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Do you own it, or does it own you?

Woodworkers, depicted at the tomb of Rekhmire, from

I like reading about lifestyles I have no intention of emulating, but might learn something from. Such as the “travel the world for ten years with only one pair of underwear” minimalist types. It's all very “I've got an ultralight laptop and that's all I need”. Which is fine if you're only a writer or programmer or something like that. But as a writer who is also a swordsman and even a woodworker, it's not really a practical lifestyle choice. To do the things I want to do, I need swords, and tools. But one of the many things I've learned from people like Tynan, Tim Ferriss, and other techno-nomads is the joy of travelling handluggage only. On my last two long trips (Italy-USA-Canada-Italy; Finland-New Zealand-Australia-Finland) I travelled with only hand luggage. No sword bag (bliss! there are swords everywhere I go these days, so bringing my own makes no sense), no suitcase, just what I could fit into a 10kg carry-on bag. It's amazing how much crap I used to lug about, and now don't need to bother with, and do not miss.

So of course, in the run-up to moving to the UK in a few months, I'm shedding stuff like crazy. I just bought a decent document scanner (NeatDesk, second hand from a friend), so I can bin almost all of my papers. I'll be clearing out some of my books (I got rid of 18 boxes-full in the last year alone: which made no visible difference at all. I am, after all, a reader first and writer second). But at the end of the day, some stuff matters.

My glue pot. It will outlive us all!

Take this glue pot for instance. It's made of cast iron, in a form that goes back to the middle ages at least, though this pot is only about 100 years old. I bought it from Fred Murray himself, proprietor of Murray's Tools, an amazing tool shop in Edinburgh, just after I completed my first month of professional experience in William Trist's antique restoration workshop, where I first encountered this utterly brilliant glue. Hot glue, scotch glue, hot animal glue, hide glue; it has many names. And an indefinite shelf life if kept dry, and is still holding furniture together that was made by the ancient Egyptians. Show me any other glue which has been product-tested for, oh, two and a half millenia or so?

Ancient Egyptian glue pot

I love this pot. It represents proper, old-school, traditional craftsmanship. It's been with me for twenty years. I bought it from a man I liked, who sold it to me at a lower price than he could have got for it because he knew I'd be using it for its proper purpose.

I'm not selling it, giving it away, or leaving it behind. It came over in my hand luggage about a decade ago, and it's coming back with me, probably the same way. From a practical perspective, I can do without it; I fixed a friend's sideboard with hot animal glue a couple of years ago, melting the stuff in a bain-marie improvised out of a plastic cup and a saucepan. I could buy a modern pot, with electronic heat control so the glue never gets too hot. But life should never be simply a matter of practicality, and sentimental value is vastly more important than financial value, I would say.

The things you own, own you, if you can't walk away from them. I could walk away from most of the objects in my life. Almost all my swords, for instance. I really do view most of them as expendable resources, things that wear out eventually, and are easily replaced. But the ones made for me by a friend, those are not really replaceable. Even if they are no longer useful. But the list of things I just don't want to do without is surprisingly short.

That glue pot? That's mine. Or am I it's?


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