Saturday, 9 April 2011


My mind is haunted by the picture of an elephant, aged and worn, being belaboured by a couple of thugs.

It was taken in secret by a group of animal activists and when it was aired on TV it launched a nationwide howl of protest. Capitalising on their success, the activists picketed the circus and succeeded in driving its audience away.

There was a second heart-rending photograph of which few took notice. It showed the elderly couple who own this small circus. The man is bewildered, the woman weeping. Obviously they knew nothing of the cruelty which had wrecked their lives. They were asked how long they could survive without an audience. About a week, the old man said, and no doubt in the shallow hearts of the acne-ridden, greasy-haired mob who picketed the circus a little flame of joy was lit.

Few people of my great age have been left with any affection for the human race. If there were a divine force that created it in its own image, my advice to it would be get a face lift. The image is dreadful.

Has no one else any sympathy for the old people who owned the elephant? Their way of living is so precarious that a week without an audience drives them into poverty. Yet this couple have kept and fed an elephant for six months in idleness whilst they searched desperately for a home for it where it could spend its life in easy retirement. Inevitably no one they approached would take on this expensive act of charity. That is, until it was on TV, when the prospect of worldwide publicity for their kindness brought Samaritans in droves.

I suspect great waves of charity. Children in Need makes millions, we are told. I used to take part in it every year on BBC Wales but it was some time before it struck me that my voluntary efforts were giving the BBC days of free broadcasting. It was surprisingly difficult to get the BBC to pay me for my appearances so that I could give the fee to charity.

I do not know whether the stars of today who tour Africa making films about starving children
and life in shanty sums are paid. But I wonder how many stars there are like Ricky Tomlinson who plays the slobby father in the Royle Family?

In 2008, Tomlinson donated £200,000 as Patron of the Human Milk Bank of Cheshire and North Wales. The charity provides babies on Special Care Baby Units with milk from donor mothers, significantly improving their chances of survival and long-term development. He is quoted as saying: "Due to my own recent experiences with my health, I know how much hospitals and appeals appreciate help and assistance. This is such an important service which can help so many families and I'm very honoured to be the patron."
In November 2010 it was reported that Tomlinson had donated £1,000,000 to the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool two years previously.
It is heart-warming the way people all over the world hurl gold coins at the heads of victims of natural disasters, but I wonder how many of those gold coins hit their target. This gloomy view has been brought on by reading some very worrying statistics in a recent book ,“War Games”, the story of aid and war in Africa, by Linda Polman.
She examines aid on the ground. In Dafur, where soldiers demanded money for every well the aid workers dug and levied sky high taxes thought up on the spot for every sack of rice, every tent, every box of medicine that was flown in. The money they raised was used to buy weapons which they used to drive yet more people into refugee camps.
Florence Nightingale believed aid fails in its purpose if the warring parties use it to their own advantage. Henri Durant, who founded the Red Cross, believed we have a duty to help no matter what.
Nowadays there are hundreds of Non Governmental Agencies. The International Red Cross estimates that every major disaster attracts about a thousand international and national aid organisations, and in 2004 there were twice that number in Afghanistan. The United Nations Development Programme estimates the total number of NGOs exceeds 37,000. In 2008, 11.2 billion dollars was given for emergency humanitarian relief. There is now an industry round humanitarian aid competing for the biggest share. It is striking how in Hiati,say, little has been done to help the people

On a personal level, I only give money to charities which can prove to me that at least 80 per cent of their funds goes to victims.…..... I am looking into the possibility of adopting an elderly elephant - BUT NOT THROUGH THE WORLD WILDLIFE FUND, THE RSPCA, THE RNLI or other giant charities with massive overheads.