Just kidding, here are some real thoughts

A massive sausage bap from a farmer’s market. Slathered in ketchup and piping hot.

That was the first thing I demolished when I got up on Saturday morning, and it was divine. Half a week’s sustenance it cost me. I’ve started measuring everything by that now.

In truth I wasn’t even that hungry when I got up in the morning. I kind of expected that given how switched off to eating I became over the week. So I dragged myself out of bed and wandered to the handily-placed farmer’s market around the corner.

Then I went a little bit nuts.

After effectively inhaling the sausage roll (you should have seen the look the guy I bought it from gave me. I think he was moments away from calling the police.) I decided that I must immediately go and spend as much as humanly possible on delectable goodies. I’ve clearly learned a lot from this experience. By the time I got home I was the proud owner of a trio of artisan cheeses, a loaf of walnut and raisin bread, a large pork pie, some lemon and garlic olives and a carton of Topicana. The Tropicana wasn’t even on offer and I still bought it. Redefining hedonism right there.

All of it together looked a bit like this. Yes it’s still sideways.

3 weeks worth, as you’re asking

I thought I was going to want to devour an entire cow on finishing this, but it turns out I’m more about overpriced deli products. Who knew.

I’m not the only one to have gone for one of the more niche food groups after finishing LBTL. After a few shandies last night I went for a big old fry up this morning and invited one of my mates who finished his challenge today. The response I got was along the lines of “Maybe, but I’ve just hammered a truckload of Haribo so I’m probably ok.”

This was at about 9:30 in the morning.

Onto some more serious stuff.

Firstly, I’m never ever going to do this again. It’s been eye-opening and rewarding but in the same way as losing a foot and then walking with a false one might. You feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, but you pray to god that it doesn’t happen again.

It’s a real soul-sapper, and it was only five days of my life. For so, so many people that’s just part of life. I can’t help but feel that it must be a self-perpetuating cycle. My crap diet throughout the week certainly impaired me in various ways. My concentration was destroyed, my moods were up and down like something that get’s through a lot of vertical motion, and I just felt, in medical terms, shit.

Even for somebody who is used to that level of sustenance it must have adverse effects on physical and mental function. Your body can only work with what it’s given. If that’s the case then getting out of the cycle would be even harder.

I’ve also come to realise that food performs a role that goes way beyond just keeping people going. Especially for us relatively wealthy (as in compared to the whole world) folk, food and drink is a ritual that is actually quite central to our lives. I suppose that’s a fairly obvious conclusion to come to if you think about it, but you don’t quite realise how important it is until you have it largely taken away.

I’ve raised £237 so far, from something like 25 separate donors, which I’m delighted with, and hopefully I can squeeze a few more pennies out of folks in the next week or so. If one of those folks is you then I can save us both time and effort by directing you here and thanking you in advance.

Thank you. In advance.

More importantly, above and beyond the money aspect, it’s important to keep the reality of extreme poverty in our minds. Next time you go out for a meal, work out how many weeks of food and drink your dinner could have bought someone. Not in a guilt trip way, just in a “Hmm, makes you think” way.

Otherwise we’ll all just forget about it and nothing will ever change, and we can’t be having that now can we?

If you don’t do it for me, do it for the party guinea pig. He’ll get sad and take off his party sombrero if you don’t, and we can’t be having that now can we?

He’s going in every post from here on in. His name is Raoul.

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Day 4: “At 1 o’clock pizza will be delivered to the venue”

This close. I was this close to cracking.

Today was an off-site day for my team at work, and in LBL terms it was torture. The day itself, I have to stress, was great fun, but I was surrounded by delicious temptation all the while.

We were at one of those venues where everything is on tap and readily available. I walked in to find my colleagues enjoying freshly-brewed coffee with a selection of non-shit biscuits (I tried not to look too hard, but I’m 90% certain there were Boasters on the biscuit plate. God’s own biscuit, just sitting there begging to be eaten.) There were cans of popular branded soft drinks littered about the place, and the hiss of a Coke can opening becomes a mouthwatering sound after 4 days of plain old H2O.

I successfully avoided the temptation of the biscuit plate by furiously masticating my breakfast apple, which took my mind off the food.

Worse was to come.

During the introduction to the day, we had an agenda slide which let us know what was in store. I didn’t read any of it apart from the one line I immediately clocked and could not take my eyes off. There it was, big bold letters:

“1.00 – Pizza will be delivered to the venue”

That was a real punch in the gut.

It didn’t get any easier. To get some inspiration we decided on a store visit and toddled off to the nearest Tesco. Whilst we failed to find much inspiration we did find a large array of snacks and biscuits which then made there way back to our working table. So I had those sitting there looking at me all morning, beckoning me with their salty, crispy goodness.

I should also confess that my boss found 20p on the ground on the way to Tesco, gave it to me and I spent it on two Freddos. They were heavenly.

I’d do it again, too. I felt a tiny bit like Charlie Bucket, and he’s the fictional epitome of living below the line. He had no qualms about splurging cash he found on chocolate. so I have decided not to show any remorse either. Plus I’ve got loads of unspent budget based on how much I’ve actually consumed so far, so it’s all fine.

Frankly I’m just trying to justify it to myself. It isn’t working.

When we got back to the venue it was almost lunchtime. I didn’t mention it to the others but I smelt lunch arrive before they knew it was here. I could taste Domino’s on the breeze. When people eventually went downstairs to fuel up I had to stay upstairs alone for a few minutes eating my value peanut butter sandwich and pondering the big questions in life, which today was “WHY AM I DOING THIS?”

I managed to avoid cracking, though. With a firm concentration on the blank wall at the back of the room and a few glasses of water to fill the space I shut out the fact that everyone was stood around enjoying delicious cheesy goodness.

Long story short, I got to the end of the day without properly breaking. Go me.

You might guess, I’m not in a great mood tonight. This happens. Yesterday I was on top of the world, today I’m glum as can be. I’ve noticed something else, too. At the moment the stuff I’m eating doesn’t give me any real boost. Instead of enjoying food as part of my life, food has now become my life. And now it’s not so much in a covetous, lustful way, it’s a completely pragmatic exercise. The question that runs through my head all day is “When am I getting my top up?” Eating has gone from an enjoyable aspect of my day to a grim refueling task. When I do eat, I don’t feel pleased or satisfied, I just feel sustained. It’s just there to keep me going.

For me, food has always been an inherently pleasurable aspect of life. Before this I couldn’t honestly conceive of it being otherwise. But at the moment I don’t look forward to eating, I just know it has to be done. I don’t even get particularly hungry, and the “I’m going to eat an entire cow when this is over” attitude has gone. I’m now not particularly fussed.

Saps the soul a bit, this challenge. Makes the world a little less brighter. And I’m lucky that I can switch off at any time and go back to normal. For a quarter of the world, this is it. This is every day, no questions, no moaning on silly little blogs, nothing.

Scary thought.

Well, this has all got a bit sombre eh? I’ve had some more donors, and a huge thanks to them and to everyone for your continuing support. I’m going to hold off on doing the fanfare bit tonight as I don’t think I can do it justice. I’ll try and be in a better mood tomorrow so I can say a proper thankyou.

The link for any more donations, as you probably know by now, is:

https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/sparky205

Cheers.

Day 3: The big sleep and the lingering threat of death

First off, an apology.

I did mean to write up a summary of yesterday towards the end of the evening, but I failed miserably to stay awake.

By ‘failed miserably to stay awake’, I mean I fell asleep fully clothed at 7.30 reading an article about the best ways to cook meat. Now that statement raises so many questions in my own mind as to the effects this challenge might be having on me that I’m going to ignore it and pretend it never happened.

As a consequence I missed dinner entirely, so my consumption breakdown for yesterday is as follows:

50g porridge oats – 4p

1Tbsp Value strawberry jam – 5p

(fun fact: strawberries are the second most abundant ingredient in Value strawberry jam)

4 slices bread – 8p

1/6th jar peanut butter – 10p

Thin, THIN sliver of cake at work (yeah, sorry) – We’ll go with 20p. This sliver was THIN I tell you.

Total – 47p

And that’s with completely overvalued cake. So I figure I now have up to 82p in the blowout bank for the rest of the week, which I may or may not resort to based on desperation.

So, onto today.

Today I felt great. I’ve been perky all day, had a couple of apples for breakfast, generally been full of vim and vigour and even managed to pull a 10.5 hour day without too much pain. My ever supportive work buddies have been regaling me with tales of trips to Nando’s or posing me helpful questions like “So, lasagna. Discuss.”

God bless ’em.

Lunch was my now traditional peanut butter sandwich, as evidenced below:

One day I’ll learn how to rotate images properly. And then I’ll be unstoppable.

The only thing that has changed about lunch over 3 days is the size of the plate, which makes me quite sad.

But strangely at the moment nothing is making me sad. I’ve had a pretty long work day, I consumed about 7 of my requisite 2500 calories yesterday, I’ve apparently started reading about meat cookery on the internet, which is just way too far, but I’m chipper as can be.

I must be dying.

I imagine it’s like in the films, where the protagonist thinks she’s sipping Mojito’s on a cruise liner in 1962 but is actually locked in a tiny basement flat in Slough, hours from the inevitable.

For all I know today has been a wonderful yet surprisingly mundane dream. I’m probably not even typing this right now. Oh well.

In acknowledgement of the fact that I’m dying/already dead, I’ll do my thankyous early tonight because I’ll probably be in the morgue by about 10 when I’d usually write a summary.

Acknowledgements

And bloody hell there are a lot of them. Huge, heartfelt thanks to everybody who’s put in so far. I’m up to £95, which is a bit surreal. So thanks go to, in no particular order, Sue Hall, Keighley Bowen, Victoria Nollwr (also known as Victoria Nollet), Yachty Totty (aka James Goates unless I’m much mistaken), Hannah Gibbons, Neil Wright, Harry Mackenzie and Harriet Pattie. Here’s a little something you might not know about these people, and which largely aren’t true (jesus, how am I going to make up this many facts?!):

Hannah Gibbons – Owns the mightiest swan this side of Lancashire. It’s name is Thor. Also speaks fluent Swahili.

Harriet Pattie – Is terrible, TERRIBLE at Tesco-based jokes. Once travelled from Land’s End to John o’Groats on the back of a Burmese Mountain Dog.

Harry Mackenzie – Is the tallest man in Berkshire, and has been known to make sweet, sweet love to chestnut trees

Neil Wright – Discovered opium in 1978 and hasn’t been seen since. Paints with melons.

Victoria Nollet – In her culture it is forbidden to write your last name without replacing the last letters with W and R. Teaches martial arts to squirrels.

Sue Hall (http://ournewlifeinthecountry.blogspot.co.uk/) – No made up facts for Sue, just check out her blog and see what she has stretched her £1 a day to. Officially superwoman.

James Goates (aka Yacthy Totty) – Sails the high seas plundering copper wiring to slake the thirst of his hungry Norwegian master. Could probably Live Below the Line and eat steak every day because he’s a jammy git.

We have a late entry! Whilst writing this I must also thank Jan Burton, aka mum, for her donation. And if you think I’m falling into the trap of making attempted witticisms about my own mother right now, you’re mistaken.

I’ll do it later.

Anyway, tea time. Rice again, might crack out the kidney beans for a real treat.

Toodles!

https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/sparky205

Day 2: Can you hear that creaking sound?

It’s my resolve, bowing dangerously under the strain of this morning’s porridge.

Suffice to say, folks, this isn’t going well. The day was going absolutely perfectly until I opened my eyes this morning, and then it all started going a bit downhill.

It all started at breakfast. As I’ve mentioned in my previous couple of posts, I seemed to think it was a good idea to slash away a good 40p of my budget on a kilo of porridge oats whilst being quite certain that I don’t like porridge.

Now, I don’t like porridge at its best. I don’t like it when it’s made with jumbo oats hand rolled by a burly Scotsman in a kilt like in the adverts(frankly inappropriate work attire if you ask me). I don’t like it when it’s mixed to unctuous perfection with good whole milk, and liberally scattered with fresh, tart blueberries and a flamboyant swirl of honey.

So I’m certainly not a fan of this, which was my creation this morning:

Yes. I ate it. I was desperate.

Note that I’ve left that image at full size to really bring home the horror. First off, no milk. Good old fashioned dihydrogen monoxide was my mixer of choice this morning, which I felt gave it a really lovely ‘wallpaper-paste’ edge. Magnifique! I then added this to our trusty non-turning microwave and gently exploded it for a few minutes. When I was happy that I’d covered every internal surface of the microwave with my incredibly glue-like snack, I proceeded to add the final flourish. A liberal scattering of fresh,tart berries? A flamboyant swirl of honey?

No. Value Jam. Which has a consistency similar to those strange stock pots Marco-Pierre White is always flogging on telly.

I ate the entire thing, and it was absolutely disgusting. I’m genuinely considering just dry oats for tomorrow. That’ll work, right?

 

I’ve started having food fantasies.

It’s quite worrying. Somebody mentioned steak earlier on, and suddenly I was in an old steakhouse in Cornwall I used to frequent, opening up an incredibly juicy sirloin, letting it dissolve in my mouth.

And I let out a happy sigh. In the present. At work. Not good practice.

On the way home I got really snared. I live in a middle-eastern food paradise in West London. As I stroll home of an evening I always get the scent of the charcoal ovens grilling their first quota of beautifully-spiced meat goods, and think “Mmm, What’s for tea?”.

Not tonight.

Tonight it was visceral. In my head I was in that oven, hearing every sizzling globule of grease tumbling off the gently charring meat, inhaling the heady mix of spice and woodsmoke. I could taste the sweet, succulent lamb as I tore it off the skewer, feel the heat and flavour bursting on my tongue like a waterfall of goodness.

It didn’t stop there. There’s a chicken and pizza joint round the corner (chicken AND pizza. What more could you need?) that I’ve never felt the urge to go to. Tonight took some pretty serious willpower. They were just making up fresh dough as I went past; I could taste it in the air. I saw lavishly topped fresh dough thrown into a pizza oven and cooked until it was a gorgeous mess of cheese and loveliness, and I even recreated the little hiss of steam that comes off a properly fresh, deep pan pizza crust when you bite into it. Half crunchy, half soft. All perfect.

If you’re doing this too, please let me know I’m not alone here…

So that’s been my day so far. Tune in tonight for a more concise and hopefully more amusing summary of events. I’ll try and think up some witty ways of saying “I’m hungry and I don’t want egg fried rice”.

I’ll also be revealing my latest list of incredible donors (hint: IT COULD BE YOU!), so that might be fun.

I’m off to reinvent rice as we know it. I hear human tears make it tasty.

https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/sparky205

Live Below the Line Day 1: In summary

No idea what that title alludes to? Shame on you. Read this.

If you’re completely au fait with what this is, then you spend too much time following my life. Stop it. I can see you in that tree, don’t you think that owl costume is fooling anybody.

So this was my dinner, which was rose veal in a light blackcurrant jus on a bed of crunchy spring vegetables:

The veal worked superbly with the jus, but perhaps a selection of microherbs would have taken this dish from cow to wow

Just kidding, it was rice.

More accurately, it was egg-fried rice (as in I literally threw an egg into it and wafted it near a hot pan for 30 seconds), with a half clove of garlic and a suggestion of soy sauce to really make it something special. It was actually ok, but it did seem to be missing some small details, like an entire chicken breast and a creamy mushroom sauce.

To be concise, the rice was nice.

So here is my precise consumption for the day, so you know I’m doing this right:

3 eggs – 24p

4 slices bread – 8p

1/6th jar peanut butter – 10p

100g value rice – 4p

1 clove garlic – 3p (Assuming 10 cloves per bulb. I counted…)

5ml soy sauce – 4p

1 Apple – 12p

Total: 65p

Now I was working that out on the fly, and I’m quite surprised that I have 35p left over. It’s 10:30pm, but I feel like 3 Freddos would be a solid investment right now. Or a carrot, or anything non-beige.

Some points to note

  • Tesco Everyday Value is a surprising winner. All the food I’ve eaten today comes from the revamped range, and it actually tastes like food, which is a real plus.
  • I had to leave a bag of 5 peppers behind at Tesco today because they were £1.07 and took me over budget. I miss those peppers.
  • I hope those peppers are somewhere nice now.
  • My housemate cooked fajitas earlier. I wanted to murder her and eat her fajitas.
  • I didn’t tell her that.

Acknowledgements

Huge thanks to my latest donors, I’ve now smashed well into double figures and am on a cool £20. Thankyou to Emma Steventon (@femitarian), Rich Wilson (@richwilson17) and James McCann (who is too cool for Twitter I assume). As a show of gratitude, I have made up a fact about each of these people:

Rich Wilson – 1974 All-Belarus Bear Wrestling Champion. Collects photos of sheep.

Emma Steventon – Future leader of the free world*. Invented the world ‘clamp’.

James McCann – Hobbies include punting whilst enjoying a rather fine Cuban cigar**. Knows every third person on the planet***.

More updates tomorrow, I’ll let you know the joys of value porridge oats heated in a microwave with water.

P.S. If you’re still bored, check out this. It’s the best £5 you’ll ever spend.

*Will actually happen at some point.

**Already true.

***If this isn’t true then it certainly seems like it.