There was a middle aged man sat on the ground outside the post office when I walked past on my way to the cemetery with the dogs. Scruffy, unkempt, unwashed and down and out. I made eye contact because I hate ignoring people – but maybe doing so was patronising? His eyes saw me blankly before we both looked away. He had a bottle of supermarket white cider half empty beside him, it was 9.45 am. I had never seen him or any other homeless person around my neighbourhood before but times are hard and services have been cut.
I went on into the graveyard, pulled the dogs away from the squirrel hunting spot just inside the gate and headed towards the 1887 theatre fire monument. There behind it I saw a fresh grave with the biggest, most ostentatious pile of wreathes and bouquets I had ever seen. I was instantly stuck by the contrast; our society’s caring more for the dead than the living. I did a quick calculation, there were about 25-30 lots of flowers there, some very expensive, others less so, but about £500 must have been spent. Enough to feed that guy, put him in a hostel for a month and get him some new clothes.
When I die I want a cardboard box coffin or better still a silk sleeping bag liner. I do not want anyone to bring more than one white lily to my funeral; if they want to spend money then they can give it to a charity. How do you choose which charity is most needy these days? They say that charity begins at home and if so then that homeless man and many others like him are right on the doorstep. Alcohol though, many would consider that he does not deserve charity. It’s easy to judge isn’t it? He’s brought his troubles on himself, he’s hit the booze and pissed it against the wall hasn’t he? How often do we stop to ask the cause? Who knows what despair has brought him to the gutter by Ladysmith Road Post Office?
I will always give to cancer charities, like many people I have lost family and friends to the creeping devil disease. The NSPCC have benefited recently when my friend and I had a craft table at a country fair and I regularly get caught for sponsorship at work. One of my pet hates is when teenagers, some as young as sixteen are ‘raising money’ so that they can spend two weeks in a third world country to help build a school or plant a garden, you know the kind of thing? These trips usually cost a thousand pounds or so and no doubt they struggle to get the cash together – sitting in a bath of baked beans, abseiling from somewhere high or eating fifty hot dogs in an hour – but who really benefits? Maybe they realise how privileged they are, they mean well, but do they make any difference? Do they have any skills of any value to offer? Most often they come from middle class families whose middle class friends happily chip in so that said offspring can go on the adventure, but wouldn’t they do better to just send a cow? Or some seed and tools?
One of the craziest projects in recent years has to be the aid programme that decided to help the Turkana people in Northern Kenya by supplying them with equipment to fish and a huge freezing plant. The plan was to both improve nutrition locally and provide an income. The Turkana cooperative allowed themselves to be taught to fish and a new food mountain grew. It’s unfortunate that no one did enough homework to discover that the Turkana are nomadic pastoralists and DO NOT EAT FISH!
Seeing that man with his cider bottle sent my thoughts on a roller coaster, all on a thirty minute stroll through the cemetery. I might have popped into the shop and bought him a pasty, but he was gone by the time I walked back. I hope he found some appropriate help.