CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME, THEY SAY. So where exactly does that leave the homeless?

At the risk of appearing a miserable old git, which I’m honestly not, I’m going to eschew Duk-Duks, summer walks and other such trivalous frivialities yet again this week to write about more serious matters, like local politics, social injustice, and, erm, charity wanks. If you’ve just popped in for a bit of a laugh then feel free to have a butcher’s at the latest page (14) of the Hackenthorpe Book of Lies and to give the blog a miss this week, but that said I will try to work in the odd joke or two if I can, because the subject I’m writing about is, in my opinion, a bit of a laugh-or-cry one and I’m not really one for crying in public. Well not without a belly full of booze, at least…

Many readers will be unfamiliar with the concept of ‘charity wanks’, mostly because it’s a term I invented just a few weeks ago while under the alfluence of incahol, so I’ll make a brief diversion to explain that it’s got nothing to do with ‘charity shags’. A charity shag, of course, is a very special and lovely thing that a young lady can offer to a young man she likes but does not particularly fancy in an effort to cheer him up or boost his confidence. I’m guessing that can work the other way too occasionally, but suspect that in most cases it would have very little to do with charity and more to do with opportunism – or would that be judging today’s young gentlemen too harshly while projecting outmoded and unrealistic Freudian ideals of virtue and chastity onto today’s young Miss? Either way, I am wandering even further from the point and will stop it.

A charity wank, in a nutshell, is an act pursued for personal pleasure or gain which is passed off as an act of charity. The term refers to the hypothetical scenario of a 16yr old boy offering to undertake a sponsored wankathon in the privacy of his own bedroom ‘to raise money for the blind’. The reality, of course, is that onanism is an act that all 16yr old boys will perform anyway – almost constantly, if given the time, opportunity and not physically restrained – that has nothing to do with philanthropy or selflessness and everything to do with self-gratification and desire, as any good thesaurus or dictionary (but not the ones in Microsoft’s ‘Word’) will confirm.

Now while the terminology may be new (and personally I think it’s right up there with ‘metrosexual’, so please spread it about a bit and give credit where credit’s due) charity wanking itself has been around for years. Lots of marathon runners would run marathons for pleasure anyway (and possibly masturbate too, though that is neither here nor there), and in a way it’s probably no bad thing to tack an ‘in aid of charity’ onto a charity runner’s choice of leisure activity if the end result is money being raised for a good cause. Similarly, many major fund-raising events, like Red Nose Day, rely emphatically on individual acts of charisturbation for their success – as satirised brilliantly when David Brent emerged from behind his desk in The Office wearing a Bernie Clifton style ostrich (God, how’s that for an obscure 70’s comedy reference! See if you can spot any more*) around his waist – and that’s undoubtedly a good thing too.

But there’s a but, and the but is that in recent years the ‘wank’ element often seems to outweigh the ‘charity’ element to a degree that smacks of piss-taking, and that seems, in my opinion, completely unconscionable. Whether it’s the book of a frustrated author or poet self-published on Kindle or Lulu, ATOS’s sponsorship of the Paralympics, or even a weekend festival bankrolled by a multi-millionaire who uses it as an opportunity to show off his boy-toy car collection, there is a tipping point where raising money for charity crosses over into self-promotion, self-interest and self-indulgence, and that is probably not a good thing.

One such event that seems unbelievably ill-conceived, patronising and inappropriate is happening in Tunbridge Wells this very Saturday. It’s called Shack Attack, and it’s basically a ‘jolly’ for teams of middle-class (the woods are thick with ‘em around here) camping enthusiasts who will be building a one-night-only ‘shanty town’ in one of our nicer local parks where they will sleep to raise money for the world’s homeless. Now I don’t know about you, but to my mind this diminishes the plight of the homeless to the level of an It’s a Knockout challenge, only without the saving grace of a Stuart Hallrunning commentary and laugh track or the opportunity to play a joker and actually make a worthwhile point or two**. And that in itself would be bad enough, but to add insult to injury this event is being supported and has been promoted by the local authority, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, who announced it via the internet on the very same day they served an eviction notice on a charity Soup Kitchen and Drop-in Centre offering support for local homeless people!

Are you getting what I mean about laugh or cry yet?

And it doesn’t stop there, he says, donning his battered Jimmy Cricket hat: Wait a minute, come here, there’s more***… Below is a map of the Park where Shack Attack is scheduled to take place. If you look closely you’ll see two red dots in the upper section labelled ‘A’ and ‘B’, with ‘A’ representing the site of the now closed Soup Bowl and ‘B’ representing one of the park entrances.

Calverley Grounds. Home of ‘Shack Attack’. A high-end Hooverville for the more discerning dosser. A Champagne shanty town for those who want to sleep rough in comfort. A… Well, you get the idea with that one…

Yes, that’s right; those glamping for pleasure to raise money to combat world homelessness will be doing so only yards from the spot where T.W.B.C. evicted a long-established charity offering a few hours respite to the homeless within their own community. Words like ‘Hypocrisy’ spring readily to mind, don’t they? Along with a variety of expletives generally considered far more offensive (I’ve added a ‘generally’, there for any Scottish or Irish readers) than the PG rated ‘wank’ I’ve probably overused in this piece already.

For those who are taking part in the event – including Lovely Local BBC Weather Girl, Kaddy ‘she-can-select-my-club-and-wipe-my-balls-any-day-of-the-week’ Lee-Preston2 I send my best wishes; I hope you raise some money and that what’s left after admin actually does some good. It may well be that you’ve never even heard of the Soup Bowl and its closure, or that you hadn’t really thought it through, or even that you genuinely do want to help the homeless just so long as it’s the ‘away’ homeless and not the ‘home’ variety of homeless who just lay around all night messing up the appearance of your lovely town. Either way, I really do hope you all have a good night, stay dry and warm, and raise lots of money. As for T.W.B.C. and the organisers of Shack Attack, all I can really do is paraphrase Stuart Hall on that previously mentioned It’s a Knockout and declare ‘Nul Points’. You really should be bloody-well ashamed of yourselves. In closing I would offer this:

  • If I was a homeless person living in Tunbridge Wells I would be tempted to go and join in on Saturday night. I’m guessing there won’t be an amnesty on shack building for the genuinely homeless, though, and that any non-council approved person, however desperate, trying to find shelter in the park would find him or herself ejected and possibly even arrested.
  • If I was a volunteer worker with the homeless looking to raise awareness regarding the Soup Bowl’s plight I would be tempted to visit the campers at Shack Attack with soup, bread and information, in the hope that irony could achieve results where reason and lobbying have failed.

I’m not either of those things, though; I’m just a bloke who moans a bit online but is generally too bloody self-absorbed to do anything about it. To that I will put my hands up, and I’ll further acknowledge that it is almost as wanky as the charity wanking I’ve written the last 1000 words or so to expose. I think that ‘almost’ is an important distinction, though, and hope that you, dear reader, will agree with me…

1Oh, PS: At the time of writing references to Stuart Hall of ‘It’s a knockout’ fame seemed not only harmless but also pleasantly nostalgic. Since publication, however, Stuart Hall has been revealed by operation Yewtree as a vile pervert who sexually abused underage girls. The bastard.
Oh, PPS: Sorry, Kaddy, for the mildly sexist ‘golfing’ joke, which I couldn’t resist though I probably really should have, and for retweeting one of my tweets on this topic. And thanks for the lovely weather we’ve had for the past few days too. All the best for tomorrow night. Drink a cuppa-soup for me. 
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4 thoughts on “CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME, THEY SAY. So where exactly does that leave the homeless?”

  1. We saw the big gazebo in Calverley Grounds on Saturday night (and a big, costly gazebo at that); while this event might raise awareness for homeless around the world, I do feel that Charity should begin at home, and a few sarnies, cup-a-soups and a bit of care to the real homeless in Tunbridge Wells ( and yes, this middle class town does have them. And Housing-Associstion homes. We aren’t all millionaires) would have been a bit more helpful.

    1. Thanks for comment, Carolyn.

      There are people who help out with soup/sarnies etc for homeless in Tunbridge Wells, but from what I can gather they’re not helped or supported very much in their endeavours by TWBC or the will of most TW residents. The Soup Bowl was slightly different, in that for 25 years it opened for a couple of hours daily, offering practical advice and support along with the soup as well as offering the homeless a place where they could interact with other people without the excuse of ‘unlawful assembly’ or whatever the term is being used to move them on.

      I’m given to understand that the Soup Bowl is still limping along, but struggling to do so from a variety of venues which are made available by local churches etc in rotation. Hardly the best scenario for volunteers offering their time, I imagine, but even worse for the people they are helping, who are hardly the best equipped to organise their movements around complex, constantly changing routines and timetables. The Soup Bowl needs a fixed, permanent, fit for purpose base, but that’s dependant on the goodwill of TWBC and the people of Tunbridge Wells, which so far seems, middle class ‘jollies’ for the world’s homeless aside, lacking. Perhaps Kaddy and some of her friends at the BBC Local newsroom could do a feature on the Soup Bowl and its plight for a slow news night? You never know, with a bit of celebrity endorsement maybe enough consciences could be pricked to make something good happen 😀

  2. Hi David yes you are correct about the churches, they do as much as they can, The bridge Trust gives out free sleeping bags as i have given away quite a few, so its almost going back to the days of the parish poor law relief system to help the needy. I walked through Calverley Grounds on the day – it seemed more like garden sheds then shanty towns and a huge white marque tent and not even the blue horrible chemical loos that you get at festivals and fishing lakes but a proper mobile loo block. This was some posh shanty town! If that was to raise awareness of the homeless then i think it failed doubly. Seeing was believing.

    1. Yes, very much like poor law relief, except the gap between richest and poorest is actually now wider and the ‘spirit of philanthropy’ that underpinned social change surrounding poor law relief seems sadly lacking among today’s monied. What we’ve got now is the hideous ‘Big Society’ mentality that surreptitiously puts the onus back on the helpless helping themselves and the commodification of charity that makes it more about the feel-good factor for the giver than it does the support of the needy. The problem with charity donations based on personal preference rather than social taxation that benefits the needy is that the ‘sexy’ causes get the lion’s share while the doubly disenfranchised un-sexy charities go under, taking those dependent on them with them. Homelessness, poverty, mental health, disability, old age… not very sexy, are they, compared to cutesie pandas, donkey sanctuaries and toddlers who want desperately to swim with dolphins (WTF?) while they’ve still got the chance. Not that I’m against ‘last wish’ charity, mind you, or animal welfare charity, but it’s bloody hard to disengage from that kind of thing and see the bigger picture ennit? How many ‘non-people’, which is how the homeless are generally viewed, does it take in charity currency to equal one dying child whose parents have sold on the idea of swimming with 8ft long sexual predators, or even one scruffy, knackered donkey, come to that?

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