The Kindness of Strangers

Posted May 6th, 2013 by Penny Wise

Good grief, what a week it's been. I feel like I've been through an emotional wringer! I have never in my life felt more humble than I have the past few days - and to be honest, never more helpless either. But just when you think you really can't take any more, something - or someone - wonderful happens and this week I have been privileged to make the acquaintance of some truly warm and wonderful people.

We all have days where we feel bullet proof, as though we can handle anything. These are the days where I pick up the phone and save a bundle using my fabulous charm and wit - or something like that. I admit, as a single mum I have quickly learned that batting your eyelashes and sounding all ditzy and incapable can definitely work in your favour; even if it is only over the phone. Some of my earliest triumphs include slashing $42 per month off my Sky bill (can you believe they were charging me $10 extra a month for HD quality when a) I didn't ask for it and b) I don't even have an HD television!) I also managed to reduce an unexpected and very unwelcome ACC bill from $800 to a far more manageable $35 and the same day was told I could suspend my Vodafone mobile account for three months, saving $210 until I got back on my feet again. All three men were really understanding and helpful and as soon as they found out I was on my own, went out of their way to do the best they could. All eyelash-batting jokes aside, I really was extremely grateful. I was in complete control of my life and I was getting it in ORDER thank you very much!

And then we all have days when you feel as though nothing is ever going to be alright ever again. Remember my $26 Challenge from last week? I'll get to that in a minute. The first humble moment was two days away from receiving my $26 and I went to the doctor's to pick up a repeat prescription. 'That will be $12', the receptionist smiled. 'Oh, could you put it on my account please?' I asked. 'No sorry, we don't put prescriptions on account, only consultations', came the reply. Well wasn't this a golden moment. I had no choice but to confess in front of a waiting room of people that I couldn't afford $12. 'I'm sorry', I mumbled. 'I can't pay it right now. I've just separated and'... 'Say no more, I'll put it on your account. Leave it with me', she winked. Her name was Wendy. Thank you Wendy!

I walked down the street a little to the chemist and handed in my prescription. 'Ooh these are expensive, they're not subsidised any more!' said the pharmacist. I almost fainted when he told me my total prescription would come to $94. 'Um - can I leave it with you please? I don't have that much on me right now', I murmured and bid a hasty exit. I got home and being the school holidays the boys were keen to do something. 'Can we go to Hamilton? Can we go to Auckland? Can we do this? Can we do that?' At which I promptly burst into tears and wailed 'We can't do anything!' And as I sat there, with the boys either side of me looking at their wreck of a mother with concerned faces, the phone rang. It was my accountant. 'We've redone your end of year figures and guess what? Instead of you owing us $4,000 we owe you a refund of $700!' I couldn't believe it, I had been having nightmares about that tax money, I was already months overdue! And now I didn't have to pay it. If I hadn't been 90 minutes' drive away I would have given her a giant bear hug. Even though it's still several weeks away it came as such wonderful and unexpected news. Thank you Hazel!

I made it through the rest of the week without too many dramas, until the last day of the school holidays and I was picking Ali up from his friends' house. He lives 45 minutes away on the other side of the mountain road and I needed petrol to get back home but that wasn't a problem. I have a Mobilcard, have had it for years ever since Noel first started his job as a travelling rep. You just fill up with petrol, swipe the card and it goes on your account, which gets paid off every fortnight via direct debit. It was late Friday afternoon and the petrol station was chocka; you could hardly get a park and there were queues backed up at the checkout. So it really wasn't very helpful when I went to pay and the transaction wouldn't go through. Time and time again we tried but every time it said 'refer to card issuer'. The queues got longer, the poor guy at the checkout got more stressed and in the end he had no choice but to ring Mobil. 'They want to talk to you. Your account's been suspended due to insufficient funds' he told me. I wanted to fall through the floor, could there have been any more people in that shop?! 'We tried to tell you but we had a wrong phone number', said the lady at the other end of the phone. I had a $20 note in my wallet and $74 worth of petrol in my car's fuel tank! What on earth was I going to do? 'I'm so sorry, I've just separated from my husband, I don't have anything'... I spluttered, totally at a loss. 'Are you local?' the young chap said. 'No, I live over the hill', I said miserably. 'Tell you what, I'll put it on MY card and you can pay ME back when you can', he smiled kindly. I had never seen this man in my life, nor he me. If it was any other member of staff they would have known I buy my petrol there every week, but I had never seen this one before. Just like that, it was done and I was sent off with a scrap of paper which read - '$74. To Matt' with a smiley face. What a wonderful young man. It's people like that who restore your faith in the world. Thank you Matt!

I've never not been able to afford petrol in my whole life before but I have a feeling it won't be the last time, at least for a while. On the positive side I'll just have to be a lot smarter about my car use and dust off my bike instead. Oh - and I mustn't forget my $26 Challenge! As it turns out I've had it pretty easy so far. Even with Liam and Ali both having a friend to stay for two nights we didn't starve. The first night we had Toad in the Hole (from the $21 Challenge book) with gravy and green beans from Grandma's garden. The next night we had schnitzel and macaroni cheese which was a big hit. Ali stayed at his friend's the following night and Liam had pizza with his dad, then he had a friend to stay the night after and they bought their own takeaways while Ali was at work. Saturday was a bit of a hectic day as we had an open home and had been madly cleaning so I made all three boys sausages, eggs and chips. I was most apologetic at the simpleness of this meal, especially with guests staying but you would have thought I had given them caviar! With smoked marlin coming out of our ears the boys had one of their favourite meals last night, smoked fish in white sauce! I have no idea why they love it so much but they devour it like it's going out of fashion! It's just a basic white sauce, made on the stove top. Once it bubbles and thickens I just crumble some smoked fish into the sauce, throw in a generous sprinkle of lemon pepper and a handful of grated cheese. They go crazy over it and love it on toast. For dessert we had apple and pear crumble, made using fruit from my 'crumble drawer'. Tonight my mum is staying and we are having corned beef with mashed potatoes and vegies.

On the whole it's been not too bad. I didn't have to buy milk for a while as Liam has started drinking about six pints of Milo a day so decided he had better start buying his own milk! My biggest expense was a 10kg bag of potatoes but apart from that all I have bought are eggs and a bag of flour. I've realised that if I have milk and eggs I can make pretty much anything. It was tough until that $26 came along though, as before that I couldn't even make a quiche! The boys are back at school today and are due home any minute so am off to make them some crumpets and some Fruity Yoghurt Muffins from the $21 Challenge book, using up a couple of squishy mangos from the crumble drawer and a forgotten pot of fruit yoghurt. Yes, Penny is back in control again! For today at least, and I would like to say a big thank you to all of you who have left me encouraging posts. We all need a reminder sometimes that we ARE capable and we CAN do it. Your words over the past week have popped into my head on more than a few occasions and really helped me to stay strong, keep up the effort and channel my inner Uma Thurman. Thank you so much!

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