Today I tackled the second job on Mrs Head’s long standing list of chores to do. “Clean out the aquarium” is now crossed out but some clever clogs had drawn a skull and cross-bones next to it. The girls took the news of Bubbles and Vanilla’s demise better than I had feared. One of my daughters (the one who wants to be a veterinarian but only if the animals are not sick) confided, “Bubbles and Vanilla, I didn’t know what their names were.”
Regardless, I am pleased to report, that today’s chore-related death toll stands at ZERO.
Job number two on the list was to take several unwanted boxes of assorted clothes, toys and books to Oxfam. For the uninitiated, Oxfam stands for Oxford Famine Relief. It is charitable endeavour that occupies low-rent properties and is staffed by volunteers. They receive donations of unwanted household goods (like those in the boxes Mrs Head has been wanting out of the flat for a month now) and sells them on to the public. The principle is that there is very little overhead and the profit is ploughed straight into African famine relief.
Oxfam is a good cause and I am happy to do something, albeit small, which provides direct action in response to the latest famine to strike the Horn of Africa. Dear readers, I hope you are familiar with the situation in that part of the world. If, by chance, your news diet consists solely of Brad and Angelina and Justin Bieber, please take a moment to find out more about the famine here.
Despite the self-esteem boost that the charity drop-off gives me, it is countered by two issues I have with the Oxfam experience.
First: Oxfam’s location. The shop is located at the top end of our street. However, our street is medieval and has never evolved from its original, narrow layout. Oxfam sits on the northern edge of the ancient lane, where the road narrows even further. Therefore parking is a nightmare. Traffic markings on the antiquarian pavement warn motorist not to stop. Indeed to do so means that traffic cannot pass by. It is that narrow.
The boxes to be donated were heavy and plentiful in number. I asked my two youngest daughters if they would like to break the 30 day period of national mourning for Bubbles and Vanilla and help me do the Oxfam run. They baulked momentarily until I took a fake phone call from a starving child in Africa.
“What’s that young child in Africa? You have no food and are starving to death? Well I would like to help you but I need two people to help me shift the boxes. My daughters can’t help because they want to watch reruns of America’s Next Top Model. But don’t you worry little African child. I will take the boxes up to Oxfam myself, even if I have to do it one item at a time. I won’t let you down. You just hang in there because it is going to take me hours with no help…Hello?…Hello, little African child? No! Please don’t cry.”
Two minutes later the girls were carrying the boxes to the car.
WE managed to pull over to the side of the lane. A chorus of beeping horns stirred behind us. I jumped out of the car and held my Black Berry aloft to an irate taxi driver. “I’m dropping off stuff for Oxfam, I got a little starving African child on the phone right here. You want to tell him he will get nothing to eat because you can’t wait two minutes? Huh?!”
This brings me, dear readers, to the second reason I rue the Oxfam trip.
A few years back Oxfam started to become a chic and trendy place to shop. Champagne socialists could synchronise both their ethics and their need for designer labels by scouring the rails for hidden gems. Oxfam staff soon wised up and some branches now stock primarily premium donations only. In the old days the charity was grateful for any donations. Now a volunteer screens each incoming box. Those deemed to fall short of the required quality mark are refused.
I stood in the doorway of the shop, car horns filling the air. In my outstretched arms I held the box out for the quality control officer to check. Being one who hates rejection, I was more concerned that our junk would not be of a sufficient standard rather than creating a massive central London traffic jam.
It was the Man from Del Monte moment: waiting for the donation to be approved. I gestured with my eyes that the boxes’ content was in fact, quality. Finally, the squat inspector nodded and directed me to leave the boxes. I turned to hug my daughters. Accepted! We had been judged righteously; the man from Del Monte said, ‘Yes.’
Outside I motioned my thanks to the long queue of motorist waiting for me to unblock our street. I shouted out to the taxi driver, “Those two minutes probably saved an African child’s life.” The cabbie leaned out of his window and shouted back, “Why don’t you skip a meal and send him that, fat boy!”
Two hours later and already one of the books we donated is in the Oxfam shop’s window display. The price sticker reads £5.99. I stop myself before I regret not putting it on Ebay.
So the second chore was complete: a small act of kindness. I hope our few boxes of unwanted clothes, books and toys are like a pebble dropped in a lake. I hope the ripple effect from the radiating circles reaches all the way to Africa. I hope the effort goes someway to balancing the karma of yesterday’s fish massacre. I am pleased my daughters chose righting social injustice over Tyra Banks.
But I feel bad that I lied to my two girls. I decide that I must confess to them or risk sullying the whole exercise, the whole lesson in helping others. “It wasn’t really an African child on the phone you know. I was pretending”
Keep the Faith,