I’m always galled by how much of life revolves around money. Acquiring it governs most of the hours of our waking life, and a great portion of our physical and mental wellbeing depends on its constant acquisition. It never lasts. It goes too quick. It is our master and we dance for it like dogs on our hind legs. When it dries up or we go through a bad patch the rest of our life falls into chasing more and it slips from our fingers too quickly yet again. And though we can be highly productive and resourceful when we don’t have it, the human nature to thrive on the basics kicking in like fierce creative survival, it is most commonly a thorny bind that leaves us feeling impotent, trapped, sad, and anxious to our bones.
It digs us in our swollen pride when we don’t have enough money. We feel like failures while we might actually be heroes, like we’re letting our families down – and it always feels like the wrong people have too much of it. We can’t help but compare ourselves to others and it chokes us.
When I was a kid and we’d just moved to Southend after my parent’s divorce, aside from dealing with desperate sadness, my mum really struggled for money. I remember counting pennies and old ten pence pieces out of an old bottle almost as big as my little sister, onto the kitchen floor in little piles. A little rush of excitement coursed through me if we came across a twenty or a fifty. I don’t remember many pounds. I learned to count better by using coins. I liked making the piles neat. I didn’t know that this was borderline poverty, I just thought that it’s what every family did before they went shopping.
A few years later Mum asked me to accompany her to the funeral of an old man named Charlie Jones. I remembered Charlie Jones only with a vague affection; I hadn’t seen him for years. While sitting in the hard pews of the church, Mum turned to me and told me that not only had Charlie Jones been a caring uncle type to her while she was a troubled teen though no real relation, but that when we moved to Southend in the snowy winter of 1985 he had occasionally turned up unannounced at our door with bags of meat from the butchers. He knew we were struggling and he made the journey from his own home a good few miles away in Billericay to make sure we didn’t go without. Accepting his help as a newly single parent must have been painful, and the gratitude immense. I just thought he was nice; I didn’t know he was keeping us from going hungry. I sat through the funeral service with my eyes brimming and my heart thundering for a man I barely knew. I’d never known what we owed to his kindness. The eulogies of Charlie Jones that day glowed like stained glass lit by a new light.
I was reminded of this period in my life when I went to a fundraiser for Southend Food bank at the brilliant Railway Hotel this weekend. No money was donated, but a minimum donation of three cans was asked of the audience. Bands played for free. The floor of the room next door to the gig filled up quickly until you could barely move for tripping over carrier bags filled to bursting with tins of soup and beans and tomatoes, jars of sauce, packs of rice and pasta. Staples that could be transferred to the Southend Food Bank for sharing amongst families who desperately need help.
Sam Duckworth and a gang of other musicians played in the next room. Sam is a prominent voice at the moment on how we might make changes to the things currently making us feel powerless in the world and he peppered his set with passionate patter. While he played, songs about anger and hope and our town, lyrics like old friends, I thought of the bags full of shopping. I thought of the people struggling, and I thought about how many people need the voices of others, and the kindness of strangers. My heart swelled at the small differences we can make even when we haven’t got much ourselves. My tummy’s been filled by kindness in the past; my heart is filled similarly now. I want to do more.
The Food Bank raised 221.8 kilos of food in one night at the Railway.
Pic nicked from the lovely Ramjet Steve of cracking band T-Bitch.