Queen said. “Two pence a week, and jam every other day.”
Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, “I don’t want you to hire me – and I don’t care for jam.”
“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.
“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”
“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day’,” Alice objected.
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”
Lewis Carroll – Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There