Jane Macdougall: The Bookless Club celebrates our favourite tools

It’s a sad day when one of your old faithfuls gives up the ghost. It can be a bit like losing an old friend.

In Japan, there’s a 400-year-old festival that pays homage to hari — the simple sewing needle.

I have a favourite pot.

A favourite cast iron frying pan, too.

I have a trowel I reach for before all others. I have an ancient brace and bit. Not sure why I have it, but it’s a handsome old thing and I can’t part with it. Of my four secateurs, I have only one set that I keep inside. My son bought them for me in Japan. The lore is that they were made in the same place that makes samurai swords. Perfectly designed and deadly efficient, they are venerated amongst all my other pruners.

I have a potato ricer that’s been in my family for, let’s see … When I pass it along to my daughter, she will be the fifth, maybe sixth, generation to tuck it into a kitchen cupboard. It’s a skookum beast of a thing. All metal, a perforated hopper and hefty lever squeeze water out of boiled potatoes resulting in heavenly mounds of mashed potatoes. It’s a sort of secret weapon in the kitchen, as the trick of fluffy mashed potatoes is extracting all of the water. A ricer performs that feat like nothing else.

In a sea of possessions, some things float to the surface whereas others get carried off into the eddies of storage spaces. It’s hard to know which devices will meet the challenge they were designed to tackle and which ones will underperform. Price isn’t always an indicator. I figure my french mandoline has amortized out to about $100 a use. This sinister kitchen guillotine scares the bejesus out of me. Consequently, it never gets brought out from safekeeping. I bought a metal mesh glove thinking that, with armour, I’d get up the nerve to use it more often, but I haven’t. That was just good money after bad. Instead, I routinely reach for a cheap plastic slicer that does just what I want it to and doesn’t give me nightmares of julienned fingers and scalloped hands.

I deliberated when buying my Victorinox citrus zester. It was twice the price of the nearest competitor. Turned out to be worth every penny.

You just don’t know. Time reveals all. And it’s a sad day when one of your old faithfuls gives up the ghost. It can be a bit like losing an old friend.

The Japanese are inclined to agree. In the animist traditions of Buddhism and Shintoism, spent tools are venerated at the end of their working lives. This sort of observation isn’t reserved for complex and intricate machinery. There’s a 400-year-old festival that pays homage to hari — the simple sewing needle. Hari-kuyō, which translates to Needle Memorial, is largely celebrated by women to acknowledge the service performed by tools, in this case the lowly sewing needle. Bent and broken needles are given mortuary rites at the end of their useful lives. Practitioners bring their broken needles to a Shinto or Buddhist shrine to lay them to rest. In a solemn ceremony, the decommissioned needles are consigned to the great big sewing box in the hereafter by being inserted into a slab of tofu set up on the altar. What’s being observed isn’t so much the inherent material value within a needle — after all, that’s a minuscule sum — but the philosophy of mottainai, or paying honour to small things. Central to this philosophy is the idea of not being wasteful.

There’s a lot to like in hari-kuyō. Our tools ought to last us generations. We can’t keep throwing stuff away — we’re running out of “stuff” and there is no “away”. My potato ricer, after generations of service, will deserve a big send off. In keeping with the potato theme, I’m thinking an Irish wake might be appropriate?

Jane Macdougall is a freelance writer and former National Post columnist who lives in Vancouver. Her garden is her major distraction during COVID-19. She will be writing on The Bookless Club every Saturday online and in The Vancouver Sun.

This week’s question for readers:

Do you have a possession that has stood the test of time? What tool or device do you rely upon?

Send your answers by email text, not an attachment, in 100 words or less, along with your full name to Jane at We will print some next week in this space.

Responses to last week’s question for readers:

How intuitive are you? What role has intuition played, if any, in your life?

• I have no proof for this, but here’s what I intuitively suspect: Women’s “corpus callosa” have calluses from working so hard. It’s this bundle of interconnecting nerves that allow a woman to stir the porridge, wipe the kid’s nose, knock the cat off the counter, and answer the phone all at the same time. A man, on the other hand, can only attend to one thing at a time — “Don’t bother me, can’t you see I’m sorting my paper clips.” The male brain does, however, have a unique structure called the “corpus coliseum” that allows him to recall 10 years worth of NBA statistics, the champions of various football conferences, and the heavyweight title holder of 1997. We all have our strengths.

June Macdonald

• Intuition is a direct relation between the mind and certain requisite truths not accessible to sense or calculation. It is an unmediated form of knowledge which manifests as a total identification between the knowing subject and known object. It is experienced as an immediate apprehension of mind without reasoning.

Robert Allan Stark

• I think intuition requires us to listen to the unspoken “feelings”. An example: In the mid-1950s back in New York State, where I come from, my mother tells the story of warning my older sister not to swim in a popular lake on a summer outing with friends. We always followed her warnings because bad things tended to happen when we didn’t. It was a bright, hot summer day, but my sister stayed on shore. Suddenly, a thunderhead blew in and a bolt of lightning hit the lake killing two teenagers near a raft. When asked later why she was so vehement in this particular warning, she put it down to probably having heard the weather report for possible storms later in the day and an old memory that the lake’s bottom was formed by seams of iron-ore deposits. But in the moment when she gave warning to my sister, she was not “conscious” of this. She put it down to intuition.

Terri Clark

• The brain sorts and organizes things while we sleep. It does the same thing while we’re awake, pre-occupied by other tasks. It pays attention. It takes into account the overlooked. It remembers what you can’t bring to mind at will. It then synthesizes all that and sends you a message. Learning to tune into all that can be a lifesaver.

S. Wright

• When my first grandchild was born, four years ago, there was a baby shower for my daughter. The guests got to write a few words of advice or wisdom. Mine were to trust your instinct. You will usually be right, but should you feel, in hindsight, that you were too cautious, you will regret that your intuition was second-guessed.

Vicki Hart

Football news:

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Neymar's contract in one picture. Mbappe wants the same one
Manchester United would like to sign Bellingham in the summer, not Sancho. Borussia do not intend to sell Jude