x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The do-gooders have no cure for my compassion fatigue

Far from fund-raising campaigns and awareness days being occasional special events, a little research has revealed they come along about every 12 hours.

Anyone who has spent time in the UK recently will tell you it's been a chilly old winter, so much so that the first flowers are only now peeking through the frozen earth. Although welcome, these harbingers of spring are far too late for those holidaymakers who booked holidays for this month to gaze upon Wordsworth's famous "host of golden daffodils" in the Lake District. The poor things are still shivering somewhere beneath the ground with their pyjamas on.

But if the real things are nowhere to be seen, plastic facsimiles on our High Streets may overwhelm you. March is National Daffodil Month, the annual fund-raising initiative for the Marie Curie Trust, which provides specialist nursing care for people suffering from cancer. In return for dropping a few coins into collecting boxes being rattled by volunteers on your way to work, you receive a bright plastic bloom in your lapel, and a tiny surge of self- righteousness to go with it. Well worth the money it is too.

Trouble is, I've got so little money left to give. With the annual London Marathon now only five weeks away, I've already been cleaned out by a host of friends and relations each asking me to sponsor their torturous attempt to lumber round London's 42km course in aid of some charity dear to their hearts. Yet even they are having to accept loose change rather than a fat cheque. My wallet has only just recovered from Mothering Sunday last weekend.

Whether taking Mum out for a slap up meal at an expensive restaurant or merely handing her a bouquet of dog-eared flowers, it's a brave man who can resist the blandishments of an advertising industry dedicated to shaming you into parting with your cash. Add to that a card and a box of her favourite chocolates, and it soon adds up. It turns out that multifarious good causes jostling for both our attention and credit card details have ripped up the calendar between them like wild dogs devouring some succulent carcass. Far from fund-raising campaigns and awareness days being occasional special events, a little research has revealed they come along about every 12 hours.

Take Thursday, March 11 for instance. As well as falling slap bang in the middle of World Glaucoma Week, the date was also designated as World Kidney Day, (designed, somewhat superfluously in my opinion, "to raise awareness about the importance of our kidneys"). If the prospect of having to remember all this sent you into a darkened room with a splitting headache, then you were in luck, because the following week was not only designated part of National Bed Month, but was also proclaimed Brain Awareness Week.

And with this month still only three quarters completed, we're not finished yet. We've still got to surmount World Purple Day, World Meteorological Day, and my own particular favourite, World Theatre Day before March is through. And even as it staggers across its own finishing line, the final few days have been earmarked as Hospital Broadcasting Week, paying homage to those dedicated (and much-derided) amateur disc jockeys who provide a constant stream of jolly music and inane chitchat to the sick and dying (even if one is tempted to remark: "Haven't they already suffered enough?").

Of course, only a curmudgeon would begrudge all these good causes having their moment in the sun. After all, there is so much to do, and so many people to help. But unless we're careful, the consequence of all these special events can only be compassion fatigue, as witnessed already in the frosty response to the many street campaigners attempting to buttonhole passers-by in central London. The merest sign of a man in a baseball cap approaching with a clipboard, a winning smile and a cry of "Hey, just give me two minutes" is already enough to send most pedestrians scurrying in the opposite direction muttering darkly about "meddlesome do-gooders".

Never mind. I've got my plastic daffodil, and even though I'm sponsoring the forthcoming marathon at least I'm not having to run in the thing. In any case, it'll soon be April and we'll have a whole new set of national awareness events to savour. Including, I notice, Noise Action Week, an initiative to raise awareness about noise issues. If nothing else it should at least silence those darned tin rattlers for a bit.

Michael Simkins is a writer and actor based in London