Today sees our intrepid band coping with yet more rain, and also the temporary loss of the Hollies as a base of operations. Those of you who have followed us for a while know the coping strategies we have evolved to cope with these frequent emergencies. So this week, noting that we filled 27 bags (some folk are on holiday) and delivered them from outside the Store under the Morrison’s awning, let us take a dive into the past. I give you… The Origins of Giving.
As this is designed to be mainly a qualitative blog, I will be giving at best only vague dates. This will enable me to not spend all night googling various sources of information. Firstly we join the early civilisations, known colloquially as ‘cavemen’. Of course, they wouldn’t have gotten very far without any cavewomen. This particular find involved an elderly female skeleton in a burial mound, somewhere in Britain around 1980. The interesting thing about this archaeological dig was that examination of these bones revealed a level of porosity not found in similar digs before. Basically, people in this era died long before they got this brittle. All her teeth were gone, and she would have been lame due to what we’d class as age-related bone deformities. It was a tough world out there, so how did she survive so long? Someone was caring for her. Younger relatives, perhaps, were bringing her food and sheltering her in their home. Who carried out this charitable act we will never know, but their legacy lives on.
Next we have the biblical Apostles, who decided after Jesus Christ had left them to prepare a place in Heaven that they wished to not only preach the Gospel, but to help folk along the way. To them we might well owe the concept of organised charity. While the Apostles were arguing about who would travel where to give out the message of Salvation, someone came to point out that right here, right now, there were widows and orphans and disabled people who were starving in the streets. What did they care? What were they going to do about it? Of course, this was something that could not be ignored. Jesus had told them clearly that what they do to others, they effectively do to him. Leaving helpless people to starve was simply not an option. Unable to agree on who might volunteer to take on this task, seven men were designated the task of the daily food distributions to the poor people of the town. Proving that both charity and the wish to delegate it are timeless traits(!)
A little further on sees us reach medieval society, still with no kind of benefits system or any kind of a safety net. Thousands upon thousands of people perished every day from what we would consider easily preventable conditions. Malnutrition, starvation or just a simple cut which needed cleaning out. Indeed, the concept of ‘washing’ was often considered heretical! Not surprisingly, the turnover of human life and death was a lot faster. People would have lots of children in the hope that a few survived! But hold on… what about the churches, those oppressive institutions which could get you burned at the stake for looking askew at a Bishop? Monks and nuns were routinely involved in mass, regular feeding of the poor and destitute. People often had a little land, and on it they grew native edible plants and herbs. Some who were good at it tended monastery gardens as lay brethren. The Catholic church, when it felt like it, could certainly look after those it classed as its own. This all-powerful, undeniably political organisation could also on occasion give lucrative contracts (spanning generations) to large, working families who could clean their white linens, make their garments or just produce the high-quality wool from sheep for their blankets and habits. Whole communities could become ‘adopted’ by the local religious body, its needs at least partly met and its invalids cared for. This type of charity depended largely on the whims of individuals high up in the church hierarchy. Henry the eighth did revolutionise the nature of religion when he became a protestant, but he also removed the safety net from under a lot of peasants’ feet. There are at least two sides to almost any story.
Victorian times saw the advent of a ‘middle class’; a segment of the population as determined to progress in society as the upper classes were to keep them out! These semi-educated people often enlisted the help of their partners and children in maintaining the family business. The breadwinner (by no means always the man) might be a baker, or a pharmacist. Here we delve into the shady areas of what people used to call ‘food’. Some less reputable stores would think nothing of adding ‘bulking agents’ to their foodstuffs which we would consider poison today. Yellow lead to make milk look more appetising was common, as was chalk and sawdust in breads. To be fair, the profit margin was very slim. Many store owners felt trapped in this cycle because it seemed like either the customers would suffer, or their families would. In a world which saw no kind of universal help for those in poverty, people often felt that they must look after themselves first. But even here, people could be found who did not seek to profit by deceit. Many business-owning folk found jobs for one member of a local family – often a child, admittedly – and then sent regular food donations to their elderly or infirm relatives. One hardworking young person could find themselves supporting their whole clan in this way. Again, monks and nuns, who get a lot of bad press today, were sometimes the quiet helpers of many poorer folk in their communities.
Today, with our NHS and our benefits system – held up as it currently is by the advent of Food Banks – it is easy to forget what our ancestors must have gone through in previous ages. My grandmother, born in 1896, remembered to me as a small child that the concept of ‘childhood’ did not exist when she was young. As soon as she could hold a needle she was taught how to sew. She taught me clothes-mending before I went to school too! Also, the idea that if I wanted something done right, I might as well be prepared to do it myself. Life lessons I would have tried to pass on, had I produced my own children. My grandmother also cooked a proper meal for us every weekday while she remained physically able. I like to believe that she was carrying on a tradition of caring as old as the human race.
God bless, folks! See you all next week for another gripping blog. Cats are still fine, by the way. We get queries after them every week.