PONDERING THE ABSENCE FACTOR

SOMETIMES we forget how simple life can be thanks to the gift of opposable thumbs.

I was reminded on the weekend as we sat on a rocky outcrop in a beautiful part of central Victoria eating the previous day’s leftovers.

Like every memorable day trip, there was little planning involved. Fill the cool bag with whatever the fridge has to offer, pack the thermos and head for the horizon.

That’s how I found myself sitting cross-legged on a granite ridge eating pasta and ratatouille with my fingers instead of a fork. Gee, it felt good.

It took me back to 1987; eating vegetable curry with rice on a train to Delhi; being shown by a very respectable looking Indian businessman how to use my clumsy digits as cutlery.

A steep learning curve for a boy from the suburbs. Eating was suddenly elevated from a domestic routine to a human artform. It challenged everything I’d ever believed about poverty and abundance.

If knives and forks were an unnecessary luxury, what else could I shed from my cluttered existence?

Former advertising guru and agony uncle for The Guardian newspaper, Jeremy Bullmore devised a test for this very purpose. He calls it the Absence Factor, and it’s a revealing exercise in letting go.

You simply consider any object and give it a value from zero to one hundred, estimating how much you would miss it in a crisis.

Thus a grand piano or a George Foreman grill would score very low if you were lost in the bush, while a roll of two-ply toilet paper on that afore mentioned Indian train would score almost the maximum points.

It’s the kind of test that can’t help but make us look differently at the abundance of “stuff” in our lives.

Most of our kitchens are one-point nightmares. The humble saucepan (a definite 90+ pointer) has been replaced by a surplus of cupboard fillers – think rice cookers, deep fryers, popcorn makers, crock pots.

Our sheds are a mess of cordless everythings. When I first moved out of home I had a hammer, a screwdriver, and a shifting spanner. I didn’t know what to do with any of them, but they never needed recharging.

My most treasured possession on that Indian odyssey was a simple can opener. It might not have been the key to a world of culinary delights, but I never went hungry. And as my friend on the train had already proved, a spoon was optional.

Simple pleasures rarely disappoint. We seek it in our relationships too.

To sit in silence with one who appreciates the simple pleasure of buttered toast and a cup of tea is a joyous thing.

And let’s face it, a cuppa in a crisis, or on a mountaintop, scores one hundred points every time.

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