Monday, 15 November 2010

Children in Need - A Cautionary Tale

Saturday was an interesting day. I had ventured to a local retail park to take the mini mes around a huge toy shop chain store to see if there was any ideas we could pass on to Santa. As you do on these types of trips we ended up in a child friendly eatery, this one having its own little play area. So after having had something to eat, not much for myself as I was still feeling a little under the weather from a stomach bug that nearly saw me lying in a crumpled heap (but that's another story) the minis galloped off, unfettered by heavy footwear to soft furnishings and limitless noise.

I, on the other hand, had other things on my mind. My football team were just about to kick off and I needed to find out the team news and keep up to date with the latest from the ground (wish I hadn't in retrospect but that is something else I won't be mentioning any further here). Now in days gone by it would have been a case of ushering the family into the car and driving slowly home whilst listening to all the whistles and tweets that medium wave radio brought you along with a match commentary. Nowadays, of course, it is tweets of a very different variety that enabled me to keep up with the action whilst allowing the chilblains their energy expending half hour.

Amidst all the football tweets I was reading came a single tweet that was re tweeted by a number of the hundreds of people that I follow and all in a good cause. Or so you would think because this tweet was from someone calling themselves @follwersinneed. They purported to be donating 50p for every follower they had to the BBC Children in Need appeal. Very nice I thought, but then I had a very uncharitable thought. I doubted their motives. To purge myself of these evil thoughts I immediately gave myself fast food milkshake brain freeze, both as penance and as a modern day equivalent of electric shock treatment. But my nagging doubts couldn't be shaken. Why was their donation dependant on the number of followers? Who were they? What if they got millions of followers? Where was the money coming from? Then, as I was just about to reorder another penance, the voice of reason appeared. Someone who was asking the questions that I had been thinking. And what's more it was someone well known. I almost used the word celebrity but I don't think he'd thank me for that description. But well known enough to have plenty of followers.

Dave Gorman (@DaveGorman) asked the tweeter the question directly. And by doing so, I felt that if the user in question was legitimate they would be able to provide .... Actually, I won't tell you any more about @followersinneed because Dave has blogged about it himself. So if you want to know the end of that story, then I suggest you visit there.

What the episode did remind me of though was an incident back in the mid 90's. I had known Mrs S for almost a year. I used to get the train to her place of work on a Friday night, spend a long weekend with her and get a train back on a Tuesday for my college lectures on Tuesday afternoon. I had to take two trains, one into town (15 minutes) and one out of town again (45 minutes). One Children in Need Friday night, I got on my second train and settled down with my book. After a couple of stops I noticed a bit of laughter coming from another area of the carriage. I looked up and saw a Transport Policeman putting his shoes back on. I was then approached by a young, male student. He explained that for Children in Need he had been sponsored by his friends to collect 1,000 pairs of socks from 1,000 people for £1,000. It all made sense now. The Transport bobby was obviously helping towards the cause by donating his socks.

I had my change of clothing for the weekend in my backpack so I went to open it to give the student one of the pairs hiding within. He stopped me and explained that he had to get them from the feet of the donators and to prove that they were each from a different person, he also had to photograph each person with their socks. Once he had my socks and photo , he put the items in a plastic bag, shook my hand and went on his way.

I never thought about it again until some 18 months later. On my way to work, I had the radio on in the car (I had found gainful employment by this time and had needed a car as part of the job). The news came on and it's top story was like a bolt out of the blue.

Two men had been convicted of gross indecency and ordered to sign on the sexual offenders register for ten years. Their crime. Collecting strangers socks "for charity". I realised I had been one of their victims. What annoyed me though was that no money had actually been raised for the charities.

So this week you will be asked, probably more than once, to donate to some lunatic sitting in a bath of beans or doing a pub crawl dressed as goldilocks. Prams will hurtle down a steep narrow and winding road in the Pennines with men dressed as babies desperately trying to point them in vaguely the right direction whilst rattling a collection tin as they sweep by. Or maybe it will just be a case of everyone going to work in their own clothes (whose do you normally go in?) And everyone will have a bloody good time, whether they want to or not.

And your money will probably go to the cause that it is intended for. But, don't feel guilty if you feel the need just to check. If in doubt visit Pudsey.

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