Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Red Cross or Lifestyle Choice - take your pick?

After last week’s thick layers of four-day-old snow dissolved out of sight in heavy downpours, traffic swept past once more and the post got through. 

On the first morning after the white-out I received two letters. In one envelope there was a persuasive testimony from someone who’d been a rough sleeper. His biography accompanied a monochrome image of him as he was then. He’d had a long beard, wore many scarves and a bobble hat and carried a huge pack - the burden of the homeless. Because he gave up drink, which he said kept out the cold and helped him forget, he now had a job and a flat. He helps others who live the life he once lived. It persuaded the reader to donate to the charity he now works for.

In another envelope a stapled, thick card booklet of subdued whites and rich, inky-blue hues announced the latest Farrow and Ball colours. For someone sleeping rough interior decor is the last thing on their mind, although perhaps their dreams are of richly decorated rooms. I can’t tell.

The following day a package from the Red Cross showed more images of others in crisis - this time of children and the aged in Yemen, some with missing teeth. Other pictures were of the elderly, lonely, poor and cold in this country. In the same post there was a flier advertising the services of a dental-whitening practitioner. Perhaps the toothless in Yemen have reveries about bright, white, pearly teeth. I imagine, though, that they have more pressing needs.

This disconnect is a little like watching a documentary on television, in real time, about the work,say, of the Trussell Trust and the huge increase in the numbers desperate for food banks. And then, in the commercial break, being blasted with tv adverts for deep crust pizza and gooey puddings. From that, before the investigation into deep neediness in the UK resumes, we are shown ads for products to help us slim. With another blink of the eye we are returned to watching people clutching vouchers for three-days’ worth of food handouts.

We flip from one reality to another as if we share those experiences, all at the same time and all with an equal weighting in our lives.
But it isn’t so. My reality isn’t that of the dying in Yemen nor is it that of the glamorous forty-year-old with shiny white teeth.

A recent article on facebook led to an outcry from social media followers. A reporter had lived for one week on state benefits and was left with £6 in his pocket with which to buy an evening meal. He learned very fast to buy a whole cabbage and chicken as both would feed him, in different guises, for almost a week. He realised that his usual post-work drinks were a no-no, that he’d never have a take-away nor another ready meal again if he only had £6 left at the end of each and every day. A trip to the cinema was out as was travelling on a bus. While he experienced these abrupt changes to his former well-being: - his lack of choices, his non-existent social life and lack of any small luxury - the outcry from others was that his endurance had only lasted a week. If you know that this week you have to walk everywhere, can only afford very basic food, can’t see any mates for a drink and have to go to bed early to stay warm then, for one week, you’ll cope. Readers protested that a week on the margins of society was not long enough. Most impoverished people are continually without spare cash. They cannot have a change of shoes, and not just for one week but for next month, next season and the foreseeable future. So why bother living like it for just a week? What does it teach you? 

The juxtaposition of suffering with trivia on the tv must detract from the seriousness of the ‘Man Alive’ type documentaries, wouldn’t you think? An investigation into society’s ills shouldn’t be bombarded with adverts for things most of us don’t need and the subjects of the documentary can’t have. Which reality is real? Are we in danger of being exposed to extremes - both of deep poverty, need and squalor and of conspicuous, sickening opulence? 

Wouldn’t it be sensitive to stop the adverts, just for once, while viewers concentrate on the important messages about our failing welfare system? 

I found it hard enough in Delhi, in the eighties, to see beggars in rags rattling their tins under a banner advertising slimming products. 

Such juxtaposition could be avoided on the airwaves. But what do I do about my letters? I suppose I could simply open the ones from charities... But would I evade important communications if I stopped opening every other envelope? It’s highly likely I’d miss something important.

I fear I’m stuck with a promoted reality, unless, of course, I get rid of my tv and all access to social media. Whether it’s in fliers, in tv adverts, in inserts inside magazines or just in pop-ups on social media, the two worlds of desperate need and lifestyle opulence simply don’t marry. How must it be for someone feeling hungry, who wants half an hour’s relaxation in front of the box, to be bombarded with ads for prosecco and a 'chocolate bouquet' when they only have a tin of beans in their all-but-bare cupboards? 

Monday, 4 February 2019


Yes it’s no longer January but the year is still  young and raw. Time for a big clear out. 
Why now? Well - not only is it a new year, and time for the process of turning over a new leaf, but we have so much clutter I must sift-and-sort. I have two so-called walk in-cubby holes/rooms that are so full I actually can’t walk into them. I open the doors to these areas and shut them again. And before you ask.No. I’m not a hoarder!

For those of you who read my blog last year you’ll know I had a slipped disc and I never did manage any meaningful spring cleaning. Hence the sifting-and-sorting I would have done last January never happened. Here we are, twelve months later, and a year’s worth of clutter has built up since then.
On top of that I found it difficult to sort through and dispose of my mother’s personal items when she died in late 2016. Emotionally and practically I was getting round to thinking about the sift-and-sort of mum’s pieces in 2018 but my back wouldn’t allow such rigours - lifting, stretching, moving stuff is a no-no for someone with disc issues. 
Finally, earlier this year, we also stored some personal belongings for a friend of ours. And we’re planning a car boot sale. Hoorah! With that in mind I feel a greater inspiration to get on with it. There are other reasons for doing a sift-and-sort at this low time of the year but I’ll leave those details for a later date. 

w/e 26 -27 January 2019: sift-&-sort day 1&2
The big sort begins. I couldn’t quite face the mini-kitchen attached to our bedroom so I started clearing the inbuilt wardrobe instead. It was chocker-block with Christmas decorations and old clothes and sheets we use when decorating. Towels and blankets from
mum’s house were really bulky and ancient but they had no stains nor holes. They are fine for a charity shop.
I also cleared two chests of drawers. Richard now has all twenty pairs of socks in one place. And a low-down chest of drawers and inbuilt wardrobe are practically devoid of anything to do with us. Wipe out the memories. The wardrobe and drawers are empty. Hoorah!

Monday 28January: sift-&-sort day 3 
It’s all very well sorting out all our wardrobes but the now-empty coathangers and clothes protectors have to go somewhere. To create more space I emptied the bathroom cupboard and put spare towels and protectors in there.
Possibly an odd decision. 

Tues 29 January: sift-&-sort day 4 
Cleared the bureau drawers today and Richard cleared his wardrobe. Our bed is now piled high with bin bags labelled ‘charity’ or ‘dump’ or ‘car boot’ and even more coathangers. I took a photograph of the colossal mess and, instead of the ‘internet of things’ I labelled it ‘the bed of things’. I had to clear it by midnight so I could actually get into bed. 

Weds 30 January: s&s day 5 
I was teaching today so I cleared my pupil’s work area and emptied my bedside cabinet of newspapers, magazines and crossword puzzle books. 
Just so my pupil could get up the stairs safely 5 fat bags labelled ‘car boot’ had to go somewhere else. 
Not much achieved today.

Thursday 31 January: s&s day 6
The big one: tackling our mini kitchen. Next to our main bedroom we have an ensuite shower room and, through another door, a mini-kitchen. If we tidy all this up we could rent it out through AirBnB! This was the hardest job - I knew it would be. But it had to be done. Now the mini kitchen needs a lick of paint but at least it’s empty.Hip, hip hooray!

Friday 1 February: s&s day 7
I moved a clothes rail full of clothes in protector bags into the mini kitchen. I also threw out stuff from the top of cupboards that had been there since about 2003... (why since 2003?) Generally got our bedroom and mini kitchen and ensuite shower room looking reasonable again. I posted another picture of the ‘bed of things’. And it got a few 😀likes.

Saturday 2 February: s &s day 8
I bunged all sorts of bits and pieces and old bills into ‘one big bag’ for sorting tomorrow. I made my study as tidy as I could and waved bye bye to old psychology ‘A’ level teaching notes. I haven’t taught psychology for almost nine years. It’s time for all my student workbooks and handouts to go. Another picture of ‘the bed of things’. It’s looking like there are fewer things- finally.

Sunday 3 February: s&s final day

Too tired to do much and now it’s a case of where do I put this paper clip?