My friends Amanda and Paul are this week doing something called Live Below the Line, along with their two sons. You might know about Live Below the Line already but I’d never heard of it until Amanda started writing about her own very personal and moving experience of poverty and hunger as a child… and you too can read about why they are doing it here. From 28th April to 2nd May, they are living on £1 a day for 5 days to change the way people in the UK think about extreme poverty.
I urge you to read this post to the end.
Over to Amanda:
I didn’t mean to give up blogging, it just happened. We’re re-instating the blog while we do Live Below the Line 2014. I love cooking for my family and friends. I love food full stop, which probably explains the size of my ample bottom… Sigh! I started this food blog years ago, it was mainly about the food we ate and also a little project we started to learn about other cultures around the world. We’d try making food from other countries and learn a little about that country and their people while we did it. The boys loved it. I loved it! It got them interested in food, in people, in different cultures, in different languages, a geography lesson on a plate. They still speak fondly of all the things we did. When I stopped writing the blog we continued with our kitchen travels. Instead of blogging about it, I wrote about it just for me.
What I’m about to write is a small part of my childhood where I learned what it was to not have a choice what you eat or if you eat at all and why I would do everything in my power to make sure my children don’t ever go hungry. I get insecure now when the cupboards, fridge and freezer get low. I am thankful every day for my life now.
I understand being poor, I’ve experienced being poor. Not for long admittedly, but long enough for me to not look down on anybody going through a hard time, down on their luck, be it through bad choices made or otherwise. I also try really hard not to judge people ever! That’s sometimes easier said than done but it’s usually people who have a great deal to be thankful for and who don’t seem to get it that I find hard not to judge.
My mum left home when I was nine years old, she left because my Dad is an alcoholic and was an abusive husband. I don’t blame her for that. I don’t suppose I’ll ever totally understand her leaving me behind but I do really. I know that I absolutely loved my Dad in a way only a child can, overlooking all faults, loving unconditionally in that childlike way that doesn’t see the damage and everything falling apart around them. I know that if my mum had insisted I go with her I wouldn’t have done and therefore she wouldn’t have gone. That would have been really bad for her and as it turned out it wasn’t a bad thing for me. I got to live with my lovely Nan, gorgeous woman that she was. It also plays a part in who I am now and I’m happy with me. It took me awhile to like who I am but I’m content with the person I became and still am.
Anyway…… After my mum left the gas and electricity were quite quickly cut off. My dad tried to make it into an adventure, buying a camping stove, camping light and a calor gas heater. The lounge became our camp. It was cheaper to try and keep the one room warm. To this day I have very mixed feelings when I see or smell one of those old fashioned heaters. Dad cooked our dinners on the camping stove, often stews, which would last us a few days. No electricity, so no fridge to ensure what we were eating was safe but I don’t remember ever getting ill from anything we ate.
My dad of course continued to drink. We were living in Highbury at the time. A proper latch key kid I would walk home from school, let myself in, greeted by my lovely dog Prince (a cross between a Great Dane and a German Shepherd, he was huge) and my cat Stumpy (a Persian who I saw being born. Stumpy because his mum bit his tail off when he was born). I don’t ever remember feeding them. I guess Dad must have fed them. The cat eventually went to my mum and the dog was given away to another family. Heartbroken doesn’t really cover how that felt.
Most days dad would come home to get dinner before going to the pub. It was after the dog and cat had gone that I learned what being lonely really feels like. As an only child I didn’t have any siblings to share the load with. Dad would leave for the pub and I’d be on my own. No electricity so no TV to keep me company, just me, myself and I. I’d read until the gas would run out in the camping light. I’d then try and keep warm under a sheet and some blankets, willing myself to sleep. I remember feeling a bit scared, no Prince dog to keep me safe. Eventually dad would come home, I’d pretend to be asleep and eventually, feeling safer, I would fall asleep. I went from being an exceptionally bright child to average. Something which I can see now as an adult was quite a natural chain reaction.
After some months of existing like this I went to live with my grandparents and Dad joined us some time later. I loved it. It was like someone had released the pressure valve. Nan was just a joy to be around. As for food, it was plentiful. The pleasure of choice, from a roast dinner to a pot noodle. 🙂 I had the freedom of choosing what I wanted to eat. Going swimming and being able to buy a bag of chips and a chocolate bar afterwards, pure bliss! A few years back I rediscovered pot noodles. They are my guilty pleasure!
In my mum’s defence she didn’t know how things were for me and I will just say that after forty years of wetting the babies head my Dad stopped drinking. Almost three years ago now and just after it almost killed him. He’s now bed bound and catheterised AND I still love him. I love my Mum too, maybe even more as it’s with her blessing that I’m posting this publicly. I hope they both always know that.
This wasn’t extreme poverty, but extreme poverty is happening right now, in the UK and elsewhere. Maybe through some poor choices being made and maybe through no fault of anyone in particular but this is never a child’s fault. No child should ever go hungry. There are so many factors to poverty. It impacts on everything and it can happen to anybody.
If you would like to support Amanda and her family, and donate to Live Below the Line (how could you not?), please click here.