Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I give a little bit of money each month to charity. This is not because I am a particularly lovely or selfless person. Quite the opposite, one could argue. I do it because the charities and I have the perfect compact. I give them cash so they can do practical, life-saving things with it; in return, they give me the feeling of being a half-decent human, which is beyond price. They very kindly let me assuage the middle-class, first world guilt which hums in me, for a sum of ready money. (The guilt says: ha, if you were a really good person, you would be out there building a well, not just paying for one.)
One of the charities I support with my tiny monthly stipend is Actionaid. I really like them a lot. They are muscular and practical; they go straight to the projects on the ground, so the money does not get skimmed off by corrupt potentates. I used to sponsor a child, but then they asked if I could do a village, because it was unfair on the children who had no sponsors. So now I get photographs of smiling women with a tap, or a pair of farming sisters with some seeds from excellent agricultural programmes, or a class of children in an educational project. I put them up on the mantle and beam at them.
Last night, quite late, Actionaid rang me up. They do this sometimes at Christmas. And the awful thing was, I was quite grumpy. Bloody hell, I thought, do you really want more money? I am very ashamed that I thought that, and I hate to admit it, but the engine of this entire blog is the truth, and you must have it, even when it is not pretty.
I very nearly told the woman to call back another time, but in the end, with rather bad grace, I said I could talk. I was tired and not at all Christmassy, and I felt slightly irritated as she read out her spiel from a prepared script.
She was not awfully good at it. It was very clear it was a script, and she read rather woodenly. My critical mind was critical. But then I started to listen. There has been a drought. My village is in a bit of trouble. They need more help. I started to feel hideously spoilt, as I sat in my safe, warm house, filled with flowers and baubles. I thought of the villagers, struggling, in the heat and dust.
I started to like my wooden caller, as she bashed on through her pitch.
I waited for the number. I thought perhaps they would want a lump sum; a fifty quid for Christmas kind of thing. She explained, rather haltingly, that in fact they just needed another eight pounds a month, to make a difference. Eight pounds. I felt very small and humble.
Yes, of course, I said. Can you just add it to my direct debit?
The woman shuffled some papers, ummed a bit, said: ‘Hold on, hold on, I’m new at this.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘Let me just find the thing.’
I laughed. It was just what I would say.
‘Don’t worry at all,’ I said. ‘Take your time.’
We fixed it all up. The new eight pounds shall wing its way to Africa. My God, I thought, it really is the least one can do.
The woman seemed rather amazed. I expect that, in the new austerity, some people really can’t do another eight pounds. She sounded a bit tired. I thought she probably had dealt with a few refusals that day. I felt glad that I could say yes.
Then she said: ‘Thank you so much for your amazing support.’
It’s not really amazing. Like I said at the beginning, it’s entirely in my self-interest. But there was something in the way she said it. She was not a polished operative; she was rather awkward, not smooth and charming at all. The curious thing is that this slightly rough manner made her words sounds more authentic. Perhaps it was that she was new at this. Whatever it was, it touched me profoundly. It was a very heartfelt thank you, for such a small thing, and for some reason it brought tears to my eyes.
I’m telling you all this because I like stories that have a moral. I hunt down parables like a truffle hound. I think there are two morals to this story. I write them down because I want to remember them. T
he first is: the secret of a truly happy Christmas is to give something to someone who really needs it. Contribute to a new guide dog; say yes to one of those maddeningly eager charity people with clipboards on the street; donate to the brilliant St Martin’s in the Fields Christmas appeal.
I hesitate even to write this, it sounds so po-faced and holier than thou, but I think it might be the happiest thing you can do for yourself. Not only do you get the warm glow of having done something kind, but you get the blessing of perspective, as your own fortune is cast into a brighter light. I have had a sad year; I miss my dad like an ache in my chest. But it’s nothing compared to what some people are dealing with.
The second moral is: thank someone for something. When that funny, stilted woman on the telephone said thank you, it felt like a complete stranger had given me a huge Christmas box filled with delights. I think one can sometimes take things for granted, not say the thing out loud, expect that people know what one is thinking, so that sentiments go unstated.
This is also a particularly British thing; the Ordinary Decent Briton does not like to gush. But my Christmas resolution is to do more thanking. Thank the friends for being friends, the family for being family, the dog for being its wonderful canine self. I admit that last one is slightly redundant, on account of the dogs not speaking English thing, but since I live stranded on dog island, I cannot help myself.
My big thank you here is to you, the Dear Readers. What I have put you through, in the last months, with all the funerals and the sorrows and the shaggy dog stories. How magnificent and sympathetic and wise you have been. There is a lot of sound and fury out there on the internets; there is trolling and shouting and insulting. Here, in this tiny little corner, there is only goodness and kindness. And patience.
I cannot tell you how my heart lifts when the inbox pings, and I see comments winging in from Sri Lanka and Australia, California and Texas, Belgium and France. I send a huge, shiny, tinselly Christmas thank you to you all.
There. I have broken the number one rule of Britishness. I have been serious. Tomorrow, I shall be back to the ironical, which is bred into me, which runs through dear old Blighty like Brighton through a stick of rock.
Some quick pictures now, to reward you for bashing through all that:
The beauty of The Pigeon, which goes very high on my gratitude list:
And the dear old hill: