I am reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – a book about the 1996 Everest disaster. I do not understand mountain climbing. For me, it is too risky for the small pay off you receive. It involves deprivations and hardships I am not going to put myself through willingly. The author notes how when on the summit, he could not feel anything but cold and hunger. He was so exhausted that even his achievement shared by so few left him dispassionate.

At the beginning of one of the chapters, Krakauer quotes Al Alvarez’s book “The Savage God: a Study of Suicide“:

The more improbable the situation and the greater the demands made on [the climber], the more sweetly the blood flows…. The possibility of danger serves merely to sharpen his awareness and control.  And perhaps this is the rationale of all risky sports…. It’s a small scale model for living, but with a difference: Unlike your routine life, where mistakes can usually be recouped and some kind of compromise patched up, your actions, for however brief a period, are deadly serious.

I couldn’t help but think that it perfectly describes my life on benefits. Having no money for all the basics and having to choose between food and heating. Once it ends (if ever) and you suddenly find yourself with money to pay for everything you need and even a few things that you want – that would feel great I imagine. For the time being, you have to consider every single decision you make:

  • you want to have seconds but that means no/less for lunch tomorrow
  • you need to put the heating on today but what if tomorrow is even colder
  • let’s get some 30p biscuits for Sunday – but what if we run out of milk by the end of the week

Even if you do manage to stay within the limitations of your budget, the joy is bitter. It makes you wonder. Does it even make sense to struggle so much? How much longer can I keep it up in the face of benefit rises being capped below inflation, the prices rising and the media having a go at us “scroungers”? What IS the point? I did not ask to be disabled.

Living on benefits is the most extreme of human endeavours  We did not choose it – no matter how much IDS and Gideon are trying to convince the public to the contrary. There is no end in sight and we cannot change our mind halfway through and come back to a warm home with a full larder.