A Decent Wee Wummin

A Decent Wee Wummin

 My granny had a phrase for folk that gave more than they had the means or the time to. ‘She’s a decent wee wummin, that yin.’

(Occasionally she’d say it about a man).

She didn’t offer this compliment to everyone we met. Few had earned it, but those who did were clearly held in high esteem by my gran, judging by her respectful tone.

It’s a phrase I haven’t heard in a long time. Not since my Granny passed.

I was born and was raised in Bellshill Lanarkshire. The Lanarkshire of the seventies and eighties was a curious mix of affluence- people were paid well at out local steelworks- and deprivation- those same people struggled through periods of industrial action. In 1980 the workers stayed out for fourteen weeks.

That’s fourteen weeks without pay, without means, for working men and women and their families. They took this action out of principle. The hardship they endured in those long weeks foreshadowed the extreme decline and poverty that was to come to the area and its residents after the closure of these works and the loss of so very much from our communities.

During these periods of industrial action, our townspeople, showed those traits and characteristics that I’ll forever associate with the people of my hometown.

Butchers and grocers provided meat and food packages. Local coal merchants gave what they could. Social clubs filled halls with warmth and welcome. People looked after each other, even if that only meant a kind word or an understanding or supportive glance from a friend.

This is the Bellshill I frequently write of and the people I try to show to those few who bother to read my books. Funny people. Kind people. Hard, welcoming, gallus and good people.

Senior and young holding hands

In this modern world of Duck-faced selfies, grasping consumerism, and paranoia about our immigrants, it can feel as though those times, and the people who lived in them, are long gone. That the values our people held and demonstrated so readily have vanished forever to be replaced with blinkered self-absorption and hearts as black as our yearly Fridays.

The media feeds us a perpetual loop of doom and an image of ourselves that segregates each of us from the other. We look at each other with scorn and envy. We treat our neighbours with suspicion and mistrust. We fear foreigners when each of us is an immigrant to this little island. Facebook and Twitter seem filled with hate and disdain, cynicism hangs over us daily.

None of this is reality.

The people I populate my stories with, the kindness they exhibit, are not a relic of the past, Good people, decent wee people still exist.

 

An elderly woman was robbed in Bellshill recently. She lost her belongings at a time when few of us could afford to. Thankfully she seems to have been unhurt… physically.

This kind of incident can happen anywhere, in any town, village or city. People of any ethnicity or means can be mean-spirited enough to prey on those most vulnerable to them.

On Facebook today. A lady named Elaine Lyness Ramsay asked for donations with which she could perhaps replace the woman’s loss.

Elaine has done what I know most of us would like to think we would do… if only we had the time. Elaine put herself in the lady’s shoes. Felt her loss deeply enough that she couldn’t ignore it. She worried about an elderly woman who’d lost her money and a portion of her dignity. Felt how vulnerable the woman must’ve felt. Concerned herself with whether the lady would have money to pay for food, or electricity or heating.

She visited the police station, she found a route to getting any funds raised to the lady involved and she gave people a means to donate.  And our people did respond and donate what they could, just as their families did throughout the hard times of the past.

Thanks to Elaine, this lady will know for certain that there are still good people in her town who can’t see someone knocked badly. Who refuse to let someone suffer, or feel alone and uncared for. .

Isn’t that what Christmas is about?

Isn’t that what being from Bellshill means?

Elaine. A Decent wee Wummin.

 24th December. Update:

Elaine has to date collected over £600 pounds in cash and stacks of food and goods for the lady. 

We can all be incredibly proud of Elaine and those people who donated for this wee wummin.  

Milk

Two years ago I undertook a challenge to raise funds for Mary’s Meals. In the next week or so I’ll be launching another challenge, in the meantime, here’s a recap of the 30 Day Milk Challenge:

Milk

 

The Idea

During the month of May, 2011; I decided to undertake a challenge. It was a bit Jesus-y this challenge, not in a water to wine kind of way (not sure how productive I’d be given that gift), but rather in a starving in the desert, self-denial kind of way. I set out to survive (and hopefully thrive) on a diet restricted to milk, water, and daily multi-vitamins for the duration of 30 days.

 

No food, no alcohol, no anything, but milk and water.

 

My challenge began on 1st May and ended successfully on the 30th, with only one or two hitches, defeats, and minor embarrassments along the way. During the 30 days I learned a great deal about the difference between what we, as people, need and what we just want. Often our wants are mistaken for needs. When you don’t eat for 30 days, it redefines for you the number of calories it takes to not only function, but thrive as well as redefining the difference between want and need.

 

The 30 Days

The first two days, were spent ignoring hunger pangs and licking salt from the back of my hand. I wasn’t doing tequila shots, my body desperately craved the salt. Those days were also spent trying and failing to consume 4-5 pints of full-fat milk a day. I found this far too filling and on day 3 had to switch to semi-skimmed milk. Much better. By the 5th day, and bearing in mind that I lived with a challenging 2 year-old, the first coffee of the day was to prove a necessity that I couldn’t do without, so I added it back in.

After that, believe it or not, the rest was easy. I never once felt hungry, I felt full all the time actually. I didn’t crave any food in fact I lost all interest in it. Life generally became a bit simpler without having to organise meals, just get a bottle of milk. All in all I felt like a bit of a cheat as I wasn’t constantly having to fight the urge to eat and apart from the occasional energy crash and sleep to recover, it was ridiculously easy…..Until day 23.

Day 23 was a really windy day and as a result all transport out of fife to Edinburgh was halted for a few hours in the evening. My stomach, in a crowded train station, finally let me know its displeasure. I’ll spare you the details here, but it was unpleasant in the extreme. After that, I had stomach cramps almost continuously until day 30. Sleep was elusive.

Days 28 -30 also proved to be a challenge. The toughest days by far. I was hungry, very hungry. Food smells were torture, I dreamed about food all night, I day-dreamed about food all day, I would happily have bitten passing dogs, but there was no way I was giving up this close to completion. The hunger reminded me of my childhood and motivated me to finish. Also I thought about all the kind donations I’d received and didn’t want to let anyone down.

 

The Motivation

I’m not a religious man, despite the Jesus references earlier. I’m not the raise money for charity or Chugger type either. Never been the guy who takes time out of his day, week, or month to help others. So what’s changed? Nothing. I was introduced to a charity called, “Mary’s Meals, who feed and educate one child for a year for every £9.00, donated.

 

So what? I’ve walked past hundreds of people in my daily life who have been raising funds for worthy causes, so why did this one motivate me to effectively punish myself for a month?

The answer is simple: I live a privileged life. I think that most people in Britain, certainly most of those whom I interact with on a daily basis, have no real concept of how fortunate we are to live in Britain, and certainly have no idea (generally speaking) of what it means to go without.

 

Going Without

My family and I never go without a meal and actually have much more than we need. My son’s never known hunger (thankfully); he’s never gone to bed after a day of being hungry and woken up the same way. Neither has my wife, the majority people in this country haven’t, but I have.

I was brought up in a fairly impoverished environment, with most of my family, being mentally ill and/or alcoholics. My siblings and I, in our childhood, spent many days, frequently wondering where our next meal was coming from, and struggling to survive abuse and neglect from the adults in our lives. School was very much NOT a priority for us in those days except as a place to escape to for a few hours, see our friends and to receive a school dinner. I ate at my best friend’s house almost every day at one stage.

 

The memory of those days came back to me vividly upon learning of Mary’s Meals goals, probably because I associate meals with school, and set me on course for this challenge. Mary’s Meals encourages education by feeding children at schools all over the world.

I recalled memories of my mum trying to feed 3 people on a budget of £23.00 a fortnight and sharing a tin of soup between a family for a meal. Memories of items such as soap, shampoo, juices, fruit, and vegetables; classified by the Social Security as “luxuries”. Memories too of every item of clothing I ever owned, having belonged to at least one other person before me. Finally, memories of homeless-shelters and living with a stranger who we were taught to call dad. My family was far from unique in the area we lived in.

 

I have been fortunate and have worked extremely hard to educate and remove myself from this cycle of poverty, drugs, depression and cyclic failure. Due to this, it strikes a deep chord in me to see a charity like this doing the same for so many children across the world.

All anyone needs is the opportunity to make a better life for themselves. Being fed and educated is the very least a child should reasonably expect from life.

People who escape deprived upbringings and create a better life for themselves inevitably feel guilt about what they have and that’s the brick wall I had hit. This was my solution.

 

I will not be doing it again, and I do still like milk.

Through the money kindly donated to my challenge, Mary’s Meals will feed and educate around 60 children for a whole year. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who donated this money. Thank you.

Mark Wilson

31/5/11

http://www.marysmeals.org.uk/