A Story for Our Time: Hunger.

After a few days we had no cabbage left and we had smoked all the cigarettes and drank all the cider.

We didn’t mean to go to sea, but we are still here. Somehow I am still alive. Still alive and not really having fun. Actually not having fun at all, unless I look at my diary, which says what mood I have been in, and it releases me from the tricky mind which likes to tell me when I am unhappy that I am always unhappy.  Green for cheerful, yellow for contentment, red for anger, pale blue for low mood, it’s all there in glorious technicolour. I have only been miserable for five days, before that there were a couple of days in yellow, one even had a bit of green in it.

I’m not giving in to the misery, well I am giving in to the misery actually, but only in so far as allowing myself to be the way I am, I’m not fighting it, not trying to ‘pull myself together’ or have a ‘stiff upper lip’. I am accepting the way I am, I read once that it was better to do this or face the misery for longer. When I say I am not giving in to it, I mean that I am not going to allow it to take over my life, to be in the driving seat, or perhaps the helmsman. Negative thought behaviours are difficult to change, I know as I have had them for a long time and I have tried many things to change them, without much success. I am not going to give up.

I have been through worse times than this, perhaps without realising at the time. Or maybe I did. Or maybe I had a more positive mindset. I don’t know.

I lived in Connemara for a while, on the West coast of Ireland. They called it the ‘bones of the earth’, for good reason. Huge stretches of Connemara are pretty much treeless, there are a few walls, and they are made up from the rocks which scatter all of the fields. It is a barren windswept landscape of stunning and somewhat mournful beauty (probably dependent on the eye of the beholder and their state of mind).


I lived there in a bungalow built in the back garden of the landlord. The landlord lived with his long suffering mother and several of his brothers (all of whom were in their late thirties and forties), it seems that they had never left their family home. They were not particularly friendly, nor were they unfriendly, but they were very curious about what on earth we were doing living in Connemara.

What on earth were we doing there? We, that is the father of my eldest child (we’ll call him Bill) and I, were just living, and playing music, and enjoying the scenery. The rent was cheap, and they did not ask for references. The bungalow was very near the sea, we could see it from our front door. We used to walk down to the beach and look out to the little Island off the coast, one could walk out to it at low tide, as I believe Bill once did. The locals were full of scare stories to stop people from going to the island: the sea would come in very quickly and trap you, there was no shelter on the Island and you would be stuck out there all night. I found the island utterly intriguing. People had lived there until about twenty years ago.

I don’t know why I never went out there, I think perhaps I was in my most melancholic phase, the greyness of the ocean matched my mood rather well. I think I was afraid that I would go out to the island and be overcome by a recklessness that sometimes accompanies misery. I once walked into the sea fully clothed off that little beach, it was a particularly grey day, it was probably about to rain, or it was raining, or it had just been raining. I walked in up to my neck, feeling rather like some sort of pre-Raphaelite Lady of Shallot (just showing off my ignorance of history). Bill walked down onto the beach and called out to me “what are you doing?” I felt silly. “Come and have some tea” he called.

I walked back out of the sea, and froze my way back to the bungalow and into a slightly lukewarm bath. Bill had a way of ignoring my more dramatic behaviours which left me feeling strange but somehow with my dignity intact.

We ran out of money in Conamara. We had a cabbage, and a bottle of cheap tomato ketchup. We had a few cigarettes and some cider, and a thirty mile walk to Galway which was the only place we knew people who could have fed us. We had two very large yellow lurchers, so we couldn’t hitch a lift to Galway, and we had no car and we couldn’t leave the dogs at home (I can’t remember why, perhaps because there was no guarantee of getting there and back in the same day). There was no phone box for miles around, and we had no money anyway, and what would we have said? “Hello friends, who are probably as skint as us….”

We had to wait ten days for our giro to come. It was a very long ten days. We played a lot of music, and went to the beach for the first few days. Then I think the sulking set in. After a few days we had no cabbage left and we had smoked all the cigarettes and drank all the cider. We smoked the dog ends, and then the dog ends of the dog ends. Bill tried the dried dog food. I think he had tried it before but in less desperate times. He said it was quite palatable, but I am a vegetarian, I didn’t fancy it.

I can remember lying around a lot on the sitting room floor. It was one of those funny houses where there is a picture of Jesus on a cross that is lit up by flashing lights. That’s right, flashing lights, a flashing crucifixion (surely that is not how you spell crusifiction?). Not only that but it was wired into the electricity so you couldn’t turn it off. In the end I became fixated on the strange flashing saviour on the wall and Bill unscrewed the light bulbs, it just seemed wrong.

When the giro finally came in the post, we had to walk seven miles to the mobile bank. I can remember the excitement mixed with exhaustion, and a bit of madness thrown in for good measure. We took the dogs with us for the walk, as it seemed logical. The mobile bank was in a disused quarry, I can remember the fear building in me that we would be too late and would have to walk all the way home and try again the next day. We were in time, and when we had cashed the cheque we then had to walk four miles to the nearest shop, but the pub was nearer so we had a bar of chocolate and a pint or two, and were suddenly very, very drunk,  which of course is exactly what happens when you don’t eat for a week, walk ten miles and drink several pints in quick succession. By some small miracle we found our way home with shopping and money and dogs.

This type of scenario doesn’t really happen in the same way now that we have the internet, and I am still not sure to this day if I am happy or sad about that. There is so little scope now for real adventures, everything is there for you at the click of a mouse (there probably aren’t even any clicks anymore).

Of course it is totally horrible having no food and no money, but it was a very real adventure, and I wouldn’t undo it if I could. It was strange and left some sort of poetical residue in my being. I know what it is like to be hungry, but of course only in a first world kind of way. If I could swap that experience for this one, would I? I don’t know. Ten days of hunger – it’s really not the same as fasting, if you fast you are in control. We were not in control, and we were young, and we didn’t have any children, everything is different with no children. Nothing seemed to matter in the same way before I had children, I could go hungry, I can’t imagine how that would feel, to be unable to feed my children.

I’m not going to imagine it, I am going to thank my lucky stars that today I can feed my children, and I am going to feed as many children in the world as I can.

And somehow I am going to stay afloat on my little boat, out here on the vast grey expanse of nothingness, and I am going to look for the funny side, and if I can’t see it I am going to keep looking.




Connemara photo by Miles Iwes on Unsplash.
Cabbage photo by C Drying on Unsplash

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