Kindness like Asparagus Grows

Ramadan Kareem. It is rather strange to find that the start of summer does not include the Brighton Festival. These are strange times indeed. I very much hope that you are managing to stay safe, that your loved ones are healthy and that the only adverse effect of the virus is the restriction on your social life. I appreciate that that is likely to be a forlorn hope.

We have lots of good news from T4K. The cup of kindness campaign continues. We have had around about £60 worth of new subscriptions this month. Unfortunately, the net is only about £30 because, understandably, people have had to reduce their donation. 

More great news is that Finnish filmmaker, Anna Lunden, made this wonderful short film about Thousand 4 1000 and the cup of kindness campaign. It gives us a little flavour of who we are and what we do.It’s also perfect for sharing with all of your friends. Do please spread it far and wide. There is a desperate need for more long-term housing and that means more money. On that note, I want to send a big thank you to everybody who uploaded something about why they support Thousand 4 1000. Do please keep them coming. Remember, you can email them to us or tag us in on Facebook and Twitter.

What makes us very happy though is the enormous outpouring of support into our Covid fund. Within a month the community rallied round and donated over £6000. The Sussex Community Fund also gave us a grant of £5000. We are able to ensure an income through this crisis of at least £40 a week for many of the people with no leave to remain in Brighton. It is not a lot, but with a bit of help from the Voices in Exile food bank, the local mutual aid networks and other sources, people are not being left out in the cold.

We’ve also had a phenomenal response to our poorly advertised contribution to the “masks for all” campaign. One of the T4K residents, Nazrine, is a seamstress. When she came to join her refugee husband and son in Brighton, she bought her sewing machine with her. She offered to make masks for people who need. The demand was so great that her sewing machine broke, but we’ve been able to replace it with a more industrial model and the production continues apace. The masks are available for a donation. We insisted that Nasrine take payment, but the generosity of the community is such that the Covid coffers a swelling and vulnerable asylum seekers have masks.

I have already wittered on long enough, so I won’t keep you very much longer. But I do want to say something about kindness. Being a disabled person, although not, my doctor reassuringly informs me, highly vulnerable (at least not according to the government algorithm), I ran away from Brighton to isolate with my parents in their lovely house, surrounded by their lovely garden, situated in their lovely village. Like everywhere else in the country, a spontaneous group has sprung up offering support to people isolated and vulnerable in the community. Now, we all like asparagus in my family. In a normal year, my mum would buy asparagus from an asparagus farm down the road in Abington. The farm doesn’t deliver. We are all isolated and so not leaving the house. With great embarrassment, I asked the mutual aid group (not they call it a mutual aid group in South Cambridgeshire), if anybody was prepared to cycle out to pick up the bourgeois delicacy.

Within minutes two offers had been made. It turns out that there is an existing supply line of asparagus spears into the village.

There is nothing particularly remarkable about that. What struck me as interesting is that, as a matter of course, we ordered an extra bunch for the delivery person. She politely declined the offer, but we insisted. We ordered the extra half kilo regardless and presented it as a fait accompli. The kind stranger acknowledged her defeat and said that she would accept the gesture gracefully. She had tricked us. With great cunning she purchased two bunches for herself and was able to brandish her own established fact on delivery. To trump it all, she threw in a tub of aïoli. We had been routed. All that was left was to salvage some pride by presenting the additional bunch to the two young women who are currently picking up odds and ends from the local store for us.

Humans are really keen to help each other. What the story illustrates, in the guise of the social mores of a particular demographic, is that we are all conscious of our own dependence on other people. We know that we share a world with them and that we need them. What we have to do is leverage that mutual dependence to strengthen and create the obligations that bind the community together. When somebody does something kind for us, a debt is created. It’s not zero-sum as in double entry accounting. We don’t think that a trip to Abington is worth one bunch of asparagus. Our thank you is to acknowledge the kindness and to acknowledge we will likewise do what we can to help the giver. Her refusal of the gesture is in turn an invitation, which we accepted, to transform the debt into communal solidarity.

I don’t want to draw too many morals from the story, partly because you don’t need me to moralise, but also I’m acutely aware that this is a community that does not need to blink before rushing out to buy a luxury vegetable. The members of the village support group know full well that they are not going to be presented with needs that it would cost them to fulfil. In particular they are not going to be presented with the kind of needs that drive people to hazard a journey across the Sahara, through the hell of Libya and into an unseaworthy boat in the hope of landing 500 km north in the European Union. Our solidarity has not been put to the test, but when you take seriously the reality of sharing the world with another 7 billion people, what else do you have to rely on to make it work than kindness?

I am an optimist. I am sure that there is enough. It feels overwhelming when you think about taking on another person’s need in its entirety. That’s not the situation that any of us are in. I think that the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides taught that if you live isolated and alone and you meet a hungry person, you need to provide her with a meal. But, if you meet her in the city, you need to provide her with an olive’s worth of food. Our situation is that of the city dweller. When it comes to another person’s need, I am probably responsible for more than an olive’s worth. If I had to guess, I’d put it at about the level of 500g of asparagus. I reckon that is manageable.

Many hands make love work. Stay safe thank you,


PS: The village might rush to help to get asparagus. If you ask for the Morning Star, Tumbleweed.