This evening I took my 3 kids down to Camden Town to give out some clothes we had bought in Primark earlier. We had been told about the event, organised by Streets Kitchen, by our fantastic friend Lucie Hill-Hempstead, who is genuinely one of the most inspirational people I know.
Lucie is only 23 and in addition to being the mother of two young children, is already a seasoned campaigner. She has recently started the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness and if anyone deserves to be Prime Minister it is young Lucie.
We have had a wonderful time in the last few days, catching up with family and friends – a highlight was Lucie’s riotous party on Saturday night, where my middle child Stanley delighted the crowd with his dance moves. I have bought them lots of toys and the fridge is full. Which is how it should be at Christmas – if you can afford it.
However, I felt it was important that the kids should learn to see the other side of Christmas, to discover that times can be hard and some people do not have homes to go to. Which is why I wanted them to see the volunteers at work in Camden tonight. I wanted them to see the importance of giving as much as receiving.
I’m not really sure how much went into the little ones’ heads, though I think their older brother, who is very thoughtful, may have been more aware of the significance of what we were doing. I am incredibly proud of my oldest son; two years ago he was a very troubled soul and I can genuinely say how impressed I am by him now. He still has his moments, and I fear the moods of adolescence are not far away, but he has come so far. He understands the complexities of life in a way that many adults do not, yet still has a child like wonder at the world.
Today I bought him a pet lizard from the slightly alarming Jumanji Pets in Kilburn and seeing his face light up was truly magical. I found my eyes brimming with tears in the cab home as the 3 boys started singing along to a cheesy pop song on the radio – I cannot tell you happy it makes me to make them happy.
I think this is how the vast majority of parents feel about their children, which is why so many of us spend way too much money at Christmas. I wrote earlier about the nauseating spectacle that was Black Friday and I think is very hard to avoid expressing your love for your children without getting caught up in the trap that giving more (and spending more) is the only way to show you care. Obviously time is precious – I would love to spend more time with my kids – but there is always that nagging doubt at the back of your head that you just haven’t spent enough. Which of course is totally insane, as putting yourself into horrific debt is never a good idea.
I mention debt as this was in the papers this week:
Despite Gideon’s emphasis on belt tightening austerity, personal debt has never been higher. The love we show for our kids is based in Never-Neverland, on credit cards, payment plans and remortgage money. A slight rise in the base rate or a shock to the economy and who knows what would happen? I don’t want to be a doom monger, largely because I think the narrative of doom is paralysing and disempowering, but I think the the amount of debt people get themselves into is scary. I also think it is wrong to assume that debt is a result of heinous profligacy; rather it is just spending a bit too much a bit too often when your wages aren’t really that great.
Obvious we all know people who are silly with money for a variety of complex reasons, just as we all know people who eat too much and drink too much – for a variety of complex reasons. As a society we are addicted to consumption and debt is a symptom of that problem.
I’m not going to give you anything from The Flats today as I have sent it to a professional book editor to give it a bit of a twiddle. It will cost me a bit of money, but I think a fresh eye is essential. I feel it is what it needs and I think when your network leads in such an obviously good direction, you have to say yes.
Instead here’s some music, which I also think reflects the true meaning of Christmas. It’s from the 90s (of course) but what was true then is still true today: