Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The cards we are dealt

Christmas is a funny old time of year. All the sentimental adverts, the supermarkets filled with tasty festive fare for the family and folks zipping around buying up gifts for those they love. I always find myself stepping back, kind of feeling like the kid who came to the party but no one asked to join in the games. Perhaps it is because I don't come from the unified sibling-filled family - the one singing carols around the fire. We don't all pile home to Mum and Dad's and sleep in our old rooms, joking about all the Xmases of old. It is something I hope I give my kids...

Anyway, there is something so forced about all the revelry, something as cliched as an Xmas card, that always unsettles me. I can't help but think about those who don't have the husband buying them diamonds, the cherubic kids to wake up with at dawn's crack on Xmas day, those who don't have a roof over their heads, or can't afford to shower their family in gifts.

It is the time of year when so many feel they have failed: their lives not picture postcard perfect, their stockings not full, their mistletoe unused. All that money wasted on pointless gifts and status symbols, makes me wonder - have we forgotten what Xmas is really all about in a sea of designer handbags and cashmere jumpers?

Jaysus the last thing you need is another person jangling a fecking box under your nose, or another charity shoving a wedge of dodgy Xmas cards under you door, but perhaps it is time to think of others, instead of ourselves? (Alongside thinking about all those near and dear of course... I'm not a total Grinch).  I read today that the UK is set for the biggest increase in child poverty in a decade. It is due to increase by a whopping 50% by 2020. This Xmas the number of homeless kids will hit an 8 year high - with over 13,000 sleeping in B&Bs, hostels or temporary shelter. 

Often I think back to conversations I had with desperate people who called Samaritans when I volunteered. The one thing that struck me most of all - was how much people's childhood shaped their lives.  Those first ten years so crucial to forming the people we will become. But if your life is one without love, or food, or shelter, or hope - then what for you?

Years ago I was an associate producer on a project called 'Make it Big,' where SKY TV pledged a million pounds to a youth charity. 10 were nominated and I (along with several other producer/director teams) had to make videos to illustrate what the charities set out to achieve. In the end The Chicken Shed won the money - and all credit to them. They were one of the 3 charities I had filmed, so I should have been thrilled. But there was one charity that absolutely broke my heart. (And apparently James Murdoch's - who watched our video and came in holding the VHS aloft, tears streaming down his cheeks). At the time it was called NCH and was based in Highbury, London. They funded many children's homes and various schools and places for troubled/abused/neglected kids. The work they did was simply incredible. I filmed at a school in Margate for extremely vulnerable kids - who had all faced neglect or abuse/sexual abuse - and used art as therapy. From all the darkness they experienced (and their tales were almost beyond comprehension) through drawing, painting and craft, they unleashed all their hurt, betrayal and anger. The art teacher helped them find a voice, one that had never been heard. I've never met braver people in my life.

One child, who was so badly neglected he couldn't cope with living with a family, walked with a limp from all the injuries he sustained - by those supposed to look after him. His art was brilliant. He was handsome, quiet, shy. He wouldn't look me in the eye, but followed me outside to give me a picture of a china cow he painstakingly had drawn and I brought it home and put on my fridge. It haunted me for years. In fact he still does. I often wonder what happened to him. He was months away from 16 (this was back in 2004) and was due to be moved on from his children's home to a council flat - alone in the world at such a young age. I kept asking the charity workers - what next for him? Who would look out for him? Why wasn't more done for him? Why was he dealt such shitty cards in life?

NCH is now Action for Children and their work is unparalleled at giving vulnerable children a brighter future. If this Xmas you have a spare fiver, or two quid, or whatever you tip the milkman/deliveryboy/binmen then please, please donate. Because not everyone got the great cards you (hopefully) did. Money you donate can really make a difference, and at Xmas, is there anything more heart warming than that?

Festive greetings to y'all. May it be your best one yet. CM x

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post. Thank you for your great writing, for putting it all in perspective, for making me think beyond myself and my little world. Please keep up your thoughtful, great writing. Happy New year!