the Mathom-Party

What, I hear you ask, is a mathom? (If I hear you asking what a party is, you need to get out more.)

Day 363 - Party of One

Tolkien explains in his prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring: “…anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.”

I am not advocating that we refuse to receive gifts – that would be churlish – but using one’s birthday as an opportunity for generosity is a) very hobbity and b) a good way of redressing the balance of items in one’s home.

Besides, gifts, as previously mentioned, are a joy to receive. Particularly if, like me, you have friends and family who support the pruning scheme and therefore give you a) consumables and/or b) things you really want. Of course, you can’t choose your family, particularly your family of origin. I got lucky. (We shall draw the veil of charity over the time they got mistaken for a troupe of Russian folk singers.)

Kelly Family 1989

Anyway, back to the hobbits. Having lately had a birthday, I decided to try out the idea of a mathom party. The general reaction was a) what is a mathom? followed by b) what a good idea! Thus encouraged, I proceeded to put aside suitable items from the purge (see what below if interested). I also invited people to bring their own mathoms along if they liked: after all, one hobbit’s mathom is another hobbit’s treasure.

The day before the party, I put ribbons and bows round the items. This serves two purposes: it makes the mathoms seem more gifty, since you can’t wrap them unless you want a lucky-mathom-dip-party; and it draws a convenient distinction between the mathoms and such possessions as you actually want to keep. (Make sure no-one you are attached to is in any way done up with a ribbon.) Have a few extra ribbons on hand if people are bringing their own mathoms.

And of course, you must have food and drink. Nothing hobbity can be done without food and drink, and, preferably, music. Our party was much improved by the concurrent baking of The World’s Best Peanut-Butter and Chocolate Cookies (both gluten-free and dairy-free, if you use suitable chocolate) – recipe in this book, though not under that well-deserved title.

pruning-shears-24437_640

As for what mathoms I pruned (did you think I had forgotten this month’s list?) there were: a duvet cover, a set of steak knives, a casserole dish, a cake-slice, a set of salad-servers, a small assortment of collectable stamps, a CD, a book of famous last words, and a box of games.

At the end of the party, any mathoms unclaimed are then donated to a charity of your choice. It may pay to tell your guests this as it can be peculiarly hard to persuade people that you really do want them to take things off you for your birthday. Promising to cart it all off to charity convinces people that you are not secretly longing to be left with the lot.

Oh, and one more hint for the success of your party: try to avoid being born during (or shortly before) exam week. Exams are very un-hobbity and may affect turnout.

Drawing the Dream into Life

If I lived in Middle Earth, I wouldn’t be an Elf (insufficiently ethereal) or an Ent (too hasty) or even a Dwarf (I don’t like beer). I’m not wise enough to be a wizard, or big enough to be an oliphaunt.

I’d like to think I’d be a bard in the hall of some minor HorseLord (or HorseLady) of Rohan, kept to work up the deeds of my employer into suitably heroic (and alliterative) verse to be chanted over a goblet of wine after dinner.

Inside Viking House in Rosala Viking Center in Finland

I’m thinking of practising my compositional skills on the saga of Boromir’s heroic resistance to swallowing a pill. (That’s Boromir my cat, not Boromir, son of Denethor. As far as I know, Boromir of Gondor could take his medicine with the best of ’em.) I could even try my skills at flyting.

But it seems more likely that I would have been a Hobbit: a short, round homebody.

The world of Middle-Earth is one of those fictional creations which exerts a fascination over its fans so strong that they want somehow to become part of it. Of course, the best way to become part of a story you love – or more accurately, to make it part of you – is less by buying the merchandise (how many One Rings can there be?) and more by incorporating the values and culture of the story into your own life. Living the story, in other words.

Map of the Middle Earth #2

I recently read a book by the intriguingly named Noble Smith, titled The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life. (NB: if your surname is Smith, it behoves you to give your child an interesting forename. Mr Smith’s parents have clearly done their duty by him.) He draws out the threads of hobbitness from the tapestry of the novels which include them, and suggests how we might weave these threads into our own lives. “The Shire can become as real as we make it in our own lives and communities and countries.”

He speaks of the value of a good night’s sleep, suggesting that going to bed is a more sensible (and hobbity) thing to do than posting “I’m tired” on Facebook. He suggests eating locally grown food – what could be more hobbity than fresh garden produce? – and even provides a plan for growing a hobbity vegetable patch of your own. He promotes the hobbit pastime of walking, the importance of sustainability, and the value of quality craftsmanship (there’s no plastic dreck in a hobbit hole).

Bag End, Frodo and Bilbao Baggin's Home, Hobbiton

Parties are heartily encouraged, along with singing and the company of good friends – those with whom you can spend time “just hobbitting about.” Loyalty to friends is praised, as is the mending of quarrels, and the everyday devotion of what he calls “heroic monogamy.”

Reality, he notes, is superior to virtual reality. Anyone who has ever received a virtual gift knows this. Consider giving out mathom at your next party – your clutter can be another person’s gift. Greed is not good – don’t be a Sackville-Baggins.

When it comes to dealings with the Big Folk, Smith stresses the need to be true to yourself, not changing – or pretending to change – to suit the company in which you find yourself. Hobbits are never anything but themselves (even if they have been known to travel under an assumed name.)

Stamp Carousel / Stempelkarussell

Noble Smith writes strongly against the erosion of people’s rights (such as privacy) by the powers that be, adamant that such a state of things can only continue as long as people allow it – which would be a most un-hobbity submission. Bureaucracy is to be tolerated only so long as it serves the people – not vice versa. “Baffling rules made by flawed men sometimes need to be torn down and replaced with the standards of common sense.” There are few beings more commonsensical than a hobbit with his feet on the ground.

But perhaps you do not yearn for the rustic simplicity of a hobbit life. What world do you dream of – and how will you draw it into your waking life?

Lagom: the Way of Goldilocks

Lagom is a Swedish word signifying just the right amount or proportion of something. (Not to be confused with mathom, which refers to old things suitable only for perpetual regifting.)

“Just right” is just what Goldilocks was looking for, and, I’d argue, just what we should be looking for ourselves.

The story of the three bears 1839 pg 30

Bigger is not always better; less is sometimes more. But then, sometimes less is actually less. I loathe the idea of being smothered in my own excess, but I don’t want to strip away the things I genuinely enjoy and which enrich my life. I am in search of “just right” (but unlike Goldilocks, I am not looking for it in other people’s houses while they’re out)!

Lagom is a wonderful concept, and the best thing about it, in my opinion, is that it isn’t prescriptive. It doesn’t say “this much”. It says “just the right amount” – which is different for different people. To illustrate the point, let us consider interior decoration.

For some, this is lagom: the minimalist look of utter simplicity.

Mauerbach 20110923 0059

I like the look, myself, but I don’t think I could actually live like that. For more than a day or two, anyway. Where would all the books go?
For other people, “just right” is more elaborate, or perhaps even a bit luxurious. Like this.

Government House Trendy Sitting Room (8415287951) (2)

And for some people, “just right” could be described as creative chaos. Again, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there, myself. Not with all those swords on the wall. Not after the earthquake we had last night…

The problem is, of course, that it isn’t always easy to know what constitutes “just right” for you. Sometimes you’ve just got to whip out a spoon and try that porridge.

Generally speaking, most of us in the Western world have got rather full bowls. If you’re staring indigestion in the face, don’t feel you have to clean your plate. Consider spooning some out – into the smaller bowl, or out the window if it’s gone all cold and manky.

Whether you’re considering possessions, portion size or anything else, follow the Way of Goldilocks and ask yourself: Is This Just Right?
What’s lagom for you?

Denslow's three bears pg 5

If you were wondering who the old lady in the top picture is, she’s Goldilocks! She was originally a nasty old woman – and she wasn’t even called Goldilocks for her first sixty-seven years in print.