Wednesday, November 7, 2012

on other people's elections and compassion

On the morning after the US elections 2012, I want to preface this post by saying firstly that I am personally pleased that Obama has the chance be President for another four years.  Secondly, I know very little about US politics (I get very into it for about three days every four years!).

However, I think we, as the Rest Of The World, have to be very careful triumphing over an election result that, ultimately, is not ours.  I have seen, and felt uneasy about, lots of facebook statuses and twitter updates from non-Americans congratulation Americans on their choice, celebrating the fact that Romney lost.

I think we should remember a few things.  Firstly, we perhaps feel Obama is best for leadership because of his foreign policy?  But foreign policy is only a tiny amount of the myriad of things that the President of the USA has to deal with on a daily basis.  So to us, who do not see America's industry, employment, homelessness, healthcare, education, crime levels, it seems a way bigger deal than to those inside America.  I'm sure there are people in our country for whom David Cameron's foreign policy is only as important, if not less important, than all those myriad other things he has to deal with.

I also think we should remember that because we are not American, we cannot possibly understand what it is to be American.  We think we are fairly similar, but infact the more you get to chat to Americans, I think you understand that there are lots of tiny tiny cultural differences that in fact make our outlooks on life very different.  And so I think it's kind of presumptious and a little arrogant of us to think we know what is best for a nation that is not our own.  I'm sure there are some US residents, both victorious Democrats and defeated Republicans, who would wish the rest of the world would shut up.  I'm not sure I would be particularly gracious if I had a German friend waxing lyrical about the next UK elections.

Thirdly, I think we have to remember that all our opinions are formed by what we read and what we are told, and our media is probably fairly left wing when it comes to American Politics.

As I said, I do believe that Obama is the best man for the job in terms of the world situation, and from my, British, standpoint it seems that he has the better ideas for America itself.  But I think we should be compassionate to our fellows in the States and understand that we can't really understand!

Friday, May 11, 2012

live below the line... done!

This (final) live below the line blog post finds me tucked up in bed with 15 meals for a total of £5 under my belt (literally!!) and looking forward to a nice big fry up, proper coffee and some juice in the morning!

The menu for today was (guess...?) porridge and a coffee for breakfast, broth, toast, an apple and two biscuits for lunch, and a plate of egg fried rice with frozen vegetables for dinner (and a couple of biscuits to help me along the way); and the total is about 82p... 

Today, I have kept finding myself almost reaching for a piece of cake; or having a glass of wine; or having some chocolate for pudding and having to stop myself!  I guess this means I am getting used to it and not thinking about my diet constantly.

On the other hand, I have noticed this week how much it consumes you to have to think about how much you are eating.  We have weighed, and divided, and added, and costed, and counted, all week to ensure we are within budget.  If you are doing it for real, I know you don't have the luxury of choice and of counting the cost of different ingredients to work out the cheapest in the same way - you have what is there, and you make it last.  But it must also consume you - the worry of where the next meal will come from, of whether it will stretch to feed all the family, of the rising costs of your staple food, of the lack of anything different to eat.

I did have a mini-meltdown eating my porridge this morning.  Because it's pretty boring, I found that having the internet on over breakfast helped distract me while I ate it!  I was looking at some of the videos on the #belowtheline hashtag which told of some people's reasons for doing it.  Together with this, and remembering a friend pointing out yesterday that for many people it's way below £1, and a bowl of porridge is all they get, every day, day in, day out, I suddenly looked at my bowl of uninspiring oats, imagined what it would be like to know no other food, and blubbed like a baby!

I know it's contrived, because I can go back to 'normal' tomorrow.  And because I still have electric light, heating, transport, gas to cook on, shampoo, cleaning products, new clothes.  But I really do think it has given me the tiniest insight into what it might be like to have to survive on so little, with so little variety.

I have been surprised and blessed by everyone's reactions to it - everyone I have told has been really interested in what it is and what the point is.  No-one has told me it's a stupid idea, and most people have said 'oo I could never do it, well done!'

So, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for supporting me and sponsoring me (I've raised nearly £300 so far for Christian Aid, a great charity who plug away at reducing world poverty year after year... if you'd like to still sponsor me please go to )

Same place next year?!  Who's in?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

live below the line... day 4

As I write, I am savouring every last mouthful of a jam doughnut which my sugar-craving housemate had sourced for 30p for 5 from the reduced aisle of Morrisons this evening.  We worked out we had around 50p left between the three of us and that was quite possibly the best use of our funds.

I think I am getting used to it now - whether mentally or physically - or both - I don't know!  I have been rather chirpy compared to how I was on Tuesday, when I was tempted to give up and envisaged my housemate coming home to find me in a sugar induced coma surrounded by sweet wrappers with melted chocolate smeared across my face.

My stomach seemed to go a lot longer without rumbling, and I wasn't craving crisps anywhere near as much.

So, today's menu, not much of a change really; porridge and a coffee for breakfast; two rich tea biscuits mid-morning; lunch was broth, toast, an apple and two rich teas; mid afternoon I moved on to two chocolate chip biscuits; dinner was pasta and tomato sauce again.  And of course the doughnuts.  I think all this was about 95p. 

Again, the amount of waste we throw away has been at the forefront of my mind today.  I am so, so aware that if I don't eat what's in front of me, there will be nothing else.  I scrape every bowl till the pattern is coming off!  I even caught myself licking my finger to pick up the biscuit crumbs from my desk today...

And the other thing that I've thought about quite a bit is the community doing it - the online community on twitter on the hashtag #belowtheline is great - it's brilliant to see that so many people are striving to improve the lives of people they have never met even a tiny bit.  It's also fun to see what other people are eating, and how they are feeling, and know that you are not the only one suffering form lack of concentration, or boredom from food, or a caffeine-withdrawal headache!  Perhaps more though, has been the community of the three of us doing it; my housemate and our friend round the corner being the other two.  We've eaten at each other's houses where possible, we've shopped together and worked it all out together, they fed me when I was suffering from The Hunger Gap, we've supplied each other with encouragement and solidarity and doughnuts!

Only one day to go... whoop!!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

on living below the line - day 3

After yesterday's grumps, Day 3 saw me feeling slightly more chirpy.  A little hungry, but chirpy!

Having decided we had pennies to spare yesterday, my housemate and I decided we could up the porridge portion for breakfast; I reckon together with my coffee, and sugar on the porridge, breakfast was about 15p this morning.  Lunch was lentil soup, two slices of toast, an apple and two rich tea biscuits... basically the same as yesterday.  And Monday.  And tomorrow.  And Friday.  I also allowed myself extra biscuits for mid morning and mid afternoon emergency rations :)

This evening, we had our small group meeting from church, and as we eat together each week, we cooked a meal for 33p a head - we did bean chilli, rice, and pancakes again for pudding.  There was even enough left for some cups of tea.  Our group found it rather amusing the degree to which we went to work out the costs!

The headache is coming and going - I guess it's mostly the lack of caffeine (one mug a day) but also maybe the general lack of food, and change in food?

I've discovered hot water is much more pallatable than I thought, and part of having a coffee is eveidentally the comfort of a hot drink!  I'm drinking lots and lots of water, and discovering that the reason I seem to have a 'bladder of steel' is because I never drink any water.  Not so steely-bladdered this week.

Of all the ruminating thoughts inspired by this week, I think the 'take-home' message from this week will be WASTE.  I have never been so sure to make sure everything gets eaten; normally I am so flippant with what I have.  A quick look at these food waste facts on the feeding the 5k website makes me sick with guilt!

Nice to be over the half-way mark!  Remember - if you'd like to sponsor me, you can do so at


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

on living below the line - day 2

So, another day underneath the breadline draws to a close.

Today's menu consisted of... porridge and coffee for breakfast, broth, toast, an apple and two rich tea biscuits for lunch, an emergency half portion of rice (2p) when I got home from work, pasta and tomato sauce for tea... and... when me and my co-below-the-liners sat down and looked at the total for the day, we decided... we could afford... PANCAKES!  This has transformed my evening.  Today's total was 94p!

What I have mainly learnt today is that I still suffer from The Hunger Gap.  When I was very small, I used to occupy the time between waking up and having breakfast by generally being a grumpy, badly behaved brat.  Ma and Pa decided the answer was that I was hungry, and so used to leave two rich tea biscuits and a glass of juice by my bed, with strict instructions it was for the morning.  And that solved it.  Apparently, judging by today's performance, this is still an affliction I have to endure...

I have also started to look at waste in a different way.  I used much more of the onion than I usually do in cooking.  My lentil soup stuck, but that got scraped off and mixed into the soup anyway!  No pan, plate, spoon or tupperware goes to the wash without having every last morsel scraped or licked off; you realise that if you don't eat what's there, there will be nothing else.

Tomorrow, I am going to endeavour to be more JOYFUL.

Oh, and the Below The Line Headache has hit.

on living below the line - day 1!

If you follow me on twitter, are friends with me on facebook, or have spent any time with me in the past few weeks, you will know that I am taking part in the international challenge to Live Below The Line - the line being the poverty line, and that line being set at £1 a day.

The idea seems to be twofold - to raise awareness of what 1.4billion people in our world experience every day, but we in our 24hr supermarket culture are completely cushioned from - and secondly, to raise sponsorship money (my page is here if you'd like to sponsor me and I'm raising money for Christian Aid) for a whole range of charities who are all aiming to reduce this extreme poverty.

So, Monday the 7th of May was Day 1.  I woke up at a friend's in London (it was planned, I'm not a dirty stop out) and had porridge, but because it was pretty early and I'm not a morning eater, I couldn't really eat much.  As my friend Bex said later "you'll eat it when you're hungry!".  I skipped the tea/coffee allowance, and filled a bottle of water for the journey.  I was pretty hungry when I got home, and had a bowl of broth my housemate had made, two slices of toast, and two rich tea biscuits.  Wandering round town later, my stomach was grumbling by 3pm!  I had to let it grumble though, and just stocked up on water, until dinner when we had huge baked potatoes and lots of beans.  I costed this lot up, and together with the two further rich teas, it came to 98p.

I knew it was going to be hard as soon as I started to think about it - but I didn't know it would be this hard.  I know how important food is to me; it's a comfort, a nice brew warms, cooking de-stresses me, snacking distracts me.  I didn't realise how if you take all those things away though I'm pretty stuck!

I realised that on the one hand we're at a disadvantage doing this because, firstly we are not used to eating so little, and secondly we are constantly surrounded by temptation - the full cupboard, the pounds in my purse, the people offering me food.  On the other hand, if I did decide I just couldn't do it, I could give up and eat a full meal; if I took it too far, and fainted through lack of food, there's plenty of medical help available to me. 

So, that's just my musings from day 1!  I'll try and continue through the week!

Friday, May 4, 2012

on documentaries which blow me away

As you may have noticed, I have not blogged for ages. I have ideas but I never get 'roundtoit'!

However, this week I stumbled across something on the iplayer whilst shnaffling reheated roast dinner that I have not stopped thinking about and so want to share!

Samira Hashi is a 21-year old model in London. She was born in 1990 in Mogadishu, Somalia, and ten days after she was born her mum was forced to flee the city with five small girls as war broke out. They escaped to a refugee camp and lived there for two years, before moving to London.

The documentary showed Samira going back to Mogadishu, via Ethiopia to see her dad and Dolo Ado refugee camp.

I was completely blown away by the whole programme. The first few minutes showed Samira in London, packing and talking about her trip, and out with friends, and wide eyed and excited, and I was concerned it was going to be a bit 'fluffy', but as soon as she got to Africa, it was not in the least bit fluffy.

The first thing that struck me was the culture difference between her and her dad. Having seen a bit of African culture and noticed how different it is from my own (albeit it West African so I know it's vastly different), the clash between two people who were of the same nature, but very different nurture, was fascinating. Her dad was very what we may describe as stand-off-ish, he neither asked nor answered many questions, and he admitted he'd left her family because he wanted boys to continue the family name.

Samira's honesty with which she cried at the horrific conditions in the refugee camps was heartbreaking. Seeing her on the phone to her mum after one day of being there just sobbing 'I want to come home, it's too horrible' did not come across as at all self indulgent as it may seem reading it on the page. He reactions to the whole trip reminded me lots of Aled (from the Chris Moyles Show) when he visited Uganda. I loved the way he just had no idea what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised when he could tweet from Uganda... and was surprised when people seemed content in their lives, and shocked when he saw well-known multinational companies. I think it can be very easy for Africa-hardened westerners to monopolise the media and the information coming out of Africa; and so the language used to describe it will be the language of aid work. And it will assume prior knowledge. And it will ignore the things that we can identify with. And so it will miss engaging new people. What I think Samira and Aled had in common, is that they had no, or very little, expereince or knowledge of what it would actually be like. There was no frame of reference to start hanging their experience on; every sight, every sound, every interaction, was a totally new experience. Therefore, they both seemed to reference it back to UK experience, which the average viewer/listener can identify with. Somehow, this hit home so much more than a veteran journalist, or even Lenny Henry reporting for Comic Relief.

The other thing I was hugely impressed with was her bravery. There was discussion about the UNHCR (who she travelled with) being the top target but still she went with them, as she arrived in Mogadishu fighting was breaking out, she had to wear a helmet and a bullet proof vest and drive through town in a tank, you heard gunfire on film as she was talking. I don't think many people in the public eye would put themselves in such danger; I'm sure she could have taken a much more back seat.

So basically, watch, and learn!

As an aside; all these thoughts were really put into persepctive a day or so later when I saw the trend on twitter of the journalist who shot to infamy last month when she basically declared she was stunningly beautiful and it was a disadvantage to her. The latest article she had written took a pop at a TV academic, saying she was not attractive enough and had not taken enough time on her appearance to be infront of the cameras. I couldn't help comparing the two, and wondering who was actually behaving like the 21 year old fashion model.