Friday, May 19, 2006


A special welcome to those who have picked up on this blog in recent weeks following my article in Third Way Magazine or through other viral means.

The blog is all set out below - unchanged since I finished the challenge.

Hope you enjoy the blog - but also that it makes you think!

If you want to campaign on refugee and asylum issues then one great way of doing that is to become a Refugee Council campaigner. Just email with 'subscribe' in the subject line or just ask for more information.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

It's all over...

Well my week of living on a tenner has finished.

Since the Living Ghosts Endurance Challenge week ended I have eaten lots of big meals (good to know my stomach hasn't shrunk too much), as much fruit and veg as I can find (just to keep Dr Gillian McKeith happy) and have spent three times last week's budget on eating out alone!

I feel a lot better - I can spend money (I had 32p left out of my £10 budget), the hunger has gone, the cycling has reduced (I worked out I did 102 miles altogether) and I am getting a more balanced diet. I also feel 'normal' again. I can use my phone, hop on the tube, buy a newspaper or watch a film at the cinema. I can meet friends and not feel like a burden, and not have to fret about not spending money! I feel free again.

If you want to find out about the issues that have arisen in the blog go to the Living Ghosts website or check out organisations that work with asylum seekers and refugees in the UK, like the Refugee Council. If you fancy taking up the challenge yourself, I encourage you to do so.

So now it's goodbye. I hope you have enjoyed this blog and learnt something as well. I am not going to end with any moralistic pontificating. Read the rest of the blog - it speaks for itself - and just remember that for those real Living Ghosts in the UK the reality of everyday life is so much worse.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Things I did last week that I couldn’t do as a Living Ghost

Although I have tried to live as active and as normal an existence as possible this last week, I haven’t done half as much as I would in a normal week. Here are some things I did in one normal week before the Living Ghost exercise that would have been a struggle this week:
  • Hosted dinner party for friends (cost £14)
  • Gym class and swimming (cost £4)
  • Badminton (cost £3)
  • Lunch with friend (cost £8)
  • Attended AGM and lunch for voluntary body (cost £5)
  • Went for coffee to discuss voluntary scheme in West London (cost £5)
  • Church (collection)
  • Attended board meeting of voluntary body in a pub (drinks £5)
  • Creative writing evening class (cost £15)
  • Bought some books (£20)
  • Phoned friends and family (£10)

In fact, looking at the list, it wouldn't have been a struggle. It would have been impossible.

What I normally spend in a week

This week I lived on a tenner.

To demonstrate how much of a change this made to my consumption, here’s a breakdown of what I spend in an average week on the sort of things that the £10 was supposed to cover:

Food shopping - £20 (shared with 2 flatmates)
Lunches - £15
Public transport - £15
Mobile charges - £8
Socialising - £20
Total - £78

So on an average I spend at least double a Living Ghost’s weekly income purely on socialising. And almost eight times their budget over all. Food for thought.

Even more things I take for granted...

Here are some more things that I have used or taken advantage of this week that a Living Ghost is unlikely to enjoy so fully.

My guitar. The iron. Moisturiser. My glasses. Crockery and cutlery. Hair clippers. Alan Partridge (series 2) on DVD. A permanent address. My mobile. Pillows. CDs. T’internet. Email.

Swearing and bloody silly little mistakes

One noticeable side effect of hunger is the tendency to lose concentration and make silly little mistakes - I have made plenty of those this week! Another is decreased tolerance and increased vulnerability to frustration.

So those in work this week will probably have witnessed uncharacteristic explosions of temper at a malfunctioning printer or the failure of the blog software to upload pictures. Those who have come across me cycling in the street may have seen me drift blithely across several lanes of traffic or absent-mindedly race with taxis. And I must apologise to the man at the pedestrian crossing in Wandsworth who I accidentally kicked with my trailing foot while mounting my bike last Wednesday.

And I have also taken to swearing a lot more casually. Only mildly in most cases of course, but if it’s not ‘bugger this’ its ‘bloody that’ in almost every other sentence – certainly in my internal monologue if not always in conversation. And when coupled with my heightened intolerance of those around me; well you can pretty much guarantee that if I talked to you more than two hours after eating this week and didn’t call you a swine to your face, there’s a fair chance I was calling you something worse in my head!

This week I have been mostly eating...

It’s the list you’ve all been waiting for – the sum of what I have eaten this week. I’ll give it to you now, before Jimmy Carr or Graham Norton make it into a Saturday night clip show for Channel 4.

A healthy diet is supposed to conform to the food pyramid (see here) - with a recommended number of servings of each food group per day. I have multiplied these by seven to show how many servings I should have consumed in the last week so you can compare. I have also marked all the food I didn't pay for but was able to scavenge from friends and leftovers.

Breads and Grains (42-77 servings a week)
400g dried pasta
Half a tin of new potatoes
1 tin of ravioli
1 pack of instant noodles
3 noodle snacks (pot noodles)
6 sticks of bread
4 slices of bread (sandwiches) [scavenged]
Total servings = 27

Vegetables (21-35 servings a week)
1 tin of marrowfat processed peas
Half a tin of carrots
2 tins of beans
Cucumber slices (in sandwiches) [scavenged]
Total servings = 8

Fruits (14-28 servings a week)
1 tin of mandarin segments
1 tin of fruit cocktail
1 banana [scavenged]
Total servings = 5

Dairy (14-21 servings a week)
6 slices of processed cheese
Half a tin of evaporated milk
1 pot of natural yoghurt
Total servings = 9

Proteins (14-21 servings a week)
10 fishfingers
8 cocktail sausages
Half a tin of spam
Trace quantities of beef mince (in spaghetti Bolognese, ravioli and noodle snacks)
1 sachet of chicken flavouring
2 tinned beefburgers
2 portions of salmon filling (sandwich) [scavenged]
1 portion of tuna filling (sandwich) [scavenged]
Total servings = 16

Fats/oils/sweets (consume sparingly)
5 biscuits [scavenged]
1 doughnut [scavenged]
Total servings = 7

So, as you can see, in only one of the categories did I manage to meet the recommended number of servings, and without the food I scavenged I wouldn't even have managed that. I did have some food leftover, but by the end I just didn't feel like eating the same tasteless stuff over and over. And though I started off meaning to eat as much frut and veg as possible, the tinned veg was so awful that I gave up on that after a few days - they made mealtimes too depressing to bear.

I decided not to weigh myself at the beginning and end of the week because I assumed it would make no difference in that time. Maybe I should have done - certainly some colleagues at work have noticed a change.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Beggars can't be choosers

Last night after work I went to the theatre. Before I get pilloried I should mention that I did not spend any cash (I happened to have some theatre tokens). But going to the Old Vic is not something that I imagine many Living Ghosts have the option of doing, and I did wonder whether it was really in keeping with the spirit of the exercise.

However, I had made a commitment over a month ago and felt duty bound to keep it - although this presented me with a number of difficulties in my cashless situation. And struggling to keep commitments is something that a Living Ghost can relate to.

First I had to cycle to Leicester Square from Brixton, and by the time I got there I was feeling a bit light-headed. And then I had to explain what I was doing to my friend. It was a bit odd spending time with a friend whilst having no money. Despite my protestations that I would wait until I got home, she insisted on buying me something to eat. Although more than grateful, I found this hard to handle - both as a bloke and as a Living Ghost! And then she asked where I would like to eat - to which I could only respond, rather embarrassed: "Beggars can't be choosers".

We decided to go to the Old Vic near Waterloo, which caused me to inconvenience her once more as I couldn't use public transport and didn't know the whereabouts of the theatre either. Twenty minutes and some navigational guesswork later we met again at Waterloo and she went off to buy us some sandwiches. I again proved myself an inconvenience by having to drag my bike next to the table at which we ate. And then, on our way to the theatre, I refused to take the bike down the escalator, thus holding us up even further. By the time we found ourselves at the box office and I was emptying the contents of my panier in front of all and sundry in a desperate attempt to find my tokens, I felt a right eejit, and a huge embarrassment to my friend, frankly. My friend was very good about it, but I was convinced that I had cast a pall of destitution over the evening.

It made me think how much I have relied on friends this week. My flatmates who have let me stay in the flat and turned a blind eye when I stole some ketchup in desperation; my girlfriend who put up with my whingeing; my friends at work who have offered support and food (especially Roisin, who supplied me with my only fresh fruit of the week); and other friends (I do have more!) who have sent encouraging emails and posts on this blog. You get the point - better stop now before this starts to sound like an acceptance speech at the Oscars.

Not only is a Living Ghost unlikely to receive this level of support, they are also more likely to be victims of racial prejudice, general hostility or ignorance. I have lived a week without having to contend with any of the above (apart from the odd Welsh joke) - how much worse it could have been!

Light lunches

Easily the worst of the three mealtimes over the course of the challenge has been lunchtime. And yesterday was no exception - dry (no budget for margarine), stale bread (foolishly bought all in one go last Wednesday) with processed cheese and some slices of spam.

Spam is one of those odd products which has almost a shelf to itself in the supermarket - and yet I never see anyone buy or eat it. And yet somebody must like spam - it has its own fan club and its own museum. But as far as I can tell they could have been displaying the same tins in supermarkets since 1973 and no-one would notice.

After I had opened my tin I wasn't convinced it hadn't been produced in 1973. If you've never seen what spam looks like I implore you to go out and buy a tin - it'll set you back 44p. Open it, and I defy you to assert with any certainty that it isn't Kit-e-Kat in a smaller tin.

And when it is not dry bread and spam it's Asda Smartsave beef and tomato flavour noodle snack (pot noodle to you and me). I have to admit that the 'noodle snack' is tastier than the sandwiches - particularly as I am now at the stage where I am picking the mouldy bits off the bread. But it is just a snack and having had them for three lunches this week I struggle to detect any beef or tomato in there.

All in all, afternoons are pretty hungry times. When it gets to about four o'clock I start getting ratty, making silly mistakes and feeling sorry for myself.

Some more things I take for granted

One of the few things that has not differed from my usual routine this week has been my sleeping arrangements. Although it is true to say that to be hungry in a comfy double bed is still to be hungry, it is just as true to say that to be hungry in a comfy double bed is still to be in a comfy double bed!

Alas a comfy double bed is not the typical resting place for a Living Ghost. Many will be sleeping on a friend's sofa or floor, or moving around a succession of friends' houses trying not to be a burden. Others may spend nights on the streets or be taken in by hostels, homeless charities or faith groups. I came across an interesting article by a family who took in a destitute asylum seeker here.

Other things I take for granted. Well, I had run out of clean clothes by the weekend (all that sweating!) and so used the washing machine. I have used the shower a lot too, ditto the fridge (albeit for different purposes), the freezer (got to keep those fish fingers somewhere), central heating and even watched tv and listened to my hi-fi. Plus I have read books, magazines I get sent by subscription (respectable ones, I might add) and used pen and paper too. And, of course, I am using my computer to write this blog.

So many things I take for granted - even when I am trying my best to be deliberately abstemious!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Manna from Marks & Sparks

Several weeks ago I booked myself onto a workshop on political persuasion due to be held on Sunday. I got up at nine and treated myself to a genuinely delicious breakfast of bread dunked in the remains of my pot of natural yoghurt before cycling to Westminster where the workshop was being held.

It is fair to say that I was a bit uncertain about whether this workshop was a good idea. For a start I was tired and hungry and this was bound to hamper concentration on what promised to be an intense subject. And there was also the potential for embarrassment. What if we were all expected to go out to lunch together or for a drink at the end of the day? And what if someone made a comment about my obviously unappetising lunch of dry bread and processed cheese?

Well I decided to brazen it out and attend anyway. This looked like a mistake from almost the moment when I arrived and found that the location was flooded and that we were going to have to relocate. "What if the new venue is miles away and I will need to take public transport to get there?", I worried. Luckily, it was just down the road at the London School of Economics in Aldwych, so I cycled there with ease (though wearily).

The morning session went fine, though it was a bit difficult to concentrate and my tummy rumbled a bit. And then came lunch. Sure enough we were invited to have lunch in a café with the seminar leader. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one to churlishly decline and I tried to think of the most discreet method of consuming my bread without inviting questions like "What's that you're eating there, gippo?".

And then, like Manna from Marks & Spencer, a load of leftover sandwiches from a function next door arrived. I tried to make my consumption look not too desperate, but when you are trying to stuff two packs of salmon and cucumber sarnies into your gob without chewing, this is tricky. Easily the best meal of the week!

Had a great afternoon on the back of those sandwiches – my mood lightened, I was more engaged, contributing more freely and generally feeling confident. What a difference from the lethargy I have experienced throughout the rest of the experiment so far!

I left elated – but really struggled on the ride home. The wind was against me all the way and I got home exhausted, and not wishing to see my bike again in a long time.

I’m still amazed at the effect of those sandwiches. If only all Living Ghosts could get access to LSE or other major institutions and supplement their diet with such sandwiches! In reality of course, many are reliant on churches and community groups for food – but should anyone be expected to rely on charity to meet their basic nutritional needs?

Living Ghost Gets to Party

A friend of mine was having a thirtieth birthday party in the evening and I really wanted to go. However, being pretty exhausted after the bike ride and tour and having had another meal high in carbs but low in any other nutritional value (the fishfingers were 52% ‘minced fish’!) I was wondering if I would be able to manage it.

The party was in Streatham which is a good few miles away, and the prospect of another 10 mile round trip by bike was not all that appealing having only just got back from Highgate. Moreover, bike helmet-hair and B.O. are not a winning combination when schmoozing with complete strangers at parties. But Anna decided to go by train and meet me at the station near their house with deodorant to mask the worst of it.

Anyhow, I cycled in roughly the right direction and despite a few wrong turns, a number of unexpected hills and some run-ins with aggressive taxis I arrived at the station not so very long after I had agreed to meet Anna, sweating considerably (me that is, not her). Seeing me she looked slightly guilty and said, "Oh hello darling. I’m really sorry. I forgot your deodorant…"!

And so it was that I breezed into the party, buzzing and self-conscious. But I soon forgot this embarrassment when I saw the spread! Seconds later I was tucking into cakes and pouring a big glass of lemonade. However, despite my initial enthusiasm I couldn’t maintain my appetite. Perhaps my stomach had shrunk? Maybe I was full of pasta and minced fish? Whichever, it was most disappointing and I ate nothing else all evening.

I am off alcohol for Lent, so I couldn’t even take advantage of the free booze. I ended up collapsed on the sofa trying not to let air waft from my armpits, watching as the more inebriated guests "throw some shapes" on the dancefloor (their words, not mine – they were certainly rather odd looking shapes). Life and soul of the party I was not, and I would have probably left earlier had I not been thinking about my sore buttocks and the pounding they would take on the ride back.

Oh to be able to be able to afford the night bus home... I have never really appreciated my reliance on and need for public transport in London. As the mileage racks up day by day I realise that even essential journeys have taken me distances that are not possible to walk. And I am lucky enough to have a bike - for a Living Ghost without an independent form of transport life must be incredibly difficult - and very restrictive.

Come back loyal Oyster card - all is forgiven.

Living Ghost in a Cemetery

Saturday loomed like a blank canvas. I have to say that doing nothing is not an attractive option when you are hungry and have only got your next unappetising meal to think about.

So Anna and I thought we would head up to Highgate Cemetery… as you do. Now it is quite appropriate for a Living Ghost to hang about in a graveyard when you think about it, but we really wanted to see Karl Marx’s grave - which is Highgate's big draw.

Now Highgate is quite a way from Battersea so after a nourishing lunch of instant noodles with chicken flavouring (easily the best meal you can get for 8p in my view) we set out on our bikes. About two hours and much perspiration later we arrived at Highgate, just in time for the guided tour.

Unfortunately there was a charge for the tour so I had to throw myself on Anna’s charity. This was not the first or last time I had to suffer this indignity during the weekend. Most notably, Anna was my knight in shining armour when I broke the tin opener on Friday and faced almost certain starvation, buying me a new one when she knew I couldn’t pay her back. And I had to beg the use of her phone a number of times.

The tour and the ride back were great (though I was quite tired and saddle-sore by this point - it was a 17 mile round trip) but the sense of being a burden on Anna and preventing her from doing nice things like stopping for coffee etc. was quite depressing. Though she bore it with great stoicism and nobility of spirit, I can’t help wondering how Living Ghosts and their partners manage these issues in the long term.

In Denunciation of Rat Burger

Getting fired up for the weekend loses a lot of its meaning when you are a Living Ghost. Yes, you have a few days off but all the usual pleasures of the weekend – pubs, restaurants, travel to see friends and family – are pretty much ruled out on the grounds of cost. So my Friday night was spent in front of the telly (not such a great change there – especially when Green Wing and The West Wing are on offer).

I had saved up my flagship meal of the week as Anna, (my long-suffering girlfriend) was coming over. Now you want to treat your girl, even if you are a Living Ghost, so I had cobbled together a dinner of my most expensive ingredients: tinned hamburgers in onion gravy (that had cost over 5% of my budget), tinned new potatoes (which I have hated since childhood) and tinned carrots (pre-sliced).

To her credit, Anna wolfed it down, but the days of eating nothing but tinned goods was taking its toll on me. For a start, the hamburgers were a great disappointment. Not only did they look like rat meat, they emitted a rank smell when cooked and tasted even fouler. It was a real struggle to get through my portion and for those who have had the pleasure of seeing me eat broccoli or cauliflower I used my tried and tested technique: cutting the food into the smallest possible strip; staring at it mournfully as I load it onto my fork; sticking it in quickly while holding my nose; and chewing twice before washing down with half a glass of water. Rinse and repeat.

Afterwards I had a look at the hamburger tin for clues as to why the taste should be so foul. Here's the list of ingredients:
Hamburgers (45%) (Pork (31%), contains Bacon (12%)(with Preservative: Sodium Nitrite), Potato Starch, Water, Rusk, Salt, Sugar, Stabiliser: Tri-Di-Polyphosphates; Flavourings), Water, Tomato Puree, Onion (4.5%), Wheat Flour, Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein, Flavour Enhancer: E621; Colour: Ammonia Caramel, Sugar, Flavouring. Slightly disturbed by the low percentage of meat in what is essentially a meat product - but hey, as my old grandma used to say, you can never have too many Tri-Di-Polyphosphates!

So traumatic was this experience that I accepted the doughnut proffered by my flatmate (he’s complained about the bad publicity I gave him in a previous post so I wanted to set the record straight) and revelled in its beautiful sugary taste and the way the cloying jam fell onto my tongue… Hmmmm…. Roll on Wednesday and fresh food (and doughnuts)!

Friday, March 31, 2006

I just can’t stop thinking about Dr Gillian McKeith… so I’m sending her a present

I can’t help thinking that someone should persuade Dr McKeith to do a You what you eat special on a real Living Ghost. An analysis of their diet would be a real eye-opener. I might try and get her to do this myself, and I think I have a strategy for persuading her.

One of the key items on the show is when she asks the featured fatty to provide her with a stool sample (not the type you get from MFI) which she sends off for analysis. She then humiliates the poor person by berating them for the poor quality of their faeces, comparing the sorry specimens with the ideal type (presumably her own) and urges them to mend their ways.

I have always scoffed at this televisual trash in the past. And I should point out that I am not overly interested in my own defecatory handiwork. But one should have a healthy curiosity, and I have noticed that since I have stopped eating fruit and veg and most sources of fibre there has been a marked deterioration in quality, and indeed quantity. I do not want to go into too great detail on this for fear of offending the readers’ sensibilities, but will instead seek refuge in a metaphor. It is fair to say that as far as my motions are concerned, the era of the shoal of sleek healthy pikes has been replaced by the era of the solitary minnow (and occasionally a small crab) floating forlornly in the toilet bowl pond. Enough said, I think.

Anyhow, I think that I could send Dr McKeith a ‘before and after’ sample by post, along with a letter imploring her to compare them with her own and then to film a show featuring the diet of a real Living Ghost. I’m sure she has people sending her pooh in the post all the time, but it’s worth a shot. Let me know what you think.

P.S. The above image is not my own work and is purely illustrative.

Some things I take for granted

The empirically-minded among you will have already noticed that my experiences this week pale in comparison with the challenges faced by a real Living Ghost. There is no way that you can compare the situation of someone forced to rely on friends and charity with that of someone who can revert to his privileged existence at will.

And it has also become clear to me just how much I have already used and taken for granted in these few days, that a Living Ghost is unlikely to possess. I have already worn three completely different sets of clothes this week for a start. I have my own towels, toothbrush and toothpaste, toilet rolls, soap, shampoo, shower gel, deodorant and razor blades. None of which have come out of my £10 budget because I have a stockpile at home.

Blasted helmet hair!

Another annoying aspect of not being able to use public transport and having to cycle everywhere is that I turn up to every meeting with helmet-hair. I'm a bit precious about my hair - you have to be when you start losing it and you know it is only a matter of time before you are utterly bereft of it altogether.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, it is what happens when you wear a cycle helmet for a length of time, and then take it off at the end of the journey to discover that you have tufts of hair sticking up where they were poking up through the vents in the helmet and are now cemented in position with dried sweat. You can see a good example in the picture - though it isn't me.

No matter how much you try and brush, comb, or pull your hair back into some semblance of normality it insists on staying that way until you wash it. These are, of course, the idle ramblings of a vain man, but it has made me think: how on earth you get your hair cut if you are a Living Ghost?

Food, glorious food

Yesterday I got home and found waiting for me on the table a huge piece of garlic ciabatta, some fresh pasta and a roasted vegetable sauce. The smell was overwhelming when I walked through the door and I could actually feel my stomach rumble in anticipation.

A mite over the top, you might think. But bear in mind that thus far I had consumed: some broken mandarin orange segments with three spoonfuls of yoghurt for breakfast; a chocolate chip cookie stolen at a meeting; an Asda own-brand tomato and beef pot noodle for lunch – tasted ok but I’m convinced it would have looked exactly the same in the not unlikely event that I had vomited it up again; and half a stale beef sandwich that was going begging at work (the find of the day). So all the major food groups covered there then…

Well the pasta was waiting for my other flatmate who was out playing football, so I had to sit there, watching it ravenously while heating up my tinned ravioli and marrowfat peas (the tin is still emitting an evil smell so I am determined to get them finished and it chucked out) in the microwave. I still managed to misunderstand the instructions and almost ruined it.

Now I am no rocket scientist, nor indeed a brain surgeon. But I did scrape a degree and passed A Level English - I also did domestic science in school. And yet I still got it wrong. How much more difficult must it be for a Living Ghost, who may not speak or read English, may never have seen a microwave before, may be from a culture where the man is not expected to cook, or may not be used to the produce in the food parcel? I had no idea what a marrowfat pea was before yesterday – so how likely is someone from Iraq or Somalia? I am a fussy eater – but they may have religious or cultural restrictions on their diet which makes shopping in a supermarket on a tenner a spiritual as well as a material minefield.

At least I couldn’t go wrong with my second course – a small stick of bread and a slice of processed cheese.

Body odour and Mexican showers

Cycling everywhere may be great for my fitness, but I do not think it is doing me any favours in my professional life or for my self-respect to be frank. I have been lucky so far that the weather has been mild and dry(ish), though I was almost blown into the Thames by the crosswind on Blackfriars Bridge yesterday.

No, the problem is not so much the cycling itself, but the inevitable side effects. My poor work colleagues are now no doubt used to me arriving into the office with sweat dripping down my back and a face flushed with exertion – and that’s just from going up and down the stairs – before taking my favourite green towel to the toilet cubicle for what was once described to me by a particularly racist American gentleman of the skateboarding fraternity as a ‘Mexican Shower’. This consists of removing one’s outer layers (or not if in a rush) and padding off the sweat from one’s nooks and crevices with the aforementioned towel – thus removing the evidence of the sweating and, superficially at least, cleaning off the worst of the grime. This normally works when masked with a bit of deodorant, but given that mine is running out and I can’t afford to replace it, I use it sparingly.

Yesterday morning I cycled to a meeting and at one point was disturbed by a mildly noxious smell that was wafting about the room. Having initially suspected one of the older ladies present I wrinkled up my nose in disgust, before realising that it was actually me! It is a well-known scientific fact that you can’t smell your own body odour, so I now worry that my new diet and increased cycling has bred a new super-brand of B.O., impervious to deodorant. Readers, I know, will be concerned, so I will keep you updated.

Day 2: How is this making me feel?

I would be lying if I said that two days of living on a tenner had reduced me to a quivering wreck unable to function and confined to my bed. But it has had an effect and I can feel the difference as well as notice outwardly that I can’t have all the nice things I usually treat myself to.

The dull throb of hunger in my tummy is a constant prompt to think about food, which to be honest is not the most helpful of impulses at the moment. I am not starving by any means, but I am a lot more aware of my stomach than I once was. Normally I would have a store of fruit on my desk to sate my appetite whenever hunger flared – alas no longer. And now, whenever I have a glass of water I can feel it filling my stomach up in a way that I never normally can.

This low-level hunger affects my concentration. I can’t focus for long periods and I find myself getting angry and frustrated more easily. In meetings I drift off and have to really concentrate on paying attention to others. My speech is more distracted and I feel slightly disembodied – a bit like when you have been to a work function at lunch time and have quaffed a few glasses of wine. You’re not drunk, not even tipsy, but your concentration is shot and you just do not feel all there. That’s how I feel most of the time now.

And the combination of poor diet and increased exercise is taking its toll. Today, before eating dinner I went upstairs to change. As I began to relax I felt faint, light-headed, unsteady on my feet and my heart was racing. I also began to sense nausea – and thought for a moment that I might be reunited with the pot noodle I’d had for lunch. But it passed quickly, and I went downstairs to eat.

This was bad enough for one day. For a Living Ghost who has to live this way day in day out, it must be truly debilitating.

I have a confession to make...

Friends, I have a confession to make. Please don’t be mad at me… You see, I have spent some more money and broken one of my rules … but honestly I didn’t realise it at the time!

What happened was that I missed a call on my mobile and unthinkingly (because I am a friendly chap) I called straight back and then left a message when I got no answer. Only now, several hours later have I realised what I did.

I have stopped making calls or sending texts from my mobile for the week which has been a real restriction. I can’t call people when it is convenient for me and have to wait for them to call me. For instance, it is normally me who makes the nightly call to my girlfriend (and she ignores me until she is good and ready and The Apprentice has finished) but now she calls me and I have to stop what I am doing and fit in with her. This is particularly annoying when I am feeling a bit tired and hungry and want to call someone for a chat. I just do not have that freedom anymore.

Anyway, that mistake will have to go down as 30p more off my budget – which leaves me with the grand total of £1.02 with five days to go…

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Minor but Annoying Inconvenience

Just experienced a 'minor but annoying inconvenience'. Thursdays are normally my gym and swim night and I was just packing up at work in time for my gym class (I'll leave you guessing as to which one) when I discovered that I had left my gym pass at home. There's no way I can afford the cost of the gym or the pool without my gym card so it looks like I'll be heading back for my tinned hamburgers early.

This is the second 'minor but annoying incovenience' of the day . This one could in fact be called a 'minor but annoying (public) inconvenience' - I spent a good proportion of the day lingering outside the loos at work waiting for someone (wait for the end of the sentence!) to let me back into my office having left my work pass at home too. Doh!

The gym pass oversight is all the more annoying as this is one of the few social things I can afford to do this week (I have gym membership so it is technically free, even though I doubt many Living Ghosts have gym membership). It's not like I am not doing any exercise - I can now look forward to yet another bike ride home.

On yer bike!

One of the effects of only having £1.32 to last me the next 6 days is that I can't afford public transport. I don't have a car (and even if I did I couldn't afford the fuel) and so there are obvious mobility difficulties.

This wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have a job that means I have to travel in, around and across central London. I have ruled out walking as an option - work won't be that understanding of this project - so luckily enough I have a bike. It may be second-hand, squeaky and have no functioning rear brakes but it is a luxury that a real Living Ghost wouldn't necessarily have, so I'd best be grateful for it.

I am only a day and a bit in (though the pangs of hunger make it seem like longer) and I have already cycled 29.3 miles! This covers my commute in the morning from Battersea to Brixton and travel to one external meeting in Covent Garden and another near Kings Cross. We may habitually whinge about our public transport but being without it certainly makes me feel excluded. I now hanker for those grimy bus seats and stale tube carriages...

It's going to be bad enough having to get everywhere under my own steam this week - but the prospect of doing this for an indefinite period whenever I need shopping, to see friends and family, go to the hospital or engage in any kind of social activity is so much worse.

Day 1 in Review: You are what you eat…

I am not sure how many of you watch Dr Gillian McKeith in You are what you eat on Channel 4? She’s the weasel-faced nutritionist who obtained her ‘doctorate’ from the College of Complete Fraud at the University of Her Mum’s Front Room and now masquerades as nutritionist to the stars and the humble obese alike.

Well my first day as a Living Ghost has made me think a lot about food – and about Gillian McKeith. But mostly about food. When one embarks on such an endeavour it is always wise to be prepared. In this case I should have done my shopping for the week the night before. As it turned out, I woke up this morning realising that I had no food in the house. My flatmate rubbed it in by crunching loudly through his Jordan’s Crisp cereal and leaning protectively over his orange juice (with juicy bits) while I was forced to resort to break my fast in a way explicitly denounced by Dr McKeith as "a nasty shock to the digestive system" – namely by drinking a glass of tap water.

It seemed my digestive system was able to handle the shock, and it was that water that kept me going until I was able to purloin four quarters of a sandwich and a cherry tomato at a union meeting at lunchtime. Solidarity comrades!

Through the afternoon I ignored the rumblings in my stomach and the temptation to nip out to Marks and Spencers for my favourite combination of a Wensleydale cheese and caramelised carrot chutney sandwich with yoghurt and granola. And after work I cycled over to Asda to do the shopping.

I went in with a crisp £10 note and came out forty minutes later with £1.32 in change and sufficient food (in my estimation) to last me a week. Shopping like a Living Ghost was a fascinating experience. Usually I shop in the outer aisles of the supermarket – focusing on fairly-traded or organic fruit, veg, milk, cheese, fresh meat and bread - and rarely venture into the inner aisles. This time I shopped exclusively in the jungle of processed food in those inner aisles.

And normally I never bother to tot up the cost of my goods. Now I add every single purchase up on my calculator as I go round, living in mortal fear of the embarrassment of having to ‘put something back’ if I have made a mistake in my calculations and I go over £10.

So what you are all wondering is, what exactly can you buy for a tenner? In the end, my £8.68 bought me 39 items. The most expensive item – a tin of hamburgers in onion gravy - came to 55p and the cheapest – a pack of curry-flavoured instant noodles – came to just 8p! I haven’t tasted them yet but I’m sure they will be de-licious and a true taste of India... I scavenged in the Ooops! section and was very proud of myself for picking up some loaves of bread at half price. It was only when I got home that I realised that they would be out of date tomorrow...

To my surprise I was unable to afford any of the items from my usual shopping list and there were some products (purchased by virtue of being ridiculously cheap) that I have never tasted: tinned marrowfat peas (produce of Palestine perhaps?); processed cheese slices; tinned ravioli; tinned hamburgers; tinned luncheon meat…etc etc.

Notice a pattern developing anyone? Yes, almost all the food I ended up with was processed and tinned (a feature of typical food parcels because tinned food is often ready-cooked and easily transportable). And needless to say the vast majority of my items belonged to the Asda Smartsave brand, though I did go wild with a 46p purchase of Asda’s mid-range Macaroni cheese. I'll live to regret that extravagance methinks.

I felt pretty self-conscious loading up my legion of red and white tins at the checkout and both the checkout girl and the lady behind me (who now I come to think about it looked suspiciously like Gillian McKeith) shot me pitying looks. I packed up my goods and scarpered before anyone I knew saw me.

I didn’t end up actually eating anything until gone nine o’clock. But here’s the beauty of tinned food – it may taste like pet food, it may have the nutritional value of a turkey twizzler - but it does only take a maximum of five minutes to ‘cook’! Faced with 30-odd tins to choose from I plumped for sausages in baked beans, supplemented with half a can of marrowfat peas and bread.

It was a good job I was about to eat because I had started to feel a bit weak and tired and had even begun to imagine the smell of roast dinners in the most unlikely of places. My stomach was crying out for food, so this was not a good time to discover that our tin opener was broken…

Five minutes and much cursing of said tin opener later I was tucking in - although strangely, with something less than gusto. Perhaps this was because the sausages were disintegrating into the beans. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t work out why a smell reminiscent of a school toilet was emanating from the tin of marrowfat peas. More likely it was because as I reviewed the You are what you eat-style table full of shopping and my menu for the week it finally hit home that I was actually going to have to exist on this food. It's all downhill from here.