Saturday 8 August 2009

Wacky races.

Every year at my school, with the Year 11s knee-deep into their GCSEs, the Year 10s would take time out of their studies (or glue sniffing or shoplifting or antenatal classes, whatever) to run Charity Week. During five days of the summer term, it would be their responsibility to arrange a series of events and activities for the rest of the school to participate in – wear-what-you-want days, tuck-shop breaktimes, throwing wet sponges at teachers… plus some disturbing encounter called The Ultimate Experience in which we’d blindfold Year 7s and make them crawl over gym mats covered in tin foil while spooky music played and we squirted them with water guns. (Good job we didn’t have mobile phones then or they’d have been straight onto Childline.)

As part of Charity Week, there would also be performances in the assembly hall during lunch hours. The funny kids did impressions of the teachers, the brainy kids ran quizzes and the starry-eyed kids put on a dance revue, all in return for a 50p entrance fee. Which is precisely how, one rainy lunchtime, I ended up miming to Dizzy by Vic Reeves and the Wonderstuff in front of 100 bewildered 12-year-olds. ‘Hang on,’ I thought, as I clumsily span around on the spot, ‘We’re supposed to be the cool kids in this place. And yet not a single bloody thing about what I'm doing right now is cool.’

From the moment we’re old enough to understand the concept of giving, we’re inexplicably taught that hand-in-hand with charity must go wackiness. According to the Unwritten Rules of Doing Good, in order to raise money, you must first wave goodbye to your street cred. You know the kind of thing I mean… Baked-bean-filled bathtubs. Soap stars in gunk-tanks. Newsreaders recreating Grease. Bucket-carrying students raiding tube commuters in rag week. Wearing your clothes backwards to work. Charity fundraising, it seems, just can’t happen without a hefty helping of ker-ay-zee. And I can’t get my head around it.

In everybody’s favourite episode of The Office (The One With The Dance), Tim famously sits out the sponsored-hopping, fancy-dress approach to Comic Relief fundraising. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ he says. ‘I’ve got nothing against this sort of thing. It’s all for a good cause. I just don’t want to have to join in with someone else’s idea of wackiness. It’s the wackiness I can’t stand. It’s like if you see someone outside Asda collecting for Cancer Research because they’ve been personally affected by it or whatever, or an old bloke selling poppies… there’s a dignity about that. A real, quiet dignity. And that’s what today’s all about,’ he says, sarcastically, as the rest of the office pin down an accountant and strip him from the waist down in the name of starving kids. ‘Dignity. Always dignity.’

Much like Tim, I tend to have a rather serious aversion to anything wacky. I don’t want to sound like a miserable bastard here. And I do appreciate that, in these strapped-for-cash times, charities have to work even harder to tempt people’s hands into their pockets for donations. But is wackiness really the only way to go about it? Can charity fundraising ever be considered cool?

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, in the run-up to my Super Sweet 30th birthday party at which I’ll be asking my nearest and dearest to bring not presents, but instead their wallets, to help me raise money for Breast Cancer Care. And, having done a decent job of un-learning everything I was taught at school, I’m hoping my education in charidee fundraising will go the same way – I'd like my charity bash to be enjoyable rather than excruciating.

I’m well aware that there’s something rather predictable about being diagnosed with cancer and then having a party to raise money for a cancer charity. (Perhaps ‘cool’ would have been to get breast cancer and then raise money for a donkey sanctuary?) But, conventional as it is, there’s no getting away from the fact that it just feels like the right thing to do. Surviving an illness like cancer is an oddly empty, anti-climactic experience, and so I can see why people so often do this kind of thing. Because, hell, what else can you do? You can’t change the fact that you had cancer. You can’t change the fact that anyone else around you might get cancer. You can’t cure the disease or magically shrink tumours. But what you can do is direct your energies – and hopefully some money – towards a cause that’s related to what you’ve been through. And, in this case, that cause is Breast Cancer Care: a charity that provided me with all the info I needed in a way I could understand it at a time when the concept of breast cancer was as unfamiliar to me as Swahili.

All that said, I’m wary of becoming another cancer-survivor cliché. Running marathons, jumping out of planes, posing with huge cheques in the local newspaper. I don’t want to have to live my life to the fullest, living each day as though it were my last. I want to live my life as I would have done before – getting elbowed on the tube, complaining that the Coronation Street writers still haven’t killed off Dev, and not feeling guilty about having wasted a precious day when I find myself still in my pyjamas at 3pm on a Sunday. I want to save up for holidays and go on diets, and look forward to my birthdays. I don’t want to celebrate my 30th birthday because at one point I feared I wouldn’t make it there. I want to celebrate it because it’s as good an excuse as any for a bloody good party. And I want to combine it with a charity fundraiser that’s cool, not cringeworthy.

And so my mates will doubtless be pleased to hear that there won’t be any embarrassing performances on the night, nor will I be running a sponsored disco-dance or insisting that people wear pink. Yes, there’ll be an auction. Yes, there’ll be a raffle. And yes, we’ll be collecting donations on the door. But there’ll also be sweets and cakes and goody bags, with a superstar DJ and a well-stocked bar. I can’t promise that it’ll be an idiocy-free zone (200 people + 2 bars = a fair share of daftness) but what I can guarantee is worthiness without the wackiness. Let’s just call it a sponsored piss-up.

- - - - -

A word of thanks…

While we’re on the subject of cool, I’d like to just take a moment to point you in the direction of some particularly cool places that have helped me in my mission to stuff 200 goody bags with things that my friends won’t abandon in the back seat of a cab on their way home.

First there's Happy Sweet Shop – an online emporium to make Willy Wonka jealous, packed with all the brilliant retro sweets you ruined your milk teeth with as a kid. You can follow them on Twitter here. Do say hello to the lovely Simon. He’s Happy Sweet Shop's Head Sweetmeister and he’s ace.

Then there’s the rather wonderful Purple Dogfish, the web design, development, marketing and print company. Rachael is their Head Of Ideas And Colouring In (isn’t that the best job title ever?), and she offered via Twitter to do something rather special (and top-secret) for the goody bags which I’m more than a little excited about.

Also well worthy of your attention is Coloured Rocks, a frighteningly comprehensive store filled with the kind of gorgeous jewellery that will have you dropping serious ring-size hints to your other half. Their resident PR Genius Paula sorted out a canny little addition to my SS30th goody bags and, incidentally, turns 30 the same week as I do.

I’d also like to introduce you to Miso Funky. The brains behind this cute-as-a-button online store is Claire (or @mooosh, as I’ve come to know her) and she’s very generously provided a raffle prize which I’ll be going out of my way to try to win.

There are, of course, a non-league football stadium’s worth of other people who have helped me to arrange this party – all of whom will get their thanks, too (I’m known to get a bit kissy when I’ve had a few G&Ts, so they can look forward to that). Besides, if I listed them all here I’d have to start a whole new blog.

I do hope you’ll forgive me, reader, for getting all salesy on you just now. I promise not to make a habit of it. I’m just assuming you’d rather I did that in the name of charidee than charge you 50p to watch me mime my way through another novelty-pop record.


Fletcher of the Day said...

Turning 30 is, I think, one of those checkpoints in your life where you stop and take stock of where you are and where you want to go. But I think you've had quite enough of the stock taking, so it's time for a No holds barred celebration!

Can't wait for the party! I picked up my raffle donation today and they packed it in Pink! In a pink bag! very thematic.

See you in a few weeks!


Jam Shambles said...

Have a fantastic 30th :o)

I'll be turning 30 in November and have no idea what to do to celebrate. I'm thinking I may get a tattoo... something special and meaningful to mark to occasion. We'll see!

Anyway, I hope the party goes with a bang and you have a fab night, you deserve it :o)

Thanks for the link to Coloured Rocks - so many pretty things, so little time! :oD

alhi said...

I found your blog the other day and spent the rest of the day reading it!
I hope you have a fantastic day (and night) and I wish I knew you personaally.
May your fourth decade be better than all the rest put together.


Freudus said...

cannot. bloody. wait.


clairol said...

Was happy to donate something and also gutted to not be logistically able to watch you miming to novelty pop. Everyone should do that on their 30th birthday!

Emma said...

we have just lost one of our favourite rugby girls to breast cancer and in leiu of flowers she asked for donations to macmillan cancer support after her memorial
where she has so far raised over £4000
Kay campaigned for Herceptin in 2005
and was an inspiration to us all

Anonymous said...

Hello Blog Owner,

Great way to tuch of cancer patient no comment more on this blog i pray to God Help for Every cancer patient.

Thanks to you

Unknown said...

I am inexplicably excited about the party, as you may have gathered already. I will be in pink. A bit. With an oversized bag big enough to contain many things I probably shan't need for a few hours.

Can't wait to see you, L. x