The cardboard coaster that took me to 1942
The British Red Cross sent me a free gift through the post, a couple of coasters and a notecard. It was a lumpy envelope - the kind you are intrigued to open.
The coasters depict some embroidered flowers. Nothing special to look at, and I assumed designed perhaps from something donated by a nice lady at the WI. Then I read this...
"The design featured on the front of this card has been taken from one of the panels from the Changi Quilt, made by women imprisoned in Singapore during the Second World War.
Please use this card to inspire others to support the life-saving work of the British Red Cross."
Suddenly it stopped being a coaster and became a story. Real women enduring terrible hardship. The embroidery contained fear, hope and determination. It was a story of surviving from day to day, a journey that many more would start than finish. It was a powerful piece of communication that conjured up the spirit of camaraderie, overcoming adversity. I could almost see the ladies sitting on a humble bed or gathered together allowing the concentration of the stitches to push back both the boredom and fear. I noticed their faded dresses, the hairstyles they struggled to maintain, the humidity. For a brief moment, I sat among them and I thought about the Red Cross and the work they do to relieve suffering.
It doesn't have to happen
Spending an hour of one's precious evening crying is not really what I'd pick out for myself normally. In fact, it's just as well I had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I decided to watch a TV movie called Mary & Martha (or possibly Martha & Mary...). I was browsing the catch-up TV listings and spotted Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn and figured that such distinguished actresses were likely to make engaging viewing.
Had I known it was about these two mothers both losing their sons to Malaria, I may not have watched and would have gone to bed dry-eyed and without feeling the desperate need to hold tight my own boy in my arms and thank God.
I've seen plenty of documentaries about tragedy of this preventable disease and I've donated money to buying mosquito nets because of those. However, this was a story where you could connect with characters. You became a part of both their happy lives and their subsequent heart-breaking grief. It also took the disease out of the far-distant third world and firmly into the sitting rooms of the West. Malaria was suddenly in the room with me, not just a sun-baked distant land. We felt their pain and the frustration of knowing that this is and should be prevented. It also told us that we can all do something - even if it's just donating enough cash to buy one net...
My thanks to Richard Curtis - writer of this dramatic film (and co-founder of the Comic Relief charity) - even if I was crying for 60 of the 90 minutes of this film.
You can buy a net here.