Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Miserly Month

Note from Andrew - "For the first time, this blog has a guest writer. Be nice to her."

by Jen

Hi, everyone in Internet Land! My name is Jen. I'm Andrew's girlfriend. (Yes, I won the dating lottery. Don't ask how many tickets I bought. Lol!)

Andrew did a project in July that he called his 'Miserly Month'. He said he wouldn't spend any money and that he would write about it on his blog. Well, the year's nearly over and there's still no sign of any article.

"Where's your article?" I asked him about an hour ago. "I really want to read it."
"Here's my article," he said, throwing a dog-eared notepad at me. Receipts and post-it notes showered in its wake, like sparks from a comet. "You write it if it's so easy. Go on! Write it. See what happens."

I used to like writing. I mostly did poems about ponies and homoerotic Westlife fanfiction. "Fine," I said, "I will. As soon as I find my crayons."

Setting the Record Straight

Since I'm here, I'd like to make sure everyone knows that things Andrew writes about me aren't always true. 

First, I'm not a dwarf - I'm 164 Swiss centimetres tall and can reach almost all the shelves in a supermarket. Second, all the stuff about me getting furiously angry about inconsequential things is only true according to a very narrow definition of the word true.

Events Leading to Miserly Month

Andrew had been reading a subversive blog called Mr Money Mustache for a couple of weeks. Its idea is to furiously squirrel away money until you can quit working. Sometimes Andrew would look up from his phone and say things like 'this guy in Milwaukee sold all his chairs and now he just squats' or 'this guy in Denmark harvests his own toenails and sells them to churches as confetti.'

After reading the entire blog from start to end, he jumped out of bed.

He stormed around the flat looking at things, questioning if we needed them, querying the cost of everything. Where do we buy our milk? What's the EBITDA on these houseplants? Why do we need two frying pans? ("One's for chicken eggs, one's for ducks.") We never use this table! ("I use it every day but you never notice.") Why do we have ornaments? ("They're cute and pretty.") How much do we spend on toaster oil? ("Nothing, that's not a real thing.") Could we sell this used cardboard? Could we wall off half the flat to save on heating? 

And on and on. I began to wonder where this process would end. It was easy to picture Future Andrew very very clearly.

Future Andrew

After working himself up into some kind of financial frenzy, near the end of June he said, "Oh, by the way, I'm not going to spend any money in July." 

I'll admit that I freaked out. I wanted to yell, "I don't want to use junk mail as toilet paper!" I wanted to shout, "I don't want to take baths in reclaimed rainwater!" I wanted to scream, "I'm a girl! I like soft furnishings and creams that cost more per kilo than plutonium! You're supposed to make my life better not drag me into your whirlpool of craziness!" 

But I couldn't form the words. I ran out of the flat sprinted to the nearest shop and bought a cake and ate the cake right there at the checkout while the woman watched me eat the cake and said I had cake on my chin

My Experience of Miserly Month

It's fair to say I was dreading July, but it started quite normally. As always, I woke up giggling because of a dream (this time about a pair of crime-solving ponies who told me secrets), and started getting ready for work. 

I was surprised to find Andrew in the kitchen making a packed lunch. He never did that. He told me that normally he'd spend 15 francs at Subway. 15 francs! My mouth dropped open and it took me a moment to realise he was trying to wrap some grapes in greaseproof paper. I showed him where the clingfilm was and left.

When I got home I asked him about his day, looking for clues that he was slowly turning into a tramp. I was perplexed to hear that he had bought a new iPhone. "What's miserly about buying the most expensive phone on the market?" I asked. He said that "because of reasons" it was actually only going to cost him 70 francs and he thought it was worth it to skip two generations of phone.

I started to wonder if I'd misjudged this miserliness thing. You can be frugal and have nice things?

The days passed. We were supposed to meet a friend for drinks. "I don't want to spend silly money in a bar," said Andrew. Aha! I thought to myself. Now I can get angry at him and have one of those dramatic episodes I enjoy so much. But he continued, "So I bought some little bottles of prosecco and some snacks. We'll sit by the river." "Oh," I said, quite disappointed, "That actually sounds lovely."

His main target for savings seemed to be food. He encouraged me to make healthy things for dinner and to make big portions so he could eat leftovers for lunch the next day.

sensed an opportunity to break his spirit and end this stingy stupidity - I cooked lentils night after night after night.

On the sixth day I held a bag of red lentils behind my back. "Andrew, guess what's for dinner?" I revealed the bland, lifeless legumes.
"Oh," he said, his face crumpling. "Lentils. That's... really great. Cheap and healthy. Yes, sir, cheap and healthy." He went to his computer, opened a financial spreadsheet and stared at it while rubbing his temples.

The next day he came back from Aldi with a bag of groceries. "Look," he said, "They have lentils in Aldi. Half the price." We stared at each other for a very long time. I cleared my throat - "I was thinking we could phone a pizza tonight. Um... my treat."

So Andrew won that round, but who won the war? 


Andrew spent 280 francs in July, which included a haircut (I didn't notice), 3 giant tubs of ice-cream (unshared) and 2 pizzas. About a third of what he'd normally spend. Not zero francs, then, but not bad. (For comparison, know that I spend 90 francs a month on cake, pony ornaments, and my Westlife Uberfanclub membership.)

Eating all my delicious veggie food helped him lose two kilos - his belly was getting almost ripped. It's back to flabby now because in the meantime we had two holidays and a stressful move. But he's still fairly frugal, and a good thing too with all the bills we've had.

I'm not 100% on board the frugality train, but at least I've learned that it's clean and the seats are comfy. (We just bought a premium sofa for half price - yay!)

Most of all, I've learned not to be such a drama queen babyhead and to trust in Andrew and the wisdom of all his plans and whims.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

100 Happy Days Part 13

It is believed that by taking photos of things that make you happy (every day for 100 days) you will improve your mood, become more optimistic, and, intriguingly, receive more compliments. Does it work? Let's find out! (Or go to part 1 to start at the start).

Day 85

We landed in Nice to spend some time there before a wedding. We needed to take a bus to our hotel.

Being ignorant of French travel norms, we went to the bus station. After queuing for a while, it was our turn.

"Good morning, sir," I said, "I should like to buy two bus tickets."
"Ha!" roared the Frenchman manning the counter. "Ha!"
"Um... right. Two tickets, please."
"This is the bus station," he told me. "You can't buy bus tickets here."
"I just saw you sell tickets to all those people."
"Those people," he told me haughtily, "were buying tickets for the bus. Not tickets for the bus."
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. "So where do we buy tickets for the bus." His eyebrows shot up. "I mean the bus."
"On the bus," he said.

We went to the closest stop, which was the wrong stop, walked all the way back to where we started, by now leaking sweat from every pore. We found the right stop by following the deepest trail of sweat, waited for the right bus, and bought two tickets. Hooray!

After the relief had worn off, I began to fret. "What was the name of the stop again?"
Jen looked on her phone. "Aauaauaa," she said. (That's what it sounded like, anyway. The French attitude to consonants is one of their many faults.)
I looked around and realised there was no digital screen or route map. The only information we could get was the name of the stop we were going past. We didn't know if our stop was the next one, or the third one, or the umpteenth one.
Jen went to ask the driver. "Will you be saying the names of the stops?"
"Nah, too much effort." Shrug.
"When is Aauaauaa?"
"Um... yeah. In a bit." He glanced behind him. "I guess."
"We were told the trip would be about 20 minutes."
"Could be."
"There are many ways you could help us out, here."
Shake of head. "Look, come back in 15 minutes and ask me again."

Annoying. Plus the bus was jam-packed. You know those pictures of crowds on Indian trains? Imagine that.

But without the camaraderie.

We drove at 200mph for three stops, hit traffic, and progressed at a speed roughly equivalent to being pulled across the Sahara desert by huskies specially bred to have tiny, tiny legs.

Finally we arrived. When Jen told me we had to change to another bus I nearly wept. Fortunately, it came quickly. We didn't even have time to check the timetable when the doors opened. We stepped on.

"Do you go to Ouiouiwee?" Jen asked.
"I dunno," said the driver.
"How can you not know?"
"I don't know all the stops in Nice," he said. He couldn't even be bothered to shrug.
"You only need to know the stops on one route."
"Well I don't."
Eventually a fellow passenger told us it was the right bus, and a different one told us when to get off.

Transport in France is an absolute shambles. I'm not even going to write about the trains there because just thinking about it gives me nipple warts. There are millions of French people suffering from and through that 'service' every day of their lives, a thought that makes me very happy indeed.

Day 86

Parts of Nice are really great. The old town is superb, and next to it is a long park with fun play areas and refreshing fountains.

Then there's the beach. Three of us went to have a swim. It's rocky, with a sharp dip at the point you enter the water. I had two glasses of prosecco then hobbled towards the dip. I slid down with what I like to think was gravity-defying elegance and my belly-flop into the water was totally intentional.

After flailing around at toe-depth for a bit I decided I had ingested enough salt water for one day. In the five minutes I was there, I developed an overwhelming terror of being bitten by a shark. My companions mocked me for this, but the thing about water is that in such large quantities you can't see what's in it. It's a frightful place, the sea.

So I decided to leave. With one main problem - what looked like a dip from one side has, from the other side, the countenance of a cliff. I tried to clamber up, but with the rocks not only wobbling but also trying to pierce my flesh, and with wave after wave crashing into me, I kept losing my balance and toppling backwards.

This continued for quite some time, because my 'friends' were too busy laughing - literally weeping with joy - to help. Finally, a stranger took pity on me and threw me some flip-flops. With those on I was able to manoeuvre myself so that my bottom faced the cliff and I could shove myself up, ass first, three or four inches at a time.

So yeah, basically I emerged from the water just as sexily as all English guys.

Day 87

Still in Nice, I saw a shop I thought was funny. It was this hairdresser:

Normal hairdresser, right? Look closer.

What exactly drove this poor man to stop serving female customers? The mind boggles.

Day 88

Today there was a wedding. Cecile married Nick. Cecile's a journalist and works for a newspaper in Christchurch. She asked me to write a review of the wedding, which I did. It's literally the best thing that has ever been written about weddings and I was quite chuffed to see it printed.

Look! There it is! In a real newspaper!

That's my article on the left. Now it wasn't pure, unalloyed joy I felt - I had two reservations. First, they changed the title of the piece. It was given the uninspiring title, 'It's a nice day for a French wedding.' Not only is that incredibly dull, but it also removes an important bit of information and makes parts of the article unnecessarily weird.

It should have been called 'The Case of the Insouciant Celebrant' - a title I'm sure a literate, inquisitive person such as yourself will find deliciously intriguing. When you read the article - by clicking here - you'll understand why changing the title is a crime against literature.

MOREOVER, my good friend Cecile told me that she had intervened in the editorial process when she learned that my article was to be given full-page treatment. Full page! Me! In a real newspaper! But NON. Non, non, non. "I made them change it to half a page," said Cecile, "Because I've never had a full-page article so you can't get one on your first go. That wouldn't be fair, would it?"

Day 89

I left Nice after two bus trips EVEN WORSE than the ones on day 85. Joy!

For the photo of this event, here's one I took of a guy who was at the airport with us - crippled Arsenal star Olivier Giroud.

Day 90

Great things about being back home - tea with milk you can trust; sleeping in your own bed; catching up with all the internet stuff you missed.

To think that I nearly didn't see this sensational image:

Don't dial 0465-8767-1724-6613, because that's the police.

Day 91

As much as I enjoy pretending to be mad at Cecile, she did trust me to write the review of her wedding (a trust I spectacularly and hilariously betrayed) and she even paid me the fee she got (which I said wasn't necessary).

At the same time I was paid for editing a dissertation, and got a gig translating a corporate website from German into English (note - I don't speak German and they paid a fortune). 

Three pieces of paid writing work in a month! I felt like Catherine Cookson. I earned enough to spend two weeks in Nice, or buy 32 crates of cheap beer from Aldi.

Guess which one I chose?

Mood: Relieved.

Compliments: "Andrew seems to be perfect." "It's still on your chin. No, the other side." "You always ruin everything."

Optimism: Coming up was a family holiday and moving apartment. Lots of stress on the horizon, but I felt quite sure everything would turn out well. So... 7 out of 10.