I ate the last of the apples from our trees the other day. I hadn’t noticed a rotten one at the bottom of the bowl, and it had affected the others around it, so I chopped out all the good bits and had an apple feast. (And the slugs and snails have been partying in the silver beet, more than I’ve ever experienced, so that reliable winter crop is severely compromised. I blame the cat. One of the neighbourhood cats that I hiss at killed a thrush and left it in the middle of the silverbeet garden where I didn’t immediately see it. Now the birds that gorge on the snails and slugs aren’t around. Scared off I reckon.)

The end of the apples brought a problem. My budget at the market. Ever since WINZ reduced my benefit I’ve gone to the market once a fortnight instead of once a week, spending $20 a fortnight instead of $20 a week. And it’s worked, just. Two dozen eggs: eggs are my only first class protein except for an occasional can of sardines (can always tell when I need one of those–when my thinking gets fuzzy). Eggs are essential and when I have fewer than two a day my energy goes. Onions, potatoes, maybe a kumera, lots of garlic, a lemon or two. A lot cheaper than the supermarket, but it soon adds up. Sometimes there’s enough left over to buy a Sunday paper. But not often.

Most of the year I don’t buy fruit. When there’s no pip fruit in the garden, there are cape gooseberries or strawberries, or lots of parsley for vitamin C, but last year, in the apple gap, I bought apples at the market. Of course, I could have relied on the stewed apples in the freezer, but there’s something about a real crunchy apple and the frozen apples won’t last till the end of January when the next apples ripen.

So I made a hard decision. Spend $5 extra a fortnight at the market, for apples and, if possible, a little more vegetable variety. And eureka!!! There were 99c a kilo Pacific Queens! Which meant, after I bought 14 of them, that I had a little bit of money left over for some wonderful cut-this-morning spinach. And, if I didn’t buy a paper, some little cheap tomatoes. Will I be able to absorb the extra $5 a fortnight? Not sure, but I just enjoyed a crisp Pacific Queen. (If only it wasn’t so cold. Have had to turn the heater on a couple of times, for most of the day, because I had things to do I couldn’t do in bed and six layers, a hat and gloves weren’t enough, so the power bill may make the $5 decision for me.)

This year I can’t afford citrus fruit and sugar for marmalade. Beth and I used to make it together every July, and after she went I kept making it because it’s so enjoyable from the first cut into the fruit to the last scraping at the bottom of the last jar. Last year I made lime marmalade for the first time. I remember an old friend who stopped making her Christmas cake and went into decline. I hope that this isn’t the beginning of the end for me. The other night I woke up and wrote on a bit of paper “I think I’m going to die tonight” because I thought it might be interesting for whoever found me to know that I knew. But here I am. Still looking for work.

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