Chronicles of discardment

A recent visitor to the High Doganate — a woman, controversially enough — took out her omnicompetent hand-held device and began photographing the contents of my kitchen — cupboards, drawers, shelves, et cetera.

A man, I suggested, might have photographed my books. She smiled and agreed. Just as well, for one might be arrested for comments like that, today.

I was trying to make tea, and find something resembling “biscuits,” as the Queen calls them. But I had to keep standing out of the way, as this lady — who had begun by admiring my collection of hand-thrown pots, plates, bowls, cups, pitchers — in everyday use — went through the rest of the inventory. She claimed never to have seen anything like it.

“Really? I thought everyone did this.”

For she was struck by the Shaker-like fanaticism with which I had scoured all evidence of contemporary supermarket culture from my stores; as well as by the Christian-survivalist extent of them.

“You have too much time on your hands, David,” is what a man might have said, had he noticed. But women tend to criticize from other angles.

This one offered no criticism at all. She only wanted to take pictures. When I asked if she was finding everything in order, she said yes, it was like still-life compositions. That was why she was taking pictures, and might put them on her Facebook page.

Privacy is another concept conceived by men and women in different ways. But that, too, is an old observation, which long preceded my birth, and may thus be actionable today, in the zombie courts of political correction. Though not, I should think, for much longer.

“Do you wash the labels off everything?”

“No, sometimes I find a label so beautiful that I leave it on.”

“And the tins. How do you tell what’s in the tins?”

Easy. I own a pen called a Sharpie. It’s not as good as the Fisher Bullet Pen the astronauts use, which can write in zero gravity, underwater, through grease, on almost any surface, from any angle. But it costs considerably less, and can write on tins and bottle caps — quite elegantly, once one gets the hang of it.

I gave a demonstration. It was filmed.

She neglected to ask how I remove the gunk: labels that refuse to float off in the sink; splotches of glue still adhering; other irritations. The answer would have been, with a razor scraper, wire wool, and in extreme cases, lighter fluid or other efficient household solvents. For I will not be defeated.

Instead I was asked, “When did you start doing this, and why?”

Those were two questions, so I broke them down. I acquired the habit from my father in childhood. He liked to put his own labels on things. This unclutters a workshop, and makes everything easier to find. He did not impose this practice in my mother’s kitchen, however. Though he did have to restrain himself.

I do it partly for that reason, but mostly from hatred of loud advertising, and modern food labels are ugly and shout. Moreover, as argued Henry John Heinz (1844–1919, lord of ketchup and baked beans, though he began with horseradish), properly canned food looks good under glass. The customer sees the goods, not a field of wordy blather. They should not pain his eyes.

Verily, I remember this, too, from childhood: the beauty of my grandmother’s shelves in winter, groaning under the harvest, packed into preserves, all discreetly hand-labelled. The wonderful “ambiance” of the old summer and winter kitchens we had in Cape Breton, and in Upper Canada, prior to the triumph of Mass Man, and the occupation of our country by liberal-progressive robots. Indeed, one could find serene and homely kitchens, all over the world, before “labour saving” added so much to our labour.

Any fragment of those arrangements must be sustained. Anything, however humble, that can serve to restore a memory of the human, and of the sanctity in everyday life, should be done by intentionally acquired habit. The noise of commercialism should be muffled, when possible, the flash of salesmanship brushed away. Because it is vile.

It is the same reason I discard dustwrappers from books, but that is an Idlepost for another day.