Friday, 10 February 2017

Reflections On A Potato

A potato in a fridge
One potato.

A few years ago my world very rapidly fell apart. 

I had a good job that my boss assured me would always be safe, and a house with the steep mortgage which my dad told me was the best kind of house to buy.

Two years later, my dad was dead and I'd lost my job.

I had no mortgage insurance. It's very hard to get mortgage insurance if you have MS. The premiums are high and the chances you'll even get a payout when you actually need it are low. So said my financial adviser when he arranged my mortgage.

What followed were four years during which I tried every day to get a job or otherwise support myself with freelance work while desperately trying to keep up my mortgage payments. I couldn't afford to heat the house so I didn't and I couldn't afford to buy food very often either. On one occasion, I was in a meeting with a business associate who could hear my stomach rumbling. She asked me when I'd last eaten and I answered 'not today'. She very kindly went to the local convenience store and bought me some fruit and potatoes.

I took the picture you see above when I was down to the last potato.

Looking at it now it seems wretched. But at the time that potato was a meal and I was so grateful to have it.

After four years my circumstances changed. I lost the house (in the end I couldn't keep up the payments so was forced to sell it) but I came back to Peterborough to a roof over my head, no more crippling debt and food in the fridge.

I was very, very lucky.

Lucky because I was able to get out of that situation eventually, but also lucky to have experienced it.

I've never been particularly materialistic or wasteful, but I'd never had to think about whether I was materialist or wasteful either, until I lost my job. I now regard everything, housing, heating, food, money differently to how I did before. For a long time I was afraid of it. And when I was safe again I was afraid of it even more, the fear of loss being as scary as loss itself.

With the passage of time I've developed a respect for things again but I'm now far less wasteful that I was before. I now cook entire meals with food I'd have thrown out for scraps in the past. I regard people in debt or without an income with far greater compassion, because I know what it is to be stuck in the poverty trap. Fortunately, I had a house I could sell and I was able to sell it. Many people in my situation do not and face no realistic possibility of climbing out of poverty without a great deal of practical help and support. Being so poor that you can't feed yourself properly and so poor that you can't put the heating on in winter and so poor that you can't afford the roof over your head is exhausting. Every day, I had to find the strength to look for work when I had no strength. Some days, I would dread going to sleep as I dreaded waking up into the same misery.

Human experience is rich in lessons, but when it comes down to it some of us get lucky breaks and some of us do not and the luck is not evenly or fairly distributed. When I came back to Peterborough I decided that I'd like to take some time working in the community rather than earn a living because I haven't forgotten that feeling of hopelessness and nor do I want to. That feeling is the thread of humanity that connects me to other people who are struggling and reminds me that the bad things that can happen in our lives are sometimes through no fault of our own.

If you're lucky like me I urge you to spare a thought, some time, and a little bit of money for people who are down on theirs. I'm quite sure that there are many more people living in poverty and hardship than are accounted for by the Government. If someone you know has lost their job, even if you think they are probably alright, invite them for a hearty meal. If they say no they say no - sometimes it's hard to face other people when inside you are falling apart. But do offer. If you don't know a friend in need then Peterborough Food Bank will be grateful to receive your donation. My friend's bag of food fed me for nearly a month but the kindness continues to sustain me.

Food banks in Peterborough:

Peterborough Food Bank

Peterborough Salvation Army

Peterborough Soup Kitchen

(p.s. I know there is some difference of opinion about keeping potatoes in the fridge. According to one of my friends, potatoes should be kept 'in a sack cloth in a basket under a cupboard'. I have no words.)


  1. You have to have endured poverty to understand poverty. This is why the Government does not. It is easier to blame the helpless poor than to help them.

    1. I think you're absolutely right, sadly. I never thought it could happen to me. Now I know it can happen to anyone.