Mark and Hugh say Happy Christmas with soup, soap and salvation

Soup, soap and salvation

The Salvation Army, a force to be reckoned with - in the New Forest and all over the land

Mark and Hugh signoff 600x400

Ed Note: Now it's Christmas and time to really focus on kindness: let's all be kind to our own kind. And this tale which features the Salvation Army also communicates on a number of levels. As we have been more than reminded this year, life is full of unforeseen pitfalls and challenges. Sometimes they come very close to home. Which may not even be a home. If this makes little sense so far read on and it will.

Soup, soap and salvation. The Salvation Army, a force to be reckoned with.

Your scribbler is a sensitive soul and he gives to beggars. Friends say to me ‘but they’ll only spend it on alcohol’. I have a feeling that if they suddenly found themselves living rough that they too might seek solace in alcohol. The same friends might ask:

‘How can it be that people end up sleeping in a shop doorway?’

‘Surely there is work out there for these people?’

‘Can’t they get up and make something of their lives?’

These are reasonable questions for those of us with a steady job, a supportive partner and a centrally heated house. What could be easier than sitting at your table to look on-line for work and then after being granted an interview simply driving there. Your clothes are smart and you feel good, secure, confident. There’s just one last crucial advantage that you have over our homeless brethren and that is quite simply one of the things that many of us take for granted. An address. For those that don’t, even the first rung of the ladder to salvation is beyond their grasp.

How did it all go wrong?

There are figures that suggest that the length of time that typically passes between being housed and homeless is around three months. Can you imagine the shock to the system that such a calamitous change creates. One minute you’re part of a loving family with a secure income. The next you find yourself out of work. Suddenly there is no pay day. For the uninitiated the benefits system is fiendishly difficult. It has become ever more complex in order to try to prevent abuse by the determinedly long-term unemployed (many of whom know all the angles). This makes life for a novice claimant very difficult and time slips through your fingers like water as your incomplete paperwork requires repeated review and revision. Your bank balance dwindles away. The telephone becomes an object of fear. The ringtone a terrifying harbinger of doom. Your stomach churns when the people that in fact do own your home call on a sickeningly regular basis. They want their money and they’re not going to give up. What seemed a trifling amount owed on a credit card suddenly seems a mountainous debt.

Apparently, nothing destroys a marriage faster than money worries. Men who were once proud providers feel ashamed, redundant and see no alternative but to leave what was their dream.

Once the children are at school and she is out of the way he packs a few things and in tears walks away from the house he was so proud to own and a wife and children he still loves.

A secret life after dark.

I used to be with a lovely girl who worked closely with social services. She was familiar with a side of life that most of us are fortunate never to see or experience. I remember her telling me that the only way to get someone off heroin was to get them away from their area. As long as the addict could contact friends a dealer would be available. If there was availability there would be a relapse, such is the lure of the opiate. This wonderful girl spoke very highly of the organisation which is the subject of this week’s article, The Salvation Army. On a daily basis these selfless people deal with situations and problems that most of us will never experience. Life at the bottom end of the social scale can be a lonely and frightening place. The Salvation Army do everything they can to pick people back up.

I remember clearly a time when I was young and on a parachute course. At the end of the day, we had piled into the local pub where we intended to make a significant dent in our personal wealth and health. It was late when the Salvation Army in the form of a man and a woman, both immaculate in their uniforms entered the pub. They were selling War Cry and a few of the lads, laughing, bought a copy. They then filled in the crosswords using rather naughty words. We laughed, but only because we were woefully ignorant. I feel that most of us are blissfully unaware of how life is at the other end of the social ladder. Perhaps we prefer it that way? After all it’s easier to cross the road and look the other way. The good people of the Salvation Army do not cross the road and they certainly do not look the other way. They get involved. This wonderful organisation helps many unfortunate people to turn their lives around and get off the streets.  They are great believers in the value of hard work and those seeking help are actively encouraged to do so.

Success stories in flesh and blood.

If you want to enrich your lives then you need to read of some of the triumphs. Accounts of people who had found themselves on the scrap heap of life and were suddenly given a second chance which they took with both hands. The situation is one of virtuous circles, in that the individual who has been rescued, because make no mistake that’s what we’re talking about here, will never forget. Their financial legacy will enable the Army to save many more.

Christian values reflect what is essentially good behaviour. For instance, don’t mess around with your friend’s wife. Don’t steal his things. Don’t show off when giving to charity. Don’t kill people. Respect your parents. Take one day off a week because it’s good to rest. Guidance like this is unnecessary for most of us because it’s plain common sense. We know that when we’re tempted that there might well be a price to be paid.

It has been said by the medical profession that those who are generous of spirit lead lives that are mentally and physically better. Surely this comes as no surprise as when you give time or money to others you simply know that it feels good. To help others enriches both the giver and the receiver as both benefit enormously from such behaviour. A cynic might say that the only reason people help others is because it makes them feel better and that this in turn makes the giver the selfish one. This twisted logic is idiotic. To give to one who needs is to deprive one’s self. The three pounds I give to a beggar could be much better spent on a nice pint of Abbot ale. But my waistline and liver will both thank me, for now. I shall ignore the cynic and continue to give, simply because it is good.

Only the very best lead by example.

In the interests of research, I took a look through the Salvation Army accounts which are openly available on-line, their ethos is one of transparency. As I was reading the accounts my heart went out to all who are in the accountancy game. As my eyes scanned the serried ranks of figures my eyelids drooped. I had the distinct feeling that if I became a ticker my insomnia would be but just a distant memory. Detail aside, some startling things jump out from the accounts. They won’t have anything to do with investments in booze or fags. I suppose this must be as a direct result of having to deal on a daily basis with the end results of such legalised recreational drugs. They have their fingers in so many pies! This is a huge and complex organisation doing good all across the globe, and it all started here in little old England. Mr Booth, we salute you.

A message that is not just for Christmas.

This is the time of year when being alone hurts acutely. Being alone and homeless even more so. As we shop among gaily decorated high streets we look down on the homeless with guilty pangs. This is both a good and a bad time of year for such unfortunates. Perhaps with the increase in donations they might numb the gnawing separation from their children with alcohol? Perhaps they might render themselves senseless and forget to take shelter and then not to wake up the following morning? These are not the worries that the vast majority have to face. Turkey or beef? M&S Christmas crackers or John Lewis? Try life or death for a choice. That’s what our homeless face, and not just at Christmas either.

There are good endings.

As this will be the final offering from Hugh and Mark for 2020 can I please wish you all the very best for the festive season and every success in 2021. The Salvation Army offers just that, salvation, and a donation to them will do good. Not all charities earn my approval and there are those which appear to need a root and branch reform. But these people seem to have built firm foundations across the world. They save others and I feel we ought to help where we can.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

family in shop doorway with homeless person and dog


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More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons here they are, click the links embedded in the titles:

What our cars say about us
The litter pickers of the New Forest

A roof over your New Forest head

Richard St Barbe Baker

Our star, our sun, our salt!
To Lymington or Cuba
The Auld Mug

Seeds of success

Moonlit meeting with cetaceans 

Trees and what they tell us
Cartography and trig pillars

Pony drifts and pannage in the New Forest
A journey from the New Forest via Lymington
The brilliance - and persistence - of Marconi

Equality in the skies
Bees pollinators par excellence 
Cordless home entertainment

The joy of sheds

When the Isle of Wight was just Wight
Bucklers Hard

Salisbury Cathedral 
Pond Life in our Forests 
Bombs Away 
Baileys Hard 
Rufus Stone and Sir Walter Tyrrell
Graffiti through the ages
Freedom of the roads
Heath fires
Lymington Lido
Watch the birdie
Unstoppable momentum of nature
Socially distanced socialising
Calshot Spit, a curse for mariners...



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