Sunday, 15 March 2009

Red Nosed Young Carer

If you live in the UK then you can hardly failed to have noticed that last Friday was Red Nose day. Countless people had their hair shaved off (like my friend Harvey) or went to work in their pyjamas, the England football team allowed themselves to be berated for failing to qualify for Euro '08 by a comedy actor for comic affect, and a disparate group of celebs scrambled and clawed their way up mount Kilimanjaro all in an attempt to do something 'funny for money'. The bi-annual telethon has raised in excess of £58,000,000 so far this year and there is almost certainly another 10 or 20 million to come, all in aid of good causes based here and in Africa.

As discussed in the Jerry Bashing post I have mixed feelings about telethons but generally speaking Red Nose day is exemplary, showing that with the right balance of entertainment and information the format works brilliantly. Red Nose day steers a remarkably steady course between evoking sympathy for the various causes and pointing the way to doing something about the problems. For example, your money buys X number of mosquito nets or supports this many workers at a special centre for junior carers. The documentary sections tell moving stories of desperate need but avoids mawkishness and over-sentimentality. The comedy has evolved over the years from rather self-indulgent and amateurish routines to sketches and pastiches of the highest order. (Well mostly.)

One of the good causes highlighted this year was a centre for children who act as carers for disabled family members. The mini-documentary told of a sighted young boy who cared for his blind parents. The young lad cooked and cleaned and did the family shopping without any apparent input from social services or home-care agencies and in his spare time he played selflessly with his disabled younger brother. The story (although surely not the whole one) was both moving and inspiring. Money raised by Red Nose day went to fund a centre where the boy and countless other young carers like him could receive support and, most importantly, have heaps of fun.

Acutely aware of our own situation Polly and I watched with Matty. Polly casually asked him how he felt about such a place. Matt, obviously taken with the fun and games on show, admitted that he'd enjoy visiting a centre like that. Polly cautiously probed further to see how much he identified with the young carers represented on screen. Matty sighed deeply and admitted he sympathised with the boy. “I am a young carer,” he told us solemnly. Polly glanced at me. “Sometimes,” Matty continued, oblivious to our anxiety, “I HAVE to play with Sam.”

“Oh,” said Polly, breathing out slowly. “So you don't feel like you need to go to a centre like the one on the television?”

“I'd like to,” sighed Matty, watching the fun the boy was having. Then he brightened. “I know. You could break Sam's legs! Or give him diabetes! I could go then.”

Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry.