I feel tired, irritable and I’m dreading work today. I’m at the bus stop and the bus isn’t due for ten minutes, so I sit and take out my kindle. I had been reading I bed last night but I was half-asleep so I have to skip back several pages to where I actually remember having read. I’m just about to get stuck into the story again when an old man walks up to the bus stop and stares up at the digital display.
“The next one’s due in eight minutes”, he says to me. I nod politely but hope he gets the hint I’m not in the mood to talk. He sits next to me. “I can’t get the hang of this new timetable”, he says to me with a chuckle. “Me neither”, I say whilst raising my kindle up to make sure he sees it. He’s oblivious to it though. “I gotta go into town to get the fast train to Oxford. Can’t be doing with the slow train. I go every Friday, to take food to my nephew…” I nod. “…he’s an alcoholic you see”. I fold up my kindle.
I turn towards this man now. I realise this is a big deal to him and here I am, more concerned about reading a story that, so far, hasn’t even been that good.
“I can’t give him money”, he continues, “he’d only spend it on drink. So every week I take him food. If you met him you’d think butter wouldn’t melt, but he’s lost everything to drink and now he’s just in a horrible little flat. He’s been evicted three times and I’ve pleaded with the council to let him stay where he was but it’s the drink, it makes him so angry, so violent”. I feel a bit stunned that this man is telling me all this but ask “Has he done rehab”? The man smiles sadly, “We’re trying to get him a place, but we’ve been trying a long time. Comes down to money in the end”. I nod again, not sure what to say anymore. “I’m all he has now, he’s got no-one else but me. My sons have a go at me for helping him, they think I should leave him well alone. See, his mum – my sister – she asked me to look after him for three weeks because she couldn’t cope…”.
Then he looks me in the eye with a sad smile. “…that was twenty four years ago. I’m eighty one, he’s fourty five. He should be looking after me”!
We both sit in silence for a while. I’m thinking about how I’ve begrudged having to give for other people lately, how selfish I’ve been in comparison – even trying to avoid giving this guy some of my time. And twenty four years! Twenty four years of being let down – cos that’s what happens again and again with addicts. After a long pause he looks at me with that sad grin again and says:
“Everyone needs someone to look after them”.
The bus is coming, we both stand up. I signal for him to get on first. As he goes through the doors, he turns and says, “have a good day anyway, young’un”!
Then he goes straight up the stairs, despite the fact several of the usual ‘pensioner’ seats are free downstairs.
If everyone thought of small ways of using what they have, like the business pictured below, to help those who need a helping hand, we’d be doing alright. What they are offering is what they do anyway, it’s a no-brainer, and it doesn’t cost them too much. What it does mean is that someone who may have the odds stacked against them in an interview has a chance to play on a (slightly more) level field.
I remember once that my wife and I were driving into town one Sunday when we saw a couple in their fifties running to catch a bus. The bus drove away without them and they stopped and turned on each other looking really upset. My wife asked whether we should offer them a lift, knowing that the next bus wouldn’t be for at least an hour. The couple accepted our offer and looked surprised that someone would actually stop and give them a lift.
As we chatted during the drive into town, they told us that they were celebrating their wedding anniversary by having a dinner in town. If we hadn’t offered a lift, they wouldn’t have made it into town in time. It seemed to me that our little gesture was going to go some way towards making the day a happy memory! It cost us nothing, we were going in anyway, but meant a big deal to them.
Stumbling upon this pic, (which you can find here), reminded me that I used to actively look for little ways to help, bless or cheer someone. A massive ‘Uh-huh’ to these guys for being so great and for inspiring me to look again at little differences I can make.
My local supermarket, Waitrose, has this great scheme where once you have paid for your goods, they give you a green token. On your way out, there are three boxes in which you can place your token. Each box represents a local charity and after so many weeks, the charities are changed. The tokens inside the boxes are counted and each charity gets an amount of cash proportionate to what was left in the box. It’s a great idea and should mean that local charities are benefiting from local people.
But that’s where it fails. Waitrose, being a ‘finer quality’ store is too pricey for a whacking great number of residents in my community. Most people I know don’t go to Waitrose as we have a Tesco and Asda nearby as well. I would guess that the average consumer at Waitrose is middle class, white and middle-aged upwards.
Even if I never entered the store, you can tell this from the boxes of green tokens and how the tokens are distributed. Today for example, there is a box for arthritis sufferers, dementia sufferers and a box for volunteers teaching young children to read. Both the first two boxes have double the amount that the third has and this has been repeated time and time again. Charities that work with children and young people, especially teenagers, have done badly against the charities that I guess the shoppers can see themselves needing at some point! Which seems to me as taking some of the ‘charity’ out of the giving.
I’m not saying that arthritis sufferers don’t deserve a lot of help – they do. What Iam questioning is whether this scheme is flawed because what may be a priority for the local community might not be reflected in this system because waitrose draws in people from a huge area and they are mostly of a different social class to the local area.
I am trying to work how whether this can be improved. I don’t think it’s a bad scheme at all – in fact, I think it’s very good. I don’t know whether they should place similar charities together so every now and then at least one young people’s charity will do well – any suggestions would be lovely as I think I might pass them on to Waitrose.
Any ideas anyone?