Tom Hodgkinson gets Bach to basics
Lockdown has a given me a chance to develop my two hobbies – being frugal and playing baroque ukulele.
Neither goes down particularly well with the family. When I sit down at the kitchen table with my copy of From Lute To Uke: Early Music For The Ukulele by Tony Mizen and its follow-up, The Baroque Ukulele by Tony Mizen, and start to pluck my way through Tudor hits like Pastime And Good Company by Henry VIII and simple Bach and Vivaldi tunes, the room empties, doors around me start closing and I hear screams in the distance: “I just can’t stand it!”; “It’s causing me physical pain!”
I’ve learned to wait till everyone is out of the house to indulge this idle pursuit.
My other hobby, frugality, is similarly unpopular. Our children complain there that isn’t enough food on the table, and what food there is, is “weird”. “What do you mean you don’t like soup made from Sunday’s leftover chicken?” I say. “That’s great household management! You’re spoilt! Eric Gill’s father had 10 children and would cut the single sausage they could afford into 10 equal slices and the children were grateful!”
We often find that, a couple of hours after dinner, there will be a knock at the door and a courier will be standing there with a brown bag containing a burger from Five Guys, which is swiftly collected by the still-hungry teenager, a kind of passive but unambiguous declaration of his disappointment with the standard of catering provided by his parents.
Where I really save is lunches. Like Walter White, I make a sandwich each day before leaving the house. In my case, the filling is cheddar cheese, pickle and a bit of rocket. The cheese costs £1.90 and lasts a week; the rocket costs £1. Add 10 slices of bread which is probably half a loaf, maybe £1.50, plus the pickle and butter. I calculate the total weekly cost of my lunches to be £4.90 or 98 pence per day. Mean Mr Mustard!
Travel-wise, it’s all about the bicycle. I haven’t taken a tube train or taxi since March and have been merrily pedalling all over town. It’s a great joy, great exercise and saves at least £20 a week on tube fares. The experience is marred only by the growing hordes of those silly electric scooters that now infest the streets of London. They zip along pavements, across roundabouts, ignoring all known traffic regulations, like indicating to turn left or right or stopping at traffic lights. They’re also illegal. I amuse myself while I cycle by writing an angry letter in my head to London mayor Sadiq Khan, complaining about these pests, but always forget about it when I arrive in the Idler office.
Anyway these little money-saving tricks give me an enormous amount of satisfaction and make me feel better about the vast quantities of good-quality ale I consume. That is one area where I refuse to economise.
These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
I laughed when I read “Mean Mr Mustard!” And it made me think of Mr Money Mustache. Have you read his website? He is into making his own lunches and cycling everywhere too, with the aim of reaching financial independence. Mr Wringham will know of him, since (work) escapology (one of your online courses that I’ve taken) is very similar thinking. And our teenage son doesn’t order himself a take-away burger (we live out in the sticks), but will serve himself a mid-evening snack of 4 or 5 Weetabix instead.
You are going to the wrong shop for bread!
– David W. Willacy
The only thing worse than a uke is a massed band of them and only thing worse than that is an effing late night drumming circle at a Permaculture convergence! Your family have my deepest sympathy. On the frugality though, I agree this brings both pleasure and a sense of achievement. My Permaculture mentor used the phrase ‘gleaning’ when we discussed it and the money saved from taking this approach helped support my chosen path of less time spent in paid employment. I don’t think i have ever purchased a ‘lunch’, unless on expenses, but my lovely fully filled sarnies for the kids’ school lunches made me no friends when all they wanted to do was be like their peers with their purchased plastic bread and cheese rubbish. Changed their view now they have their own children. As to the bike, refreshing to see you are now embracing exercise as a way to idling – it not only saves money on transport and parking but for people keen on a gym (why, oh why, oh why) they can still exercise and will hopefully realise the convenience owning a cycle gives them unless they are desperate to get back in that sweaty confined arena that costs so much. In order to avoid ill-health I’m going to advocate on behalf of Joe Wicks – he may be a workaholic, but his philosophy can be adapted for the ‘bare minimum’ attention to exercise needed for the rest of us – with his slogan of ‘lean in 15’ we can effectively apply that 5/2 principle for fast exercise. I’m 55, a bit overweight, and have good blood pressure while enjoying excessive boozing (according to the new guidelines, anyway – who drinks only 14 units per week?) and good food – but not every night.