Do you know where you were on that date? I can remember exactly where I was – on a church youth weekend in a village in Swaledale. It’s a beautiful place, but not where I wanted to be that day. I would much rather have been at Wembley Stadium…watching Live Aid.
The closest I could get was insisting on spending most of the day glued to watching it on a little portable TV and praying that the signal didn’t fail. It’s actually quite scary to think how limited our media options were back then!
I was obsessed with making sure I got to see all my favourite acts:
Although the act that really blew my mind was Queen – I’d never seen such a fantastic performance!
But what I also remember about that day was my obsession with trying to donate. I must have torn myself away from the TV at least twenty times to walk up to the hill to the public phone box at the top of the village. I was a pretty penniless teenager – and so were most of my friends – but I felt moved to do whatever I could to contribute. We were trying to pledge the princely sum of £10.
We never got through. Which is probably a good thing: there were a lot of other people obediently trying to follow Bob Geldof’s plea to ‘give us your f****** money!’ But I was haunted by the horrifying pictures of human suffering that accompanied The Cars ‘Drive’ and I was determined to do something.
The next week at church, I took the plunge and I did do something.
I made an impassioned speech to the whole church – crying uncontrollably throughout most of it. Looking back, I am not sure what gave me the strength to see it through – other than the courage of my own conviction that what was happening in Africa was wrong, and the people in front of me needed to accept that they could play a part in making it better.
When it was over, I felt humiliated and embarrassed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it – even though most offered kind words of support. When I counted the money the impromptu collection raised, it was over £150. More than 15 times what I could have given on my own – and quite remarkable because it was substantially more than a typical weekly church offering. It was enough to take away any regret for embarrassing myself (though I have never done anything like that again!) but it wasn’t enough to make me feel like I had taken any kind of a step towards solving the problem.
So what does all this have to do with Simplify7?
Well, I wish I could say that I’ve continued to try to do something about feeding the poor of the world. I haven’t. At least, not consistently or passionately. I grew up, and fell into the pattern of thinking that almost all of us do in rich countries like the UK: that’s just the way the world is; we can donate in a crisis and do what we can, but the poor and hungry will always be with us because there just isn’t enough to go round. Even Jesus said, ‘the poor will always be with you’, right?
But the praying, thinking and reading I’ve been doing as part of Simplify7 have reminded me that this kind of thinking isn’t right. There is enough to go round – but we all have to be willing to have what we need, rather than everything we want. AND we all need to be willing to recognise that no individual has any greater right to a full stomach than any other. The problem is that word ‘all’.
Meanwhile, there are millions of people in the world who don’t have enough to eat – not just in Ethiopia, and other far-flung troubled places, but right here on our own doorstep. Whether it’s caused by war, drought, unemployment, poor parenting or whatever…I can’t do anything much about it on my own. But I feel I need to do more than I have been doing.
So, amongst other things, I’m holding a Pudding Party – an evening dedicated to the sweeter things in life, as the invitation says. That is, friendship and desserts. I’ll be looking for donations for Food Stop and refugee aid, but it’s a celebration and something that can be enjoyed for its own sake…just like Live Aid.
So perhaps it’s fitting that it will be just over 31 years to the day since that moment in history.