Give all you like…Just don’t keep telling me!

                I am sorry to be banging on about Facebook yet again, but whilst I have no wish to leave it [yet] there are elements that I do find irritating and the particular issue I’m tired of this week is pleas for sponsorship.

               OK. This makes me sound humbug enough to get haunted by ghosts dragging chains, I know. I should be reading all these stories of children with wasting diseases, mums who’ve died of cancer, heroes who’ve fought for queen and country and had bits blown off, poor, emaciated donkeys and the deprived local tennis club with tears in my eyes and then rushing to dig out my credit card immediately. I should revere those who are selflessly walking, swimming, jogging, knitting, singing or cycling their way to £10.50 or whatever their target figure is and should be thoroughly ashamed not to be following their shining example or even accompanying them in their respective crusades. Shame on me!

                 But actually, where charities are concerned, to me it is personal. I am not averse to inserting some loose change into the occasional collecting tin, provided the cause is worthy in my eyes, but on the whole I want the choice. I want to choose who I donate to, when I donate and how much. I don’t want to be reminded on a daily basis that this or that FB acquaintance is of such a saintly disposition they are giving of their time for such a selfless act whereas I am content to slob around at home heedless of the plight of such victims as they have elected to support.

                   It seems to me that those of us who are lucky and privileged enough to have been born and brought up in a relatively wealthy western civilisation are the lucky ones. We inhabit a country with a moderately stable climate [alright-it did go a bit pear shaped this winter], we can be provided with enough to get basic provisions, however impoverished we may feel ourselves to be. If our health is threatened we have access to some [admittedly marginal] health care. The authorities can provide some fundamental shelter, if it becomes necessary. This safety net is not available to vast numbers of people in the world; people who live in countries racked by drought, floods, famine or wars. We will never find ourselves stranded in a desert with starving, diseased children and nothing but grass or leaves to eat. We will never have to walk ten miles for some water.

                 This is what makes me averse to donating to the redundant donkeys’ homer, Helicopter rescue or Save the Allotments, although I am in favour of taxation to fund overseas development.

                  I do have my favourites! Oxfam, for one. The charity I do like to support, through a regular  standing order from my bank account, is Wateraid. Because I cannot think of anything more important than the provision of clean, safe water, vital to life itself. But I don’t want to swim, sing, dress up or walk…I’ll just donate, thanks!

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Don’t blame me that its free!

                You have to give people their due. In this world of scammers, con artists, fraudsters and hoodwinkers, the ‘too good to be true’ message certainly seems to have got through. It is well nigh impossible to give something away free, without charge, no strings attached.

                Tuesday 23rd April was ‘World Book Night’. One of the events that mark this annual celebration of all things ‘book’ is a mass donation of free fiction novels to the public at large. It is the third year that I have volunteered to be a ‘book giver’.

                In the first year of book donations, we, the ‘givers’ had 40 copies of our chosen book to give. This was a tall order. I’d selected Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, a novel which I’d stumbled upon on a shelf of discarded paperbacks in a hotel in The Gambia-an unlikely find, but one which I’d been thrilled by. It led me to read many more of Ms Atwood’s works. I am always evangelistic about novels I’ve loved, boring the pants off anyone I meet about them-hence my enthusiastic approach to book donation. The opportunity to give away 40 copies of a book I’d enjoyed so much was irresistible, so  I was somewhat dismayed by the luke warm  reaction of many. I attempted to give copies away to local care homes and hospitals, where the reception varied from reluctance [‘er, alright-just leave them there’] to alarm, [NO-we don’t need BOOKS!]. I managed to get some of my neighbours to accept a copy with one outright success, a convert to Atwood, like myself.

                Last year I opted for a classic-‘Rebecca’ by Daphne DuMaurier. The number of books dropped to a more reasonable 20. I distributed them to groups in the community without too much trouble, although this was taking the path of least resistance.

                This year I chose Sebastian Barry’s excellent Irish tale, ‘The Secret Scripture’, written in the most beautiful, poetic style and documenting an astonishing and harrowing series of events in the life of an elderly woman. I loved it and wanted everyone else to. Thinking I should make more of an attempt to follow the World Book Night instructions I set off to give the books out to as many complete strangers as I could find, and since it was a warm, sunny day, striding off along the promenade by the beach.

                I homed in on my first victims outside the beach café; two women at a table.

                “Can I offer you a book to read?” I asked them. “It is completely free and a very good story.”

                “No! I don’t want a book. I’ve got a Kindle-look!” The woman held it up in triumph, as though she’d beaten me in some kind of competition.

                I kept smiling. “Yes, I have a Kindle too,” I said. “But you would have to pay for your download and this is a freebee.”

She stalked off, leaving her friend to do me the courtesy of kindly accepting the free novel from me. It was a long morning, nevertheless amongst the suspicion, rejection and cold shouldering I did enjoy one or two jolly, book related conversations and a couple of people were genuinely thrilled to be given a brand new paperback to read.

                I wonder what the titles will be next year?