Money, Money, Money

I’m not someone who is driven by money, money, money. I’ve no desire to amass great piles of it, and I struggle with the idea of people having vast fortunes way beyond any person’s need.

It is very nice to have enough money, by that I mean enough to live comfortably, to pay one’s way in life and to be able to live a fulfilling life.

I haven’t been able to undertake paid employment for quite some time due to ill health and the process of ‘trauma recovery’. The latter can in itself be a full time occupation. I was in paid employment as a broadcast journalist when I met the man who became my husband and I was able to contribute to our union, but he went on to support me financially for some years due to my ill health.

I’ve been in receipt of welfare support or benefits for a little over a year and a half now. Obtaining them is a stressful, arduous and sometimes dehumanising experience. Some months after my marriage broke down, I found myself unable to afford to heat my home or buy food. A couple of friends helped out but I had to rely on food parcels for three months, from one of the UK’s growing number of food banks.

I receive Employment and Support Allowance (£250 per fortnight), Housing Benefit (£500pcm) and a discount on my council tax bill meaning that I pay around £30 per month instead of more than £100. My rent costs £670pcm. I live in a one bedroom flat. It’s not ‘flash’ but it’s certainly comfortable. It could be cheaper if I were to move, but this is the first truly safe home I’ve known. It’s my haven. I don’t have the money for moving costs and waiting lists are long for local authority-owned property.

I am extremely mindful of my privilege because I’ve been able to obtain some financial support from the Journalist’s Charity, the charity for people who work or have worked in that profession. A friend wrote recently about her gratitude in having been able to turn to ‘Pharmacist Support’.

With the support of the JC, I have been able to have my hair cut and coloured this week for the first time in over a year. What?! I know, you might hardly consider a ‘hair do’ an ‘essential’. It was a scraggy, greying mess and together with my alopecia (I have female pattern balding) it was having a big impact on my self esteem. I am happier and healthier for it.

I was also able to visit the dentist, after many months, for a much-needed appointment, because I finally had the £20 needed to pay the fee I owed for a short notice cancellation due to illness.

I’ve been able to make an appointment to have my eyes tested next month, two years overdue, because I will have the money to pay for the new spectacles I need. They will be available at a reduced rate because I am in receipt of ESA but will not be free.

I’ve also been able to buy a number of healthy ‘ready meals’ – a ‘godsend’ while I continue to wait for social care support twice a week to be put in place, and continue to struggle to have the capacity for cooking. The healthy part is vital, particularly as I continue to try to recover from an eating disorder.

On a few occasions I was able to take a taxi to get me to vital hospital and GP appointments that I would otherwise have been unable to make due to my health issues, and also to return home from buying food from a budget supermarket. Budget supermarkets do not make deliveries.

Without that charitable support … NONE of these things could have happened. 

I have received support from the St Margaret’s Fund who gave me £200 towards the cost of a respite/convalescent break last year. I’m applying to another organisation in order to try to obtain funds for a similar break this year.

It is charity. I would rather not have to rely on it BUT at the same time I don’t feel ashamed about accepting it. I don’t find it easy to ask for that help but that’s because I know that in our society it does carry some sense of shame. People say things like ‘it’s not charity’ and they try to dress up ‘charitable support’ in some other way, as though accepting charity is a terrible thing to do. I’ve supported many charities, by donation and by fundraising, and I still donate, when I can, although just a pound or two here or there, supporting someone’s fundraising effort or buying a copy of the Big Issue. I believe in giving and I believe in sharing and I believe in a society that promotes opportunity for all, and which supports those who are in need.

Applying for the charitable support that I’ve received involves completing detailed application forms. I have often struggled to do this due to illness and have had to wait until such time as I could find just enough capacity to complete the task.

It’s struck me that much of the support available has a middle class tone. I was born and bred in a working class ‘cotton mill town’. I consider myself to be working class, but I know that many working class people would consider me middle class because of my privilege. I had a university education and have a professional qualification. I live in a middle class area, albeit on the edge of it and that of a ‘poorer’ area. I love literature, theatre, arts, read the Guardian newspaper and listen to BBC Radio 4. I consider those interests classless – I’ve loved all of them, with the exception of Radio 4, since my ‘cotton mill childhood’ (when I listened to Radio 1!) – BUT realistically I know that you need a certain amount of privilege to pursue them. It’s rare now that I go to the theatre because of the cost involved.

It seems that there’s privilege even among those who are poor. There is a charity offering financial support to ‘gentlewomen and artists’. I’ve seen others offering support to ‘gentlewomen’. Their definitions of what constitutes a ‘gentlewoman’ are undeniably middle class. They list ‘suitable’ professions and backgrounds, all of which you need to have had a certain amount of privilege to be able to claim. Being working class can considerably narrow one’s opportunities. A minority of students at Oxbridge come from working class or ethnically diverse backgrounds and that’s just one example.

What happens if you don’t belong to a profession with its own charitable body? What happens if you don’t have the means to discover that there are charitable organisations who may be able to help you regardless of your status, professional or otherwise? What happens if you don’t have Internet access, the default application process is now online, or aren’t even computer literate? I don’t envy those who must throw themselves entirely at the mercy of the state, run by many for whom privilege is everything.

Two links to UK based web sites that may be useful:

https://www.turn2us.org.uk/ – much useful information for people struggling financially and there is a section where you can search for organisations offering grants

http://www.disability-grants.org/grants-for-disabled-women.html – a database of organisations offering a variety of financial support to women with disabilities – the main site offers details for men too!
N.B
I love ABBA but I adore Meryl Streep, that’s the reason for the link to the Mamma Mia film version of the song at the top of this post!

 

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A footnote on mindfulness … or ‘being in the moment’

How many of us don’t at some point feel worried about the future or dwell on some element of our past?

And yet the past, while it may influence our present, is utterly unalterable. Our actions in the present may yield future favour, but we cannot predict the future.

All any of us has is the present … to be lived, as far as possible, moment by moment.

I’m finding that difficult right now, because I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent this month, but let’s face it … worry isn’t going to pay it! I could get hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow. It could be curtains. I may never need to make that rent payment.

I don’t have a death wish right now so let’s work on the premise that I will see the end of the month. I can’t magically erase my money problems but I can boost my ability to deal with them. 

Mindfulness can help. Some find it easy to ‘live in the moment’, others find it more difficult to achieve. It takes practice. Even, as I discovered when I first tried it, just 10 minutes a day can make a difference … lowering stress levels … calming a busy mind … providing much needed breathing space. 

Mindfulness is not a panacea for trauma nor even a cure-all for everyday ills, but, for me at least, the benefits on offer are worth the effort I must put in to my practice. It’s worth noting that it is an effort but not a strain, and that there is a difference. 

And with that, I think I’ve just got myself a mantra of the moment, something to help me to curb the hyper-drive tendency and make peace of mind rather more tangible than nebulous. 

Effort Not Strain 

 

GENDER GRATUITOUSLY GRANTED!

Gender matters, but it’s not the be all and end all. Much like unbridled alliterative headlining … obsession with gender difference and superfluous gender labelling are rife.

We’re discovering that gender, like sexuality, can be more fluid than first assumed. Whilst natural conception requires the combined attributes of a biologically, or traditionally, gendered man and woman (functioning penis, vagina and reproductive systems); this does not preclude innovative gender identification.

My home is a mix of old and new – traditional and contemporary with added personal ‘creative innovation’. It’s personally appropriate; it’s ME.

We evolve, we grow, we move on. Out with the old, in with the new, is sometimes the best policy, but traditional, progressive, even unique, can co-exist.

Gender difference and gender identity have, arguably, never been such ‘hot potatoes.’ Personally, I find the idea of someone being transgender an easy concept to accept. I’m not a scientist, I have an entirely arts-biased brain, but it strikes me as both logical and natural. We as humans have common foundations but myriad variation, also exists. Like grey eye colour, left-handedness, homosexuality, or a third nipple. It’s neither right or wrong, it just is. Be yourself by all means, but to dismiss or prohibit others difference is to discriminate. Being gay, of non-binary gender, or a six foot, left-handed woman with ‘ginger’ hair and size 10 feet, does no harm. The same cannot be said for discrimination, intolerance … or narrow minds.

There are religion-based arguments against such thinking. While I respect the right of others to diverse beliefs, in my view as an atheist those arguments have no basis in fact. Fact matters, particularly the fact of whether harm occurs. Your beliefs are your choice. Believe that the world is governed by green invertebrates from the planet ‘Zog’ if you so choose. If ‘Zogans’ should decry all but white male supremacy; seek to ban abortion in all circumstances; see same sex relationships as abhorrent, and insist women should always wear pink dresses and high heels; it’s your right to do so too. Unless you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that anything else causes harm, you have no right to impose your views on others. To do so would be harmful and contravene their right to think and act differently.

I don’t have the right to  tell a biologically born woman that she may not self identify as a man, or feel and be neither exclusively male, nor exclusively female. I don’t feel remotely threatened by the notion or the difference. Curious, yes. I am that about very many things. I’m fascinated by life and people in all their complexity, diversity and mundane minutiae. I love learning and encountering ideas beyond my experience.

I feel like a woman (cue: music!) How much of that is biological, how much is cultural, may be difficult to determine. Some women love pink, but a fondness for it isn’t a requirement of femininity. A woman could be a mother, shave her armpits, wear frilly dresses and favour the floral. She could also play golf, wear boxer shorts and ties, ride a powerful motorbike, detest the frilly, and go out to work while her partner looks after their children. A woman could be all of this, some of this, and none of this … as could a man or someone of non-binary gender. Assuming of course that society respects an individual’s right to self-determination.

Presently, my choice of bathing product is largely determined by price, by virtue of a tight budget. Shopping online last week I favoured a blackberry and ginger scented bath soak. Its labelling promising that I’d ‘feel recharged’ was neither here nor there. When it was delivered I saw that the product is assertively labelled ‘ MEN’. Unlike my previous choice of the ‘stress relief’ variant from the same brand – which is not gender labelled. Similarly, ‘feel blissful’, ‘feel relaxed’, ‘sleep easy’ and the particularly optimistic ‘feel heavenly’ are not gendered, but they are pastel coloured. All the other Radox bath soak products in the range are primary coloured and bear the ‘MEN’ tag. Presumably, men don’t seek to sleep easy, feel relaxed, relieve stress or reach celestial heights? As a confirmed woman, I’d quite like to ‘feel recharged’ or enjoy ‘muscle therapy’. It does feel a tad odd, as a women living alone, having a product in my bathroom that’s prominently labelled for men.

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Engendering consternation

I don’t have any male cheese in my fridge or female bread in my food cupboard. I’m not typing on a keyboard for women, nor do I plan my life with the help of a non-binary diary.

Come on Unilever UK and Ireland, I challenge you to GET WITH THE TIMES! Men can like pink and pampering. Women can favour primary colours, be assertive and dominant. They and every other gender variant can be all things in between.

PUKKA, procurer of expressive but none the less arbitrarily named teas, has also got my non-binary gendered goat. Tea is neither male not flipping female, to say otherwise is definitely not pukka! I like a cup, or a pot, of tea. Builders, fruit and herbal are all fair game; decaffeinated is my preference. PUKKA sell a blend, described as ‘a delicate dance of organic cranberry, rose and sweet vanilla’. It’s a particular favourite of a female friend of mine and we often chat over a pot or two. It was originally called Harmonise, an arbitrary but inoffensive moniker in my view, then it was re-branded …

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Pretty … sickly

I do and have done many things as a woman, dance delicately is not one of those things. Considering the prospect of a ‘delicate dance’ of cranberry, rose and vanilla flavouring a cup of tea denoting womankind, just boggles my brain. I’m inclined to stop buying it in protest, but respect my pal’s right to continue to enjoy it, and anyway she bought my last box and it would be rude not to use them. Although, she too is not enamoured of the name. It’s a wonder we can stomach a beverage described in such nauseating terms.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this, perhaps over a cuppa? I’m off to ‘feel recharged’.

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Time for tea?

Please note: This is not and can not be intended to be an in depth exploration of gender. Nor do I seek to trivialise gender identity issues. It is merely my opinion, delivered, I hope, with due respect and trademark humour. As ever, I welcome … nay, covet … comments, discussion … and tea. 

 

It’s been a heavy week.

The words don’t want to flow today.

I hate the way that depression can suck up my creative juices, leaving me dehydrated. A husk: dry, brittle, barren.

Without low mood, the words come thick and fast, their passage from mind to fingertips fluid and free. It is THE best feeling in the world. I feel alive and, at one with myself.

I’m feeling weary and raw, after a week of events that have weighed heavily on my shoulders. There was an extended appointment with my GP and a four hour appointment to begin the process of dealing with my financial circumstances, and trying to avoid becoming homeless. The bad news I had expected was confirmed, because of issues with my husband, from whom I have separated, great obstacles loom large on the path going forwards. My newly-appointed housing support officer, and the adviser at the homelessness prevention charity with whom we both met, were kind. I felt supported, an unfamiliar feeling after years of having to go it alone. They didn’t sugar coat the pill, but encouraged me to delay taking it! In other words, I must continue to take things no more than one day at a time, and despite knowing what difficulties lie ahead and what awful outcome I may face, I must try as far as possible to put that out of my mind for now.

Meditation helps. I discovered the, in my opinion, brilliant Headspace a few years ago. I’ve used it first to learn about meditation and how to do it, (Clue: it’s not much to do with sitting cross-legged on the floor and muttering ommh … ) then to practise it … albeit in fits and starts. I’ve found it difficult to commit to consistent practise, having had so very much going on in my life – which is, of course, why regular meditation would be particularly beneficial! Since I’m making more efforts to prioritise my own needs, from this week forward I’m setting about making that vital commitment.

****

It’s now just before 9pm. I started writing the above at around 2:30 today. I spent a little while on it and some words did eventually appear, then I was interrupted when my friend popped in for a coffee and we chatted while I made a banana loaf. She left me with a packet of fancy biscuits, a hug and instructions not to do too much. I had a wee break and then cracked on in the kitchen, replacing the banana loaf in the oven with an aubergine to roast. After some other kitchen chores, I set about skinning a batch of very ripe tomatoes to make a version of @JackMonroe’s Use-Me-With-Everything Tomato Sauce from the book A Girl Called Jack. You can read about my new found connection with cooking here, something I thought couldn’t happen after abuse disconnected me from it. It turns out skinning tomatoes isn’t great for my #spoonie pain. The whole thing took longer than I anticipated but it was worth it, and tasted great. I’ve eaten some, put a serving into the fridge and another into the freezer. I’ve just skinned the aubergine and mashed the roasted flesh with a drizzle of olive oil and plenty of pepper. I usually spread the resulting tasty gloop onto thin oatcakes. I can’t afford those right now, so instead I’m going to have it on some back of the cupboard, just past the Best Before date, organic sesame seed wholegrain rice cakes. We’ll see how that goes.

All this endeavour has helped my mood, but my body is complaining some. I feel sore and very tired. So, I shall post this, then clamber into my pyjamas and curl up with a cuppa.

TTFN x

Jack Monroe has given me, as a survivor of abuse, a freedom from fear and I really want to thank her.

I have never wanted to devour a recipe book. I don’t suppose they taste too good, do they? I have owned and perused many a cook book from slim guides to hefty tomes, by the lesser known and the ‘celebrity’ chef, offering everything from simple suppers, one pot dinners, veggie delights, vegan cooking made easy, low fat, low stress … low fun. No matter the brilliance within those pages, those books couldn’t excite me.

I’ve never found cooking in any way thrilling despite being far from devoid of enthusiasm generally (I’m something of a jump up and down, beam broadly and talk the hind legs off a donkey with great passion on many topics, type. Enthusiastic hardly covers it.). I do enjoy food. I’m mindful of the importance of healthy eating. I don’t want to rely on processed foods and have often wished I had a love of cooking from scratch.

My lack of excitement for cooking, stems from a lack of confidence rooted in an old fear. I recall the swipes, slaps, pokes, verbal batterings and other punishments that accompanied the cooking of my upbringing. Nothing I did, in learning to cook or otherwise, was ever deemed acceptable. I’ve worked hard to build self esteem and confidence, but my relationship with cooking remained affected. Perhaps because it’s such a fundamental skill, and I was for so long deemed incapable of even that. I instilled my ex-husband with the confidence to learn to cook, and mentored his efforts – planning menus, gathering ingredients and lovingly encouraging. Still I cooked without enjoyment, with a lot of fear and to no more than a basic level.

The blog, devotedly largely to cooking on an impossibly tight budget, I found at agirlcalledJack.com caused something of a stir. I refer not to the stir in the media or in a bowl filled with a magical mix of low cost kidney beans, a square of dark chocolate, tomato puree and a pinch of cumin. This was the makings of a stirring deep inside of me (ooer – I have heard tell that food can do that to some folks).  Instead of wishing that I could tackle these recipes, that I found I was avidly reading, or feeling that I ought to tackle them; I started to find that I wanted to tackle them. Soon I found that not only did I want to tackle one or two basic budget recipes, I wanted to tackle quite a few. Then came my first encounter with A Girl Called Jackthe book* …

I devoured it in one huge gulp, reading from cover to cover with mounting EXCITEMENT. I wanted to make these things, because they excited me and because, finally, I felt I could. Then, after cooking one day, I found myself thinking I enjoyed that, then it happened again … and again. Now I look forward to cooking and it seems I enjoy it every time and best of all the fear has gone and in its place is a growing confidence.

Jack, I can’t thank you enough for that.

I’m never going to be contestant on the Great British Bake Off. I haven’t baked consistently since the cookery lessons of my school days of the 70s and 80s. I have baked since then but with fear, little success and more than a dollop of self-judgement. Last week * wait for it * I made a banana loaf. No, really, I really did … and bloody good it was too! I searched the terms ‘easy low fat banana loaf’ and came to this recipe from the BBC Good Food website – a site I believe also inspired you, Jack. I have to say that if I can successfully complete this recipe, anyone could, but boy did I enjoy making it. I positively revelled in it. By the end I might as well have conquered Everest, such was my sense of accomplishment and new found baking confidence. I’ve made it twice more since and, thanks to a gift of some apples, next week plan to bake Jack’s Apple and Cinnamon loaf.

A slice of MY banana loaf to sustain me as I write

As someone who lives with a number of diagnoses of chronic illness and is a ‘spoonie’, the amount of energy required to make a meal is of real importance. Before Jack, for two years (trying not to eat rubbish) I relied largely on expensive ready meals and ultimately, so burnt out was I, ended up living by snacking, not healthy, not good for the waistline and not at all satisfying or sustaining. My dysfunctional marriage had ended, I was continuing my extensive efforts to rebuild my life post-abuse disclosure and subsequent serious illness. I was dealing with the sudden terminal illness then death of the last person I had left who could be termed a ‘loved one’. I was studying, volunteering, making plans for self employment to revive the hard won and much beloved career stolen by the effects of abuse … and a whole lot more. Then after a final piece of devastating news it all stopped.The words straw and camel come to mind. I saw no light this summer. I stopped going out and my world closed down. Suicidal thoughts raged aplenty.

Now in dire straits financially, as a result of my marriage ending, and illness, I need Jack’s recipes all the more. My grocery shopping of late has almost entirely comprised products from the supermarket’s ‘basic range’, thanks to Jack encouraging me to try more than one or two. I’ve found I didn’t have enough money to buy tampons and put back food items to pay for them. Now I no longer have money to shop. Last week I was referred to a local food bank – a surreal moment and one that I’m still finding difficult to process. My first food parcel will arrive on Thursday.

My new found cooking confidence is helping to sustain me in more ways than one at this terribly difficult time. I’m sure I’ve cooked more in recent weeks than in the rest of my adult life and I’m using cooking implements that have long languished in boredom. I have a history of mental illness because of the trauma and abuse I have experienced. Reactive depression has returned with a vengeance, that alone makes me feel like I’m wading through treacle. It feels good to know that I am sustaining myself with good home cooked food. A bit of weighing, chopping and stirring goes some way to distracting my troubled mind.

I fear turning on lights and as colder days approach, I know that I can no longer afford to heat my home, despite the fact that the cold exacerbates my chronic pain. At risk of homelessness, I know that without a roof over my head, cooking will be the least of my worries. I hope there is a way I can be supported to stay in the one-bed rented flat I found last year and have grown to love so much, and keep on cooking and growing.

Thank you Jack for your brilliant recipes delivered in a gentle easy manner that means even the most ‘culinarily-challenged’ like me can be engaged.

I thought there could be no greater surprise than when I took up running last year (I am far from an athlete) but now … now I find I’ve added the category Food and Cooking to my blog :))) !

I still can’t make an omelette, despite Jack’s gentle instruction I still end up with scrambled egg. One day  …

With love and many grateful thanks to you Jack xx

*Thanks also to Jack for the introduction to the Hive, buy books online and support vital independent booksellers at the same time. Click here to buy any of Jack’s books – no, I’m not on commission 😉 !