Today is #WorldKindnessDay, and what an absolutely terrible thing it is.
Today, on World Kindness Day, 590,000 Britons rely on Foodbanks, and I just spent £19 on a bottle of wine for the weekend.
I probably deserve to be slapped more than any living human. After reading parts of this, you may decide I need to be kicked too. Form an orderly queue.
But if you’re a typical Briton, you probably just spent £3.50 at Costa, and maybe another couple of quid on a blueberry muffin to nibble. You probably do it daily. Five quid, just for a comfortable lunch for yourself.
Maybe another couple of quid for a chocolate bar on the way home, or a beer after work.
£3 to upgrade your Netflix to a very marginally higher resolution.
£20 a month on coffee pods that taste pretty indistinguishable from coffee from a jar, but have the added advantage of make your kitchen worktop smaller and less useful.
None of these things make you a bad person. They don’t make you unkind. They are normal – certainly more normal than a £19 bottle of wine.
These are the tiny things we do to make life feel better. Most of us don’t even think about it: we pitch our small extravagances to our own budget, and whether it’s a blueberry muffin or a bottle of Dom Bouchie Chatellier Pouilly Fume, we make ourselves believe it is normal and fair. We don’t think about it until somebody makes us.
Sorry: I’m here to make you. The eternally wonderful Michael Carty made me think about it, the bastard, and now I’m passing on the misery. Happy World Kindness Day.
This year, in the world’s 7th richest economy, just one of the many charities for the poor will hand out 1.2 million food parcels for families who can’t afford to feed themselves.
That’s just one provider. There are hundreds doing this work. There are millions dependent on it. You don’t know them, cos they can’t afford WiFi and they don’t have phones. They don’t pop into the pub and tell you about it. They aren’t in your office. They aren’t at your child’s recital. They aren’t visible in your social circle, because they have so little that even food is often beyond them.
And, by extension, food is beyond their children too.
But it’s not just food. That’s the urgent need, of course: but those who find themselves experiencing the sharp end of austerity politics also need the small comforts that make life bearable.
They need a toothbrush and a comb. Tampons. New socks without holes in them, and maybe some handwash. Their kids need a selection box at Christmas, and a toy.
You may sit in your warm home with your clean clothes and your brushed teeth, and protest that a selection box for a child in abject poverty isn’t a need, but if you think that, you’re a monster.
We have to help. Stop arguing: we just do. These are human beings.
Two years ago I was working in an office with 150 people, and on the way into work I read in the paper about the urgent need for donations to the local foodbank.
Almost all of my colleagues were on higher than average wages. It was an IT business, and every person there was lucky to be born with whatever the hell it is that makes IT people operate the way we do: a hundred years ago we would have been useless to man and beast, but by 2017 we were being showered with money for pushing a few bits of data around in a computer.
And it sort of sickened me. I sickened myself, with my posh wine and decent shoes; and although I was taking a bus to work, and hadn’t had a holiday for 2 years, I knew without doubt I could afford to give.
So I decided to cause some trouble. I briefly considered going via the official HR channels, but I knew it would take a month, and Christmas was coming, and I thought: sod it. I bypassed official channels, sent a direct email to every employee telling them that I was coming to their desk at 11am, and they had better give me £5 each for a foodbank, or I wanted to know why.
I got really bollocked. I can’t even tell you how bollocked I got.
But I also got £980 in cash, in one morning, from a bunch of genuinely generous and thoughtful people. Many gave £20. One guy gave £68, as I remember, which was every single penny of cash he had on him.
I sent £800 of the takings to The Trussell Trust and, with a couple of sympathetic colleagues (none of whom were from the HR Dept), I borrowed a van, took it to the nearby Tesco, and bought an absolutely huge amount of stuff, which I delivered to a church hall in Macclesfield, then left before it got embarrassing.
You wouldn’t believe how much you can buy for a fiver. I’m the sort of pretentious arsehole who spends £19 on a bottle of wine, and I have to confess that it’s been several years since I’ve looked at the price of any item I bought in a supermarket. I’m extremely lucky. I know I am. But this time I got close, looked hard, and found every bargain I could.
Even in Tesco – and I’m sure there are cheaper places – for £5 I could buy either:
- 22 tins of beans
- 10 tubes of toothpaste
- 15 packets of chocolate buttons
- 10 bottles of washing up liquid
- 7 pairs of socks
- Or 8 kilograms – I mean it – 8 kilograms of pasta
A fiver isn’t much. OK, I admit it: it might be a lot for you. It’s a lot for millions of us. But for me it’s not much. I know I sound like a complete dick, and I’m prepared to take all the mocking you want to dole out.
But for almost everybody, a fiver isn’t much. Not between now and Christmas, when the need becomes greatest.
So please, forego the Costa and blueberry muffin. Do without a chocolate bar on a couple of nights. Buy cheaper wine, cos you’re a bloody working-class knob from East Manchester, and can’t tell the difference, so who the hell do you think you’re kidding.
And spend that money on those in desperate need.
Today is World Kindness Day. And it’s awful that we need to be reminded. And it’s awful that it’s only one day.
But today, for one day, be kind.