Handkerchiefs: a parable

I’ve started using cotton handkerchiefs instead of disposable Kleenex-style tissues. It is much better.

When I see people blowing their noses on tattered bits of pocket-worn tissue paper, I remember a boy at our school who was cruelly nicknamed ‘Snot Rag’. Poor Snotters suffered from hay-fever all year round and was consistently in a state of sneezing and sniffling. His nickname wasn’t the result of his overactive immune system, but the fact that he never seemed equipped to deal with his problem. Whenever he sneezed, he would nervously fumble around in his trouser pockets, eventually retrieving a piece of spent and impossibly tattered toilet paper.

Snot Rag’s problem would have been more debonairly dealt with if he’d subscribed to reusable cotton handkerchiefs instead.

Not only are cotton handkerchiefs softer on the nose, more robust, better for the environment, feel nicer in the pocket and far more stylish than their disposable counterparts, they provide an economic parable:

Invest in long-term solutions instead of cheap, pragmatic ones.

By finding a long-term solution (handkerchiefs) to a long-term problem (the sniffles), I am able to eliminate one of my overheads (Kleenex tissues). Never again will tissues appear on my grocery list.

This can be applied elsewhere in life. Instead of pragmatically solving problems as you go along, look for sustainable ways to solve problems once and for all.

Instead of buying cheapo-nasty shoes every few months, just buy one highly-durable pair and have them re-heeled occasionally. Instead of accumulating a wardrobe full of cheap clothes, invest in an indestructible bespoke suit. The same thing applies to investments: Alvin Hall recommends making long-term investments rather than smaller, riskier attempts to get rich quick.

I’ve written before that employment is pragmatism. This is the ultimate application of the handkerchief parable. A short-term solution to a long-term problem, the conventional dayjob is the Kleenex tissue to the wise person’s handkerchief. Instead of labouring as a desk-jockey in order to generate monthly income, teach yourself about investment portfolios, profitable vocations and other more sustainable solutions to the money problem.

On the subject of the handkerchief itself, you may be wondering about the hygiene of this practice. Does one end up with a pocket full of snot? It’s a fair question. So far, I’ve found that upon second usage, there is no evidence that the handkerchief ever been used at all. The snot must absorb and then evaporate or something. I doubt this would be the case if I had a cold, but for now I’ve found handkerchiefing to be a very pleasant form of snot extraction.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at wringham.co.uk

10 Responses to “Handkerchiefs: a parable”

  1. the sussex idler says:

    It’s true that a cotton ‘snotter’, preferably loudly patterned for it’s camouflage capacity,is a wise and stylish choice. I buy them for a pound or so whereas paper tissues are 50p a pack. If you’ve got serious business to attend to, you don’t want snotty pulp on your hooter. You really don’t.

    My runny nose problems culminated in an op a couple of years ago. I squeezed a week and a half off on full pay & referred to this time as my ‘period of recuperation’. Oh the joy. I barely got out of bed……..

    I’m a great fan of Alvin Hall. A wise and very pleasant man. Long before my ascent to formal idling, I did get my shambolic finances in line after reading (and re-reading) his book of the time, ‘Money for Life’. I’ve cleared the mortgage now. Yowsa!!!

    Keep up the good work Rob.

  2. “A short-term solution to a long-term problem, the conventional dayjob is the Kleenex tissue to the wise person’s handkerchief.” – I just tweeted this and my friend @unreality asked if it shouldn’t rather say “blow job” instead of “day job”. I have to admit that the sentence still would make sense.

  3. A cold is, of course, a short-term problem, so different rules apply. Under such circumstances, additional tissues wouldn’t be unreasonable.

    Along similar lines, you mentioned, here or on the Robert Wringham site, purchasing prophylactics. Are they not also a short-term solution to a long-term problem? Is there an analogue between the tailor’s expert scissors and the surgeon’s?

  4. Rob says:

    If you never need tissues outside of a cold, the short-term solution of tissues would of course be the best option. Short-term problem, short-term solution. You wouldn’t take out life-long travel insurance for a fortnight’s trip abroad.

    I suppose a vasectomy would be a more permanent solution to that long-term problem. I’d sooner not undergo drastic surgery though. At is also worth remembering that condoms are free from gay bars and sexual health clinics.

  5. Rob says:

    Works for me!

  6. Rob says:

    Loudly patterned is right! I foolishly bought a selection of white handkerchiefs, but I do have a couple of loudly patterned ones too. The louder the better, I’ve found!

    Glad you like Alvin Hall. His stuff has been on my bookshelf for ages, but I’ve only recently got into reading it. He’s a lovely chap.

    Thanks for the nice comment, Mark. I hope your Issue Four arrived safely.

  7. Sasha Miguel says:

    Man, I love handkerchiefs! I’ve been using my grandfather’s since he died last year and I doubt that I’ll ever need a tissue again. As you note, they absorb and evaporate remarkably quickly, which the nurse in me figures must be more hygienic than keeping a wet, snotty tissue around. So they are better for your health, pocketbook and environment. Plus, they can carry great sentimental value and you can embroider them or make them yourself out of material you like.

    By the way, we should have coffee sometime soon so I can purchase Issue Four from you.

  8. Rob says:

    Hey Sasha!

    I never thought of adding embroidery. Genius. As with yours, my current stash of handkerchiefs came from my grandfather. Inexplicably, one of them is already embroidered with “Robert”. This is not my grandfather’s name so it remains a mystery.

    Someone posted here about the camouflage value of a loudly-coloured handkerchief. Alas, most of mine are white, but there are a couple of snazzy blues and reds in there too. There is still something lovely and clean and virginal (!) about a white cotton handkerchief, but I think I’ll embrace the arts-and-crafts mentality and tie-dye them or something.

    Coffee would be ace. I’ve run out of Issue Fours on this side of the ocean but reinforcements are on their way. I’ve put ‘arrange coffee with Sasha’ on the calendar for next week, so I’ll be back in touch when we’ve got some fresh print.

  9. The Sussex Idler says:

    Good comments are always deserved. You’ll be delighted to hear that, whilst on a bus in North Africa, I passed Issue 4 round my fellow tourists(Don’t you think ‘travellers’ are pretentious? I do)and it went down very well. Rather fantastically it mounted its own escape attempt and, er, blew off in the direction of Algeria during a sandstorm. I imagine a Bedouin is using it as a tissue as I write……

  10. Rob says:

    Oh my! It seems like a very appropriate end to an NE edition. I just hope you managed to read the whole thing!

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