Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Simple pleasures on a budget

Quick Declaimer: it has been bought to my attention that this post might make me seem incredibly frivolous and ungrateful, but I would like to point out that I just thought it would be very boring to write about the deary months I've spent being unemployed - it would make you, the reader depressed, for a start. There would be no story if I told you that I took the money my mum kindly gave me and paid my gas bill (which is of course what I did with it). I am glad to have sparked a debate about youth unemployment to keep the issue afresh.


This week has been an unusual week for me. I have been dining around town.

Prior to this, stuck in the horrible limbo of being unemployed but still wanting a life, I had forgone my normal pleasures and social life. I have stuck to a rigid £20 per week for all meals (think porridge for breakfast, cheese sandwich for lunch, pasta with a tin of tomatoes for dinner). I have watched re-runs of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. I still can't quite let myself watch Hollyoaks. My evenings were filled with painting and re-painting my nails only to realise that my nail varnishes were really quite gloopy and I could do with buying new ones but oh-ho, I lack the funds. In short, I could take it no longer. Lacking funds and lacking fun was seriously getting me down.

Last weekend, I left my bank card and ID in Nottingham. Bugger, I thought as I travelled back to London, and there really is a lot of time to think on a National Express coach, 3 hours of time in fact. Oh how grateful I am for my mother. Out of the blue on Monday she phoned and invited me to dinner at Ping Pong Dim Sum on Southbank. A shaky start ensued as we deliberated whether to move inside as the terrace, or should I say railway tunnel, smelt like drains. We persevered, only to find our next challenge was ordering. Handed a piece of paper we were asked to tick the food items we would like to order. A bit like when they write on your place mat at Wagamama's only you're in charge of the pen. Feeling adventurous, we ordered speciality juices and ping pong selection set menu for two. Wild. Out came our first course of delicious duck wrap, vegetable spring roll, Vietnamese rice paper spring roll and pork puff with Hoi-sin sauce. All of it was wonderful, I could have eaten double. 

My mum reminisced about her recent trip to Thailand, and my dad's botched attempts at cooking Thai cuisine at home upon their return, quote, "It was so spicy, he got a sweaty upper lip." Out came the main course, beautifully stacked woven baskets with the following inside - a chicken and cashew nut dumpling, 1 har gau, 1 chicken shu mai, 1 spicy vegetable dumpling, 1 chive dumpling. Please don't ask me to explain what some of those are, I may have spent 3 months in Asia last year but I'm none the wiser. I spent most of my time in China and Thailand just eating what I was given. Was that urban myth, dog meat on the menu? Probably, I would never have known. I witnessed a friend eat a scorpion in a street Market in Beijing but nothing could prepare me for when another friend slit open a live snake and ate it's beating heart.

While you digest that information, I will return to dinner. Overall I enjoyed Ping Pong. We didn't sit at one of the communal eating tables though I imagine that is a great way for singles to meet others or to be stuck next to a stranger with an insufferable laugh. Either or. More hoi-sin sauce for non spice lovers would have been appreciated. Morale boosted, "You will get a job, I just know it", I waved goodbye to my mum at Waterloo. Did I mention she parted leaving me with £40?

The next day, I was resigned again to what I have dubbed the porridge diet. Instead, I found myself in Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Westfields with a lovely friend. She was working in Barnes, so close to me I almost felt obliged. My unemployed conscience reared it's ugly head and I felt guilty but I had £40 burning a hole in my purse. Besides I was lured there on the promise of a 2-4-1 voucher. Now people might turn their nose up at vouchers and indeed chain restaurants but they are the saviour of the recession. It is the haven of people looking for affordable fun and food that they know will be great every time but won't blow the budget. I had the chicken satay burger (sticking with the Asian theme, sort of), and skinny fries with rosemary washed down with a glass of amicable red. £12.50 a head. Not bad at all.
The trouble is when you have no income, you have no certainty, no means to budget, and your hopes are repeatedly raised and dashed by recruiters, who promise that they have the perfect job for you, only to mumble that they want a receptionist for pittance. Being ambitious, I don't think I am alone or out of line to suggest that I would like to have a career path. Not a sequence of temporary roles that leave me stuck in the renting market until my dying days. All of this is a lot to think about on a daily basis, hence the glass of wine.

This evening, I had pre-planned a dinner with 4 girlfriends from school. We were to use their Taste Cards (again justified) to get money off. I have a long standing love affair with French cuisine so Chez Gerard was my choice. Again a chain but with a totally different clientèle and atmosphere. I adore the way the seating in Southbank's Chez Gerard is set up to look like booths on an old steam train, complete with soft tan leather and luggage rack. I ordered Moules Provincalè avec frites accompanied by a far superior glass of red to GBK (to be expected) My friend tried mussels for the first time and the wine flowed. They were out of Ile flottante for dessert so I hastily chose the crème brulee. I adored it. The service was the only thing that let the experience down. Despite being a group of women in their 20s, the Maître d looked down on us from the start, snootily requesting if I even had a reservation. He was possibly disapproving of our discount card and almost certainly disapproving of our conversation (Tulisa's sex tape anyone?!) Our waitress was over eager at the start, re-appearing to take our orders within 5 minutes, only to completely abandon us towards the end of the meal. The overall bill amounted to around £150 however with a £40 discount, I walked away having spent £25.10. Bloody good considering my friends were still ordering wine and vodka after dessert had been ordered. Excellent value.

On the bus home, I found out that my dad purchased an ipad today. He hasn't a clue how to use it, he simply bought it to use the app that interprets the stars for you. He said and I quote, "Only cost 64p for the app!" I didn't mention the cost of the ipad. Think how many apps he could buy with my left over £2.50.

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