Tuesday, 20 December 2011

In which I risk ridicule

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:

20 Dec 1 20-12-2011 15-30-05

20 Dec 2 20-12-2011 15-29-38

20 Dec 4 19-12-2011 12-03-41.ORF

20 Dec 5 19-12-2011 12-10-52

20 Dec 6 18-12-2011 12-40-36

20 Dec 6 18-12-2011 15-56-43

20 Dec 7 18-12-2011 16-03-12

20 Dec 8 17-12-2011 12-46-21

The beauty of The Pigeon, which goes very high on my gratitude list:

20 Dec 10 20-12-2011 15-30-29

20 Dec 11 20-12-2011 15-30-35

And the dear old hill:

20 Dec 13 20-12-2011 15-31-29


  1. Oh Tania, you've made me well up. I would like to thank you for your blog, which is always so beautifully written, and for the daily pictures of the hill and the Pigeon. She is looking particularly gorgeous with her fluffy winter ears at the moment.

    I'm also off to go and sign up for a DD to Action Aid. You're quite right; I can afford £8 a month, and so why not do some good with that money?

    I feel a bit stilted and British myself, but I do hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

    Kate x

  2. Thanks to the wonderous roller coaster that is my work I spent a few days of the first week in December living in an African village. In a local house, with local people. We worked with them - out hoeing in the fields (bloody hard work), fetching water from the pump, carring wood on our heads, stirring tsima (cornmeal), pounding maize etc etc

    I know we've all heard the stories, seen the photos, watched the films a million times.

    But, here's the thing, I realised as I had never realised before how on the breadline they are. How a good harvest or bad, high market prices or low, make the difference between being able to provide their children with a good education or not. Or indeed to buy food and medicine or not.

    It was a humbling experience.

    So yes, your £8 extra will make a massive difference.

  3. Tania, Merry Christmas to you. Another wonderful post, so good to focus on giving at this time of year. We ordered some goats for Africa, as a gift for my parents, my five year old doesn't quite understand the concept and she is wondering how Granny and Grandpa will be able to look after the goats in Gulidford! Jude x

  4. Put us through? I don't feel put through anything...I feel that I am being given something. I would like to thank YOU for providing this tiny little corner where we all can meet and for sharing your experiences with us!

  5. I love your writing Tania.....which is something I say very often over here but every time I really mean it. I've always been a fan....I've read lots of pieces that you've written for magazine & was thrilled when I found you had a blog. It's a total treat to read....every single time. I always find your writing so easy to relate to. You've made me laugh and you've made me cry....you write blogposts that I stay with me & that I remember....the "Langley" trained man on the phone with all that bank business and Paddington station memories are two of my favourites.

    And your beautiful photos....and lovely Pigeon.

    I'm not sure why I'm saying all this right now - probably because you're thanking us - and my British instinct is telling me that I must thank you back :)

    I loved this post, you are so right. I have been doing some fundraising on my blog, it's been fantastic, one of the best things I've done - and virtually all of the donations have come from total strangers. Incredible kindness and a great feeling for me to have played any part in it at all.

    Best wishes for a happy Christmas,
    Simone Xx

  6. Here, here - another thoroughly enjoyable post.

  7. Such a nice warm post! thanks. Being at the receiving end of charity (for the orphanages) I do appreciate every bit that comes our way.
    By the way is Brighton Rock still around - I ate this when I was about eight years old and it was like magic!!!

  8. Another devoted reader dropping in to say, shuffling my feet and looking down (and to the left), that I would like to thank you-- this post made me teary too. I love getting this dispatch from your corner of Scotland-- and the stories of your friends and family and beautiful dog-- and the photographs. And I think what I love the most about it is that we get an unvarnished view. Anybody can send in the best angle of their life to their blog-- as I have mentioned before; anybody can use their blog to show everybody else how well they have it figured out, whether it's a "lifestyle" blog or what have you. In your blog we get your own real little corner of the world, whether you're in a bad mood or not, which is sort of like having a virtual friendship: my favorite friends don't lie about their moods. Even in Texas, though, we feel awkward saying this. (In Texas we shift our hats slightly forward, tip back the beer bottle, wipe our mouths with our hands and cough casually). (We don't, truly, but I always feel I'm failing when I don't).

  9. Thank you, Tania, for being honest and open, and sharing it all.

    To paraphrase, a good blog is hard to find...and, quite possibly, even harder to write.

    I really appreciate you, this...

  10. Thank you for the blog Tania. It is the first thing I look at when I check emails in the morning; it is amazing how uplifting a little slice of someone else's life can be. (And that dog.... I now look at black lab type dogs thinking no... not as beautiful as the pigeon.)

  11. Today is a day of low ebb, but I am suspiciously bright-eyed at my desk here. Inspiring. Thank you so much.

  12. Today is our wedding anniversary, can you believe it's been a year? And *such* a year indeed....
    I want to sincerely thank you, for your incredible blog, your beautiful photographs, your kind+touching comments+the wonderful Pigeon.
    Sending you love, Christmas wishes and genuine warm hugs from our home to yours, although we've never met, you're so often thought of and wished well by us. Anne, Jon (the husband) George (the baby) Jasper+Boo (the kittens) x

  13. Thank you. Amanda x

  14. We could get silly here swapping thank yous, but the joy for me is in your kindness and open heart. We all have warts which others overlook because first, we are kind. Thank you for that. I do so hope the Mayans are wrong about the end of the world in 2012, but if they're right, I think Tania will send us all off with words of encouragement and something lovely and witty to say. Happy Christmas to you and all who insulate you from the trolling and meanness that abounds.

  15. Such absolutely lovely comments. Thank you all so much. :)

  16. I am late to this and, like all the Readers, thank you for your wonderful words, your generosity and kindness, and for sharing your beautiful corner of the world with us.
    I hope you, your family and the Utterly Gorgeous Pigeon have a lovely Christmas. xx

  17. Oh blimey. This was just wonderful. Happy New Year!


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