New Year is the time for a bit of unbridled introspection, and I have been reflecting on my good fortune at having certain virtues that stand me in good stead. These vastly undervalued characteristics are often presented as character flaws – but are they, really? (Some of the traditional ‘vices’ are worth a second look, too.)
There is nothing like generosity to generate a ridiculous amount of unwanted crap – particularly at Christmas, but at other times of year too – birthdays, visits to/from relatives, return from holiday, birth of a baby, etc. Think of all those acrylic matinee jackets that manifest during late pregnancy. My well cultivated stinginess at birthday and Christmas has bred into the children (now adults) that we don’t give presents to all and sundry, and amongst ourselves we give only one small gift. For years I reckoned on a tenner for each of the kids, my mum and my boyfriend if I had one. In latter years this has turned into one larger but pre-arranged gift. Dispensing with Christmas stockings, advent strings etc has been a glorious relief and dramatically reduced the pile of surplus crap. I normally give about three or four cards – but to different people each year. I like homemade or exceptionally well chosen cards, and I would prefer re-display the one I like from a previous year than receive a new inferior one. Crackers are OK if they are made from old newspapers, but even then a lot of work goes into them just to be destroyed. I don’t like bangs, I don’t like jokes and I don’t like silly hats. To be honest, I don’t know anyone who does.
Stinginess in the highstreet and unwillingness to spend money on something just because I want it, has been an invaluable protection against overspending and debt. I don’t waste money on new items that I’ll get secondhand if I wait, or on rash purchases of things I don’t need. I made a rash purchase once. I bought a deep fat fryer for thirty quid, thinking we would make chips and tempura. We rarely made chips or tempura, yet the horrible thing was always there, sticky and brown on the worktop, looking far worse than the ones that immediately appeared at the carboot for a couple of quid. Never again.
Stinginess means I could never be a gambler. Gambling to me is spending 50p on a book that may turn out to be an Amazon ‘penny book’ and ‘losing’ is having to sell it off at Pilton for a quid. Occasionally we’ll put a few 2ps in those machines in the amusement arcade, the ones that slide backwards and forwards and coins pile up until you get a satisfying tumble of them in the tray. But I can’t imagine feeding money into a machine that doesn’t do that. Like parking meters. Thinking of which, being too mean to pay for parking leads to more cycling and visiting charity shops in more obscure places. Thinking of which, stinginess leads to increased revenue for charities.
Stinginess means I could never be a cocaine addict: it is just such bad value for money (or so I hear). Stinginess results in accumulating savings and never being in financial difficulties. Stinginess means never throwing anything away and then, when I have a job to do, always having the materials to do it. Stinginess leads to lots of recycling and composting and very little landfill. It is assuredly good for the planet, and it saves a lot of hard work in sweatshops.
Being lazy means doing less, which is lighter on the planet and also far, far easier. Being too lazy to look at airfares and bothering go on holiday reduces Co2 emissions, but in any case going on holiday is hard – think of all that rucksack carrying and traipsing around ruins and museums and what-not. It is much easier to stay at home. Going to bed early saves tiredness and electricity. Laziness lowers productivity, uses fewer resources and saves energy for sudden bursts of necessary activity. Procrastinating and not getting around to things allows time to change my mind, for the task to atrophy and drop off the To-Do list. Laziness stops me from getting fat and spotty, because I can’t be bothered to go to the shop for chocolate. Being too lazy to help people prevents them from feeling patronised or interfered with. Preferring comfort and ease to stress keeps me sane and happy.
There is a whole philosophical thing with ‘not doing’. There’s Carlos Castaneda’s ‘stopping the world’ in Journey to Ixtlan; Eileen Caddy at Findhorn talked about being still and listening for the “still, small voice”. Meditation requires stillness and quiet and not-doing.
Of course there really isn’t any such thing as ‘not doing’ because you’re ‘doing’ whatever form your not-doing takes. In law, ‘acts’ and ‘omissions’ are rarely treated differently, recognising that both have an effect. Yet ‘not doing’ tends to get bad press, as if it is failure, in conventional society, or gets applauded as a virtue in more spiritual circles. Laziness is a good compromise between the two.
Politically it is the work ethic that upholds capitalism. Zeal makes us fanatical and resentful. Non-co-operation is the province of the anarchist; striking the province of the worker; skiving the province of the schoolchild. Laziness makes us free and uncontrollable.
The Idle Traveller by Dan Kieran
The Idler Magazine ed. Tom Hodgkinson
Oh, yeah for dirtiness! For not caring about whether my clothes get dirty; for not taking my clothes off in the winter or getting cold water on my skin on a freezing day; for not killing off the ‘good bacteria’; for not polluting the water with bleach; for not wasting money on fabric softener; for not filling the kitchen cupboard with cleaning products; for leaving the washing up and watching five episodes of Breaking Bad instead; for not caring about poo or being squeamish about dirty nappies; for picking up food off the floor; for scavenging from skips; for not washing protective oils from my skin or hair; for not caring whether or not I’ve got running water; for not peeling mushrooms or washing vegetables; for sniffing the armpits of my clothes rather than putting them in the washing machine indiscriminately.
There’s all the stuff about immunity and disease resistance, so personally I wouldn’t want to take the risk of not exposing myself. You have to keep your tolerance high. My mum’s friend Kathleen, who had her baby at the same time as my mum had me, didn’t take her baby out of the house at all for the first six months, and then she wouldn’t take her on public transport. When Clare started school she got ill all the time, and stayed a sickly child for the whole rest of the time we knew them. Dirtiness is all relative. As my eyesight has deteriorated with my age, things become less dirty. I simply don’t see the dirt. The ‘dirt’ or the ‘germs’ are always there, it’s just a question of how big. Like breathing in tiny-wincy buggies or beasties on vegetables. Bluebottles and slugs: they go. A lot of it is microscopic: it stays. It’s only when it bothers us that it bothers us. I just made the decision to set my ‘bothered’ tolerance quite high, because it’s easier (see ‘Laziness’ above).
Germs May Be Good For You Live Science – just one example of loads of this sort of thing
FreeganInfo Freeganism – eating food that others throw away
I’ve no tolerance for doing or putting up with anything I don’t like. It makes me unhappy. I don’t like ‘funny-business’ or weirdness and I’m not going to stand any nonsense – not as a matter of pride or principle, but just because I don’t like it. I’m utterly intolerant of jobs I don’t like – money is no way a satisfactory recompense for getting up in the dark to go to some horrible place full of frustrating and aggravating people to do something that I either don’t enjoy, or do enjoy but have my enjoyment spoilt by my co-workers. Intolerance has empowered me to finish with boyfriends after one small but symbolic incident, protecting me from entrenched relationships that culminate in aggravation, abuse and depletion of resourses. Why put up with something you don’t like or that makes you feel uncomfortable? Nipping it in the bud is far preferable.
Tact is just a version of dishonesty. I can never get my head around why honesty and straightforwardness are so often maligned. Tactlessness simply gets things out in the open where they can be aired rather than bottled up. I consistently find that people respond well to a refreshing question like “How much do you earn?” or “Have you ever been with a prostitute?” etc. Skirting around issues that matter simply prolongs the pain, whereas broaching a subject cleanly makes it easier for the person to talk about it. Honesty, straightforwardness, humour all result from not worrying unduly about being tactful. Being tactless is really funny – usually at my own expense, as I cringe and recoil in horror at the enormously huge diplomatic boo-boo I have just made. But so what?
If people say what they think without trying to be tactful, it allows the people they are saying it to to make an accurate judgement of their position – for good or ill. My mum calling Wishy-Washy Andy Wishy-Washy Andy to his face, simply informed him that he was… wishy-washy. Would it really have helped him not to know? Oh, and tactlessness has a certain winnowing function. People who prefer to fiddle about at the edges with politeness and decorum simply don’t hang around.
Selfishness is embodied in the principle that you put on your own oxygen mask in the plane crash, and then put on your children’s, or in Aleister Crowley’s maxim “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law”, the principle that everything would be at its best if we all followed our own true ‘will’, i.e. what we are ‘meant’ to do.
Bar a few buddhists we are all the product of our own ego. We are all the centre of our universe, born at the top of the planet looking down on the rest of it from our own point of view. Selfishness is simply looking at things from our own point of view (which we do anyway, even if we dress it up as something else) and I can’t see the point in not being honest about it. Plus there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it. Where it all goes wrong is when people start interfering with or ‘helping’ other people. I can’t see how it can’t do anything other than cause confusion if we all go around being ‘unselfish’ and trying to pre-empt what other people want or need and then doing that.
Cultivating the practice of doing things for a reason other than that someone else wants you to, or thinks you should, is useful and calming.
Grouchiness and bad-temperedness are great. They deter a huge amount of peripheral social twaddle. That’s not to say that you can’t be friendly and cheerful in ad hoc encounters at the bus stop or checkout, but it does mean you don’t have to be gracious to men who call you ‘love’, and you can walk straight on past the religious stall at the carboot simply because they’ve said a synthetically cheerful “Good morning!”. You can sit at the junction on your bicycle and resist the patronising and increasingly frantic gesticulation of the person in the car who is determined to let you out, even though they’ve got right of way and you know full well they won’t have given mind to whether a motorbike is coming up the middle or even noticed that the car coming the other way would have hit you if you did. Grouchiness means you can ignore the person waving you into a parking space you were (a) perfectly capable of getting into without their waving or (b) never going to get into despite their waving. It means you can not say ‘Thank you” to someone who has done something for you you did not want them to do in the first place. It means you can completely ignore people who jolly you along thinking they are being clever or funny when actually they are being sexist and irritating. It means you can say ‘No’.
And another thing: ‘fun’ is overrated. It seems to be some holy grail that people are looking to find in the future, but apparently can’t do without inflicting it on others. It always seems to involve staying up late, drinking enough alcohol to get a hangover and dancing. Dancing is the worst. What is it that makes people think it’s OK to try and force their preferred creative expression onto innocent bystanders? I’ve seen people dragged onto the dance floor, only to make complete pillocks of themselves bobbing and jerking around. Some bloke at Port Eliot tried to jolly me into dancing – always a little patronising, the subtext being that they are helping me to ‘enjoy myself’ or ‘let my hair down’. No, I just don’t like dancing. I asked him what it is with dancing that people always try to encourage others to do it, when they don’t bully and cajole any other form of creative expression. No one tries to get me to write: “Come on, sit down and write; write a story; just one. It’ll be fun!” or “Come on, let’s get up and do some stone carving!” Nah. Never happens.
The whole thing with grouchiness is that people are different. We all like and enjoy different things, and see things in different ways. I don’t necessarily see it as a good thing to have forced on me what you like, or how you want to be. I reserve the right to like what I like, and not to like or expose myself to what you like. I haven’t got ‘no sense of humour’ because I don’t find your jokes and wind-ups funny, I don’t want you to talk to me because you are friendly, I don’t want to be called ‘love’ – because you think you’re being nice. The upshot of all this grouchiness is that I really have rather a nice life.
Grumpy Old Men TV series
Grumpy Old Women TV series