As the end of the year approaches, it is right to look back over the past 12 months and celebrate one’s achievements.
Think of it as your very own New Year’s Honours List, in which you are the sole recipient. There are no TV celebrities, film legends, sports stars or extremely uninteresting civil servants with very large pensions. It is just you.
Pretend you are the Queen dishing out the gongs. What achievement would you recognise, above all others, from 2012, to heap praise on. (Obviously, you will have to suspend disbelief here as you will have to act the role of both the Queen as well as the recipient of the gong.)
Cast your mind back and recall your personal highlights of the year. Consider the ways you made a difference. How did you contribute to Team GB, rather than Team Me?
If you are like me, this will not take you terribly long.
I can think of two things. First, I won a food writing award, but this is not why I think I am brilliant. No, the reason I think I am brilliant is that I overcame my fear of public speaking to get up on the stage and say “thanks very much.” I also did this without swearing. Does anyone else have that anxiety? That suddenly, for no reason, you will blurt out an entirely inappropriate naughty word or phrase?
So instead of saying, “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the judges...” what you actually say is, “Thanks very f***ing much, you b***ards.” This has never happened to me, but I’m worried it might. The fact it didn’t happen when I got my award, and that I was only a little bit drunk, is a cause of huge personal pride.
Second, I grew a moustache.
Of the two amazing things I did in 2012, it is this, the growing and tending of whiskers of grey and ginger, that stands unequivocally as the most amazing.
It may not rank alongside Mo Farah pulling off the 5,000m and 10,000m Olympic gold double, or Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France. But for me it represents an effort of rare achievement. Because I did it not for me, or my family, but for people I will never meet.
I have written before about our youngest daughter Livvy’s health scare last month. We were put under the care of Birmingham Children’s Hospital’s oncology department after she was diagnosed with a tumour. The mass was subsequently removed and found to be benign. Liv is now fine.
I decided, on a whim, to raise a bit of cash for the hospital’s £4 million appeal to build a new cancer unit. I couldn’t shave my head, as this is already shaved, and my offer to abseil naked down the BT Tower was vetoed at an early stage by my wife.
As it was November, I decided to do the “Movember” thing and grow a tash, only I would raise a few quid for the Children’s Hospital rather than male cancer charities. I didn’t think anyone would mind.
I set myself a target of raising £100 and created an online donations page on www.justgiving.com. This is a web-based service for people like me who are useless at walking around with a sponsorship form. (At school, I used to invent names on sponsorship forms and donate the cash from my own pocket money, just so I didn’t have to cold call neighbours and relatives.) All the paperwork is done online by the website geeks and crucially you don’t even have to speak to people. Brilliant.
The justgiving.com people claim tax relief on the money on your behalf – boosting the value of donations – and take a small cut for their services. The system is carbon-neutral and doesn’t lead to icebergs melting, so I think it’s probably ethical. Certainly, the Children’s Hospital, and many other charities, support it and that’s good enough for me.
To my surprise, I hit my initial target in a couple of days and did so without making too many people feel guilty. By now I had got the fundraising bug and I increased my target to £263.17, which seemed like a nice round number. Miraculously, I busted the new total. In the end, I hit £420. Yes, me. I raised £420 and I’m hopeless at this stuff.
I’m slightly kicking myself that I didn’t set my original target at £1 million rather than £100. On the basis that I quadrupled the sum I intended to raise, I could have single-handedly raised the £4 million needed for the new cancer unit. Of course, it’s logic like this that explains why I am a journalist and not a mathematician or a professional fundraiser.
Still, let’s return to the reason why growing a moustache and raising £420 is my achievement of the year, possibly the century. Maybe it’s the onset of (early) middle-aged angst but at the moment I don’t feel like I can actual “do” a lot. The economy is shot; job security is shot; stick your head above the parapet and you will get shot. There is a pervasive sense of helplessness.
Here, however, with the Children’s Hospital fundraising, was a way, a very small way, I could make a very small difference. In isolation, my actions will not change anybody’s life but cumulatively, somewhere down the line, some good may come from the fact I drew a moustache and looked like an extra in Downton Abbey for a month.
People I barely know donated money, including a Sainsburys home delivery driver called Simon. Cheers, Simon. Then there was Victoria Coliandris and Joan Franklin, who I don’t know. They donated, too. Thanks Victoria and Joan. Anonymous gave £50. Thanks, Anon. Thanks everyone – and happy new year to you.
* You can contact Birmingham Children’s Hospital fundraising team at: Fundraising Team, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham, B4 6NH
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, call: 0121 333 8506