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The Ice Queen Strikes Again

April 24, 2009

An alarmingly large majority of my friends have never seen me cry. They have tried repeatedly, over the years to muster some kind of emotion within me. They have tried, but they have failed. This has been met with all manner of comments:  “Dead inside” was one. “Made of stone” was another. But the one which seemed to stick was Ice Queen. I’m not in any way offended by this. After all, emotions are for wimps.


My best friend thought he had the answer when he text me the other day and told me to watch Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire. “It’ll open the floodgates,” he promised. “Even yours.”

I’ve never watched Secret Millionaire before but was intrigued and quite happy when I turned it on last week to see it had been filmed in Belfast.

Property developer Rob Lloyd said goodbye to his family in his very large and affluent home in rural Cheshire and set up temporary camp in the Shankill Road, where one of the Troubles’ most notorious bombing took place in 1993.

You could see from the footage that the Shankill still looks like a war-ravaged zone. Being a Catholic, I’ve never been in the Shankill as, back in the day, it wasn’t worth risking your life to go to the other side of the ‘peace wall‘ if you weren’t the right religion.


Because I grew up in Northern Ireland and lived in Belfast for five years, I was afraid this was all going to be a bit too close to home for me. I worried the flood gates would open and fretted they would never close as Rob walked between Catholic Ardoyne and the Protestant Shankill Road, past the wall murals and derelect buildings.


I didn’t fret for long as it all took a turn for the worst quite soon. Secret Millionaire failed to stir any kind of emotion in me. Not one tear escaped from my frozen ducts.

For a start, I couldn’t warm to millionaire Rob. I first admired him for trying to get under the skin of two communities in a Troubles-ravaged Belfast. But, being forced to stay in a simple terraced house in the Shankill, he was aghast at how people could live off less than £50 a week and then almost rubbed in it by saying he had been forced to “live off Indians every night”. The reason he gave for this was in case he should catch something from cooking in the kitchen. Seriously! It’s Belfast, not Calcutta.

As Rob went from project to project deciding what poor soul he would give his hard-earned cash to, I got to thinking. Why were these people letting some random stranger, complete with camera crew, into their homes? Especially the young girl. How many times did he come back to her house to “learn more about her”. This girl lives in her flat alone and some middle-aged guy is coming to her flat with a camera to talk to her about her sordid past. What’s that sound I hear in the background? Alarm bells? 

I know people in Belfast are still very suspicious of a lot of people they meet so I started to think that maybe this millionaire wasn’t so secret after all.

But he went about his business, giving out his cheques. Don’t get me wrong, I do admire the man, he’s done a very good thing for many people. But I couldn’t help but laugh when the youth club leader announced to the kids they were using the money for a dance studio and a memorial garden. As the girls screamed and shouted you could just see the poor little boys’ faces drop as if they had been conned. What the hell were they suppsoed to do with a memorial garden and a dance studio?

Once Rob revealed the truth, I didn’t see one bit of genuine shock on anyone’s face. Not one. This man had just changed their lives. If someone gives me £5 for nothing  I’m simultaneously shocked and suspicious. Call me cynical, call me an ice queen, tell me I’m made of stone but I think that is just the way of the world these days.

I’m all for people doing their bit to help other people but Secret Millionaire failed to convince me.

I text my friend when it ended and told him I didn”t cry.

“You have no soul,” was his reply.


Day seven – And I’m Done!

April 20, 2009

My week has finally ended and I silenced all my crtics who thought I wouldn’t make it through and lasted one whole week with only £10 to spend. Would I do it again? Not for all the tenners in the world. Especially when day seven started with a hangover of epic proportions, one that I would usually cure with all manner of fizzy drinks and grease.

The only things left in my cupboard were spices, porridge, pasta, stock cubes, garlic and protein powder. I had to make do with porridge for breakfast AND lunch (and I definitely think my hangover lasted longer because of this) and a protein shake for dinner.

The day after my challenge I managed to spend £10 in the one day, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I bought a Starbucks on the way to and from work (and I tipped the staff, I was just so happy to see Mr Starbuck again). I gave some change to a beggar, bought some people in work chocolate to say thanks for the drinks, bought some fruit and a packet of crisps. Oh and some toner.

What have I learned from my week living on a tenner? I don’t think anyone could survive on so little. If I had not had food in the cupbard I doubt very much I could have lasted the whole week.

You can always rely on the kindness of friends, colleagues and guy friends to buy you a drink when you are down and out. Some people may think doing this was cheating. But it’s not as if I asked them to buy me anything, and I made a point of not telling them about my challenge so they wouldn’t feel obliged to treat me.

What else I have I learned? Always use toner, never wear trainers with tights (especially black ones), always have change in your pocket for charity emergencies and running outside in the fresh air is just as beneficial, if not more so, than going spinning or to the gym.

I did manage to lose 3llbs over the week, which I quickly plan to put back on again with all the Starbucks and snacks I plan on consuming over the next few days. I hope this has shown me not to be so foolish with money and even when I think I have to get more cash from the machine or I have to stop at the shop for something, I’ll stop and wnder if I really need it.

It’s been interesting, but I certainly won’t be doing it again. Thanks to everyone who helped me on the way!

Day six – When I Got Drunk for Free

April 19, 2009

I woke up on day six and the inevitable happened – I had a huge spot on my face. Not even on my face, right in the middle of my forehead where it could not be hidden by hair or anything else. It looked like some kind of alien communication portal right out of Mork and Mindy. Typical.  

A ton of makeup later and I made it into work (walking again) and had a very good day as I managed to get drunk for free and probably narrowly missed being attacked (maybe God doesn’t hate me after all). Here is how the lovely, lovely people at work managed to get me drunk and I didn’t have to spend a penny.

Being the trusted, hotshot investigative journalist that I am, work sent me on a groundbreaking job at the Royal Horticultural Show. As I strolled past the flowers and plants, trying to find some local gardening “celebrities” to interview, the unmistakable smell of Welsh cakes wafted through the air. And so, because I love to torture myself (is there a word for those sorts of people?), I made my way towards the food tent, knowing I had no money to spend.

Cakes, chocolate, bread, cheese, olives, wine, ale, beer, CHAMPAGNE and all other stalls overflowing with all the food I love were being sold and I really could not believe I couldn’t buy anything. I made do with a few freebie testers and trudged back to the office, hungry and wanting every kind of snack I know is bad for me.

Everyone at the office was going for a drink so I said I’d stop by but wasn’t going to drink. After a long and hard week, the smell of beer wafting through the air (we were at a micro brewery) combined with the tipsey merriment of my colleagues, I once again contemplated giving up as I craved a much-needed, much-deserved end-of-week pint. But, once again a gentleman friend came to the rescue as I got my first drink of the night bought to me. Someone else bought me another, then another and another. 

One pint and three glasses of wine later, I was feeling suitably merry and way too guilty for the fact I wasn’t able to buy anyone a drink back. But with the promise we would all go out again next week (when I will buy the first two rounds for everyone) I made my way home.

I had to walk, it was late, I was tipsey and in heels but didn’t have enough money for a taxi. I realise this is a very dangerous thing to do and I certainly wouldn’t do it any other time. I’m very lucky nothing happened to me and let’s hope my mother never finds out about this or she would disown me. I didn’t realise this task would have risks involved. But I managed to get home safe and sound, although I’m quite sure my colleagues are now going to think I am a complete skin flint, which couldn’t be any further from the truth. Next week is going to be a very expensive week indeed.

Day five – When I Almost Gave Up

April 18, 2009

I finished day five with £3 left in my pocket and I almost (almost) gave up. I would like to say I was prevented by my own determination but alas, it was actually by the fact the cash machine was broken. Anyway this is how I have eaten considerably into my budget and how I nearly gave up.

Work sent me out on a job, I was running late and didn’t have the time to walk so I had to get the bus there and back and then catch another bus to another job (I cannot wait to pass my driving test). I spent £3 on an all-day bus ticket. As I was feeling quite peckish I stopped off at Marks & Spencers for their sushi snacks to go (only £1.15 and very, very tasty as well as healthy. A bargain and beneficial).


On the way back to work I bought a packet of mints, essential before the drink with guy friend later that night. Everything was going quite well and I was still determined to stick to the no-drinking-and-I’m-on-a-detox excuse. But when I went back to the office disaster struck and I was hit with all sorts of computer malfunctions and writing blocks as well as being laden down with more and more stories to write before the end of the day. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t even make it out in time.

So I was in foul mood, stressed out, over worked and under paid and in much need of a glass of wine to sort myself out. Even though I was determined to sit this thing out, the only thing on my mind was a large, cold glass of Chardonnay to ease off the stress of the day. So I caved, and I stopped at a cash machine to get some money out. It was out of order. As was the next one. I took it as a sign and resigned myself to the fact I was going to have to stick with it and grit my teeth through the evening of non alcohol ahead of me.

But guy friend came to the rescue and seeing that I had had a shitty day (and being the gentleman that he was) insisted on buying me a glass of wine. And then another one. I stopped at two and told him I owed him a drink on the way home (he was driving). This is a perfect excuse for us to go out again (and because of the fact I don’t want to feel like I owe him anything, I always pay my way).

So I went to bed with £3 left, two glasses of wine in my belly and fully destressed from the day. Only two more days to go.

Day four – When My Physical Appearance Goes Down the Drain

April 16, 2009

I consider myself to be a very well-groomed kinda gal. I look after my appearance and spend a lot of money on all sorts of lotions and potions for my skin and hair. Well this morning I ran out of toner. I use toner everyday and now that my routine has been disrupted, I’m sure to feel the effects. These effects will no doubt come in the form of spots. If I do get a spot, then it will, like spots do, be coming at the worse time possible. Here is why.

I have been asked out for a drink with a guy friend of mine. Being the independent, 21st century girl that I am, I would never let a guy friend take me out and pay for everything. So, not being able to afford to go out for a drink with any kind of friend, never mind a guy friend, I would usually cancel. Only problem is, I have already cancelled on this particular guy friend before, it would be rude to do it again. And besides, I don’t really want to. So you see my predicament. I’ve solved this by agreeing and telling him I’m on a detox (as I’ve been known to do). Thus this solves any kind of paying-for-drinks problems which might crop up.

However, I don’t think I’ve ever been for a drink with a guy friend that didn’t involve alcohol, but first time for everything and all that. It should be an interesting, albeit different, evening out.

Although there is no doubt God will continue to punish me and I shall wake up tomorrow covered in spots. Not only that, but on Wednesdays I usually go spinning. It costs £4. That is 2/5 of my weekly budget so of course I cannot justify this just for an exercise class. So my skin and my figure is suffering for this challenge I’ve taken upon myself. I’m starting to wonder a) why I am doing this (seriously why am I?) and b) is it all worth it?


You have probably gathered the novelty has worn off and I’m starting to think I may not make it through the week. I have £8.50 left as I bought some grapes today. I won’t let my health suffer as well as everything else!

Let’s hope tomorrow is a better day and the drink with guy friend goes off without a hitch.

Day three – When I Commit the Biggest Fashion Faux Pas Ever

April 15, 2009

Day three of the task and I managed to spend a whole 30p. Yet once again I found my life was thrown into disarray almost from the moment I woke up. This is how it happened.
It was a grey and dismal Cardiff morning and as I had already washed and ironed a dress for work, there was no going back, I was going to have to wear it with no time to select a whole new outfit (a feat in itself) and iron it. No money issues with wearing a dress to work, but the big problem was, I wasn’t prepared to spend the money to get the bus and I certainly wasn’t prepared to trek the 30 minutes to the office in three-inch heels. I had no choice but to commit the biggest fashion faux pas ever – I had to wear trainers with tights, black tights to be exact, with white Nike Air Max. Not a good look on anyone, I doubt even Angelina Jolie could pull it off.
I wanted to don a disguise as Sod’s Law said I was bound to run into some tall, dark and handsome stranger in such a ridiculous state. I settled for a hat and power walked into the office.
Again the day passed with no real need to spend any money. I had to go out for a job and again I would have taken the bus but instead I walked and am hoping I’ll at least lose a few pounds when this is all over.
It turned into a rather nice day and I stopped at a shop to break my note (should I have had anymore charity emergencies). As it was a nice day I thought I would buy an ice lolly. Usually I would go for your standard £1.20 Solero option, but this time I had to settle for a 15p ice pole, which I haven’t had since I was a kid. And it was lush, much more refreshing than an over-priced Solero, and I was only 30p into my budget (I bought two).
I got home late and was too tired to eat so more food in the bank for later in the week. Easy peasy. Let’s see what tomorrow will bring.

Day Two – Now I Know I’m Going to Hell

April 14, 2009

For some bizarre reason, at the end of day two, I still have a whole £10 note in my pocket. Was this going to be way easier than I initially thought? The answer, quite simply, is no. When you consider the fact it is only the end of a Monday and I have the whole week to get through, never mind the weekend. And let’s not forget I’ve also pissed God off. So with that bearing heavily on my conscience after day one of this challenge, day two presented more of the same moral dilemmas.

I walked into work and it was a lovely sunny morning so I really didn’t mind and actually felt quite refreshed at the end of it all. I could get used to this walking malarkey. Anyway work was passing by quite peacefully until the deputy editor told me I had to go out for a story. “Great,” I thought. “Time to get out of the office” (which happens very rarely in journalism these days). Just one thing, the job was quite a way away and I presumed I was going to have to either get the train or a bus there and back. How much of my spending was that going to eat into? I sat panic-stricken wondering how I was going to cope when half of my weekly budget would be gone in one fail swoop. Fortunately I was then informed the photographer would be taking me. The panic was over. Phew, that was a close one (the drama that it was and all).

I brought my (very healthy) lunch into work and I also managed to stay away from the vending machine when my 4pm munchies started to kick in. Maybe this challenge was going to be useful for something after all.

As I was walking home, quite proud I had passed another day without even touching my weekly budget, I didn’t notice the guy I had just passed. When I heard him talking to me I naturally stopped and turned around to see who it was. Big mistake.

Now I’m not going to sit here, claiming to be an angel and tell you all that I always give money to homeless people, because I don’t. We’d all be out of pocket if everyone who lived in a city gave money to every beggar or homeless person they passed. But sometimes I do. If I genuinally think some poor soul is in need of money for food rather than anything esle, then I do always give them something. But most of the time I do what everyone else does and pretend they are not there and walk on (don’t deny it because we all do it).

But when you actually have to stop, turn around and look at a man who is asking you for money straight in the eye and tell him no takes a pretty hard-hearted, ruthless person. But that is just what I did. The same thought process went through my mind as it did at church. If I hand over my whole £10 note then all my money for the week is gone. Never mind this poor man who could probably live off £10 for two or three weeks. I cursed myself that I hadn’t broke into the note yet and walked away practically crippled with guilt and fretted about it the whole way home. I still feel guilty about it now. Was God doing this to punish me? Probably. But one thing is for sure, I am definitely going to go to hell after all this unless I take some drastic action. I’m sure any of you would have done the same so please spare me the judgement.


I set my alarm 30 minutes early again and vowed that I would break into the note first thing in the morning. I now have another promise to add to yesterdays – when this is all over I am going to give the first homeless person I see whatever money I have in my purse. So much for saving money out of all this.