323 – The Charity

This past Friday the BBC aired the three billionth installment of its Children in Need appeal.

Not that I watched it. Not that many of you watched it either, for that matter. I have the excuse of being some three thousand miles away on the other side of the planet but you, what’s your excuse–and be warned that “It’s shit” isn’t exactly something you could tell to all the poor children who could really do with your money at this time of the year, and neither is “Channel 4 were showing some old film”.

Ah, what am I talking about? They’re totally valid excuses, as unless something’s changed this year and the traditional pile of horse muck masquerading as an exercise in charity-oriented light entertainment had been dramatically revamped it’d be the same old nonsense seemingly designed to drive viewers from their televisions and make Scrooges of us all.

The problem with charities is that they’ve never had the resources at their disposal that larger businesses had. No matter the money made by the managers and further-ups (and yes, there is money to be made from charity; don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t) they’ve never been ones to rub it in our faces by paying for slick business incentives and advertising moguls. Many charity adverts do the rounds for years at the time. Perhaps this is because they’re successful, though many of us see the fly-specked kids and abuse victims as more off-putting than something that’ll have us reaching into out pockets–we’re liable to change the channel and complain about how two-year-old Damien scrubbing for Spaghetti Hoops in a bin isn’t exactly suitable for teatime viewing.

Yet Damien appears year in, year out, along with a whole cast of other children, animals, handicapped youth and the occasional adult–though there are only ever a few of those because they don’t tug on the heartstrings quite as hard as everyone else. “Damien keeps running into things. A door. A table. A fist” intones the narrator–quite often a celebrity who could surely be putting more of his earnings into the charity of his choice–and for a second out hearts might go out to this carefully chosen child actor whose adorable looks have little semblance to the real Damien, so battered and neglected he’s practically feral, who exists only as an idea the charity’s willing to hint at because nobody wants to see the people who truly need help.

Charity adverts represent a sanitised, watered down vision of a world in pain. They speak in code phrases because there’s a decency threshold past which the audience will be too reviled to keep watching. Cancer’s an easy codeword–everyone knows cancer, right? Kids pushing drips like walking frames, hair long since departed, spirit guttering low, looking like subterranean creatures–Morlocks–with no malice left in them, so used are they to their plight. A kid suffering from cancer on the TV will just as likely give a small cough accompanied with a wan smile as vomit their lunch until their wracked and shaking, shitting liquid out the back of their gown where it mingles with red and yellow stains from the previous day. There’s a knowing politeness to their language. “Little Susie’s father makes her do things she doesn’t understand”–such a horrible phrase yet so understated because the reality of him raping her over, and over, and over isn’t something suitable for television.

These adverts don’t want to scare us–they want us haunt us. They want us to live with their images as constant reminder there are places that can help. If we view them as terrifying nightmare factories, we’re not going to donate, and that would be terrible both for them and for us.

The one area this comfort bubble doesn’t extend to are little pot-bellied African children, who are never too far away from death and never seem photoshopped for public consumption. Yet these images are so commonplace today you all know what I’m talking about when I mention them: you can see their bulbous heads so clearly, their stick-limbs, their gigantic eyes the size of depleted water wells crawling with fies.

It’s easy to forget that these images didn’t make it onto British television until fairly late in the day, just in time to inspire Bob Geldof and company into action in their attempts to feed the world. If he hadn’t tuned into Nicholas Witchell reading the Six O’ Clock News, 1985 might have had an empty summer where Live Aid would have fitted nicely, and Sir Bob would still be remembered for not liking Mondays and little else, making him a shabby sort of Garfield.

But along came Live Aid and with it celebrities stopped being so impressed by electric razors they bought the company that made them, and started being distraught with problems that affected human beings across the world. Possibly. It’s always difficult to tell which of the celebs genuine sorrow and which see stadium events and charity singles as coat tails to instant stardom. Too many of them seem sanctimonious, I’m afraid, and insincere, barely able to articulate that they’re doing the chat show rounds promoting their new single because “It’s fer a good cause, innit?” without understanding exactly what that good cause is.

Then there are the more traditional reasons why we hate megastars who attach themselves to charities. They always seem to have enough money left over for designer clothes and expensive cars, and bejewelled rings gifted to some coarse-mouthed dolly bird with whom they’re achingly in love for all of five minutes.

Now I’ll admit I’m not the most charitable of men, which is why I’m growing a moustache for Movember. It is, perhaps, a token effort towards charity. I’m not running a marathon nor scaling a mountain–as some of you wags will surely point out.

Guess what? The money isn’t for me.

Neither is the moustache a grand Children in Need show filled with newsreaders and soap stars doing things you wouldn’t expect newsreaders and soap stars to do (A scene from a musical? A song and dance number? Going on A Question of Sport? Meeting Doctor Who?). It’s not supposed to impress you, or do anything other than give me a mild sense of embarrassment as–blond as it is–I look increasingly like the police chief from Inspector Gadget.

As a way of making it look more like a charitable act than laziness in shaving I’ve offered to post pictures of myself sporting the moustache online, should I reach my goal of $200. I hate people saying my face. My face is not something anyone should ever see. It’s a horror for which there is no charity advert shorthand, yet I’m willing to sending it out into the ether totally unnecessarily, wearing a stupid moustache, looking the fool, and all in the name of men’s health.

If that’s not good enough for you, think of this: you’re not doing it for me or my moustache. It’s insane that anyone should need a BBC sanctioned lovey-fest to donate in order to donate to charity, or to see some guy on the Internet wearing a moustache, or a little red poppy, or a letter from Prince Charles (as I received for donating a tenner to ITV’s Telethon back in the day). We should be donating all our spare cash to the NSPCC, the RSPCA, Scope, Oxfam–any charity you care to mention. Yet, like those loaded celebrities whose insincerity we doubt, we don’t, and so spend our cash on material goods, trifles, that we’ll soon tire of and throw out.

We could all afford to give more. I wonder why we don’t.

This blog–and all the other One A Day blogs in Pete Davison’s #oneaday network–are raising money for Cancer Research. You can donate money to it here:


In addition, I’ve joined the Movember campaign to raise money for men’s health. Movember supports the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LiveStrong. We don’t have gunge tanks, red noses or Terry Wogan, but we do have a hell of a lot of men wearing moustaches. If you’ve enjoyed my posts this year and would like to see me wearing what my wife affectionally calls ‘a homegrown face ferret’, please donate below. I’m 45% of the way to my goal and hey, it’s for a good cause.


This has been a public service announcement on behalf of charities everywhere. Thank you for your time.
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