Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
We plough the fields and scatter...
It's Harvest Festival time. I awoke the other morning to the news that the Red Cross will be sending volunteers into supermarkets, in order ask shoppers to donate items for food banks. I considered this item before getting on with the business of the day. The thought wouldn't leave me alone, however. It rattled through my mind all day like a mantra which I hadn't requested.
People? It repeated. Local people with not enough food?
I was in a Colchester supermarket late last summer, when I met my first food bank collectors. Their manner was polite and kindly. I instinctively felt that they must have been something to do with the Christian Church. When I saw that they were collecting, I went over in order to ask what it was that they required. They wanted goods such as pasta, rice and jams no perishables. The experience didn't make me feel guilty. It made me feel sorrowful and then angry. I bought some items before leaving the shop, which I handed over to them. The next time I see them, I'll do it again. And again. And again. Until there are no food banks.
I can honestly say that I have rarely, even in my feckless youth, been hungry for very long. When you opt for the life of a would-be musician, which long ago I once did, you soon put yourself in the way of such situations as being cold or sometimes, homeless. But you do not not in Great Britain at least expect to be hungry.
I apologise in advance to any readers who are better upholstered than perhaps they would like to be. Of recent years we have become a well-blessed nation, one which seems collectively, to have found the keys to the pie cabinet. We know the opening times of the cake-shops. Entire regiments of us are now highly-trained in salad-avoidance techniques. That's right. I'm saying that we Britons are 'big-boned'. Not only do the ergonomics of modern cars reflect the fact, but problems with the seating in public transport nowadays have also begun to make themselves apparent. From the pushchair to the hearse even to our crematoria there have had to be a few tactful adjustments.
The UK, based on several studies, usually emerges as the sixth or seventh richest nation on the planet. right up there with the Americans, the Chinese, the French and the Germans. In the face of these facts, therefore, why are some of my fellow citizens hungry? These are not people in a central African disaster zone, or the victims of earthquakes and typhoons. These are people living around Colchester and Clacton.
There's a food bank in Colchester. It's up on the Mersea Road at St Margaret's Church. I learn that a similar food bank at Clacton is currently 'under development'. Over a twelve-month period between 2012 and 2013, UK food banks, which are run by the Trussell Trust, fed about 350,000 people. Of these, approximately 126,000 were children. Such people, mind you, are only the ones who have made themselves known.
As regular readers will know, I'm not a campaigning journalist of any sort. In fact I'd much rather be using this space for unfairly satirising people younger than myself, or for eulogising old pop music which I consider to be much better than anything which I'm hearing nowadays.
The thing is that the food bank story affected me in a way which I cannot adequately explain. I spent the first twenty-five years of my working life being comparatively poor. As somebody who chose a life in arts and entertainment,I now consider that I fully deserved any such privations as I suffered. Although I have never signed on, I don't think that I ever earned more than about £6 thousand a year until I was over 40 years old. As a professional musician, too, I got to wash an awful lot of saucepans and to cut many acres of lawns. I also developed the survival instincts of a post-atomic rat. For years I worked part-time in a restaurant, for instance. Restaurants waste all kinds of food. I used to eat it. For years, I house-sat for people who were abroad. Even during two periods of homelessness. I never actually had to sleep out in the cold. Whilst in the pursuit of artistic success, I became a bohemian Womble who learned to turn all sorts of waste fruit into alcohol. As someone who effectively, ran away to join the circus, I expected to be poor, to have to pad my Chelsea boots with cardboard, to charm the audience into buying me drinks, to sleep in vans and wash in service station sinks.
The people who use the foodbanks, did not volunteer for any of this rubbish. Nor did most of them benefit from my long training in survival techniques. Politically, as an extreme centrist, I would not be so simplistic as to blame any government for the situation. There many things wrong with the way we run this gaff called Great Britain. Most of them, I will have a swear about first thing in the morning before getting on with my day. But we shouldn't have to see Red Cross volunteers going into supermarkets at weekends, to collect food, so that 126,000 British children can have a bit of supper before bedtime. Not on my watch. Please.