Thursday, 24 September 2009

Putting your best foot forward

One of the things that makes me proud to be British is our attitude to good causes. As a nation, we have a knack of combining fun with philanthropy.

Growing up, every year I would pester family, friends, neighbours and my parents’ workmates to sponsor me in my latest charity efforts. Many miles were walked, often in full costume (once, running a fever and dressed as the nursery rhyme ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ in a masterpiece crafted by my dad from a cardboard box). Endless lengths were swum – once with a rubber duck in tow. Ping-pong rallies were batted back and forth. Spelling marathons were tackled. Silences were observed.

For some reason, potential sponsors seemed keener to back my little sister for Sponsored Silences than they did me for Sponsored Swims. Maybe because she was cuter than me as a kid? Or perhaps because they reckoned she would give up keeping schtum long before I stopped churning up and down the local pool. My stubborness was always an asset in such efforts, much to the shock of my mother’s well-meaning boss who had agreed to a generous amount per length (“She swam HOW far?”).

Many British celebrities are willing to literally go the extra mile or make utter fools of themselves for a good cause. Most recently, comedian/actor Eddie Izzard completed 43 marathon runs in 51 days around the UK, raising money for Sports Aid (you can still sponsor him at ). It was amazing, admirable and awe-inspiring.

I’m just a little worried that it may belittle the efforts of mere mortals like my Twitter Pal Fiona who will be participating in the Great South Run on 25 October in aid of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (sponsor her at ). If Izzard - until now not known for his athletic prowess - can run over 1,100 miles in less than two months, maybe the response to less headline-grabbing attempts might be “You’re running a marathon? Good for you. Just the one, is it? Right. And will you be juggling kittens, or on stilts? No? OK then. Yes, I suppose I could sponsor you.” You get the support, but you also get the feeling that they think they’re getting pretty poor value for money. (Bear in mind, however, that Izzard had the luxury of being able to devote the full 51 days to his efforts. Other folk, like Fiona, have babies to care for, families to raise, 9-to-5 jobs to turn up at.)

STOP PRESS: I just learned that my nephew and his girlfriend will be running 10K in aid of CHASE Hospital Care for Children on 1 November. Good on yer, Peter & Alex! Sponsor them at

Here in Greece, such efforts are virtually unheard of. It’s not that Greeks are not generous – they are, sometimes to a fault. It’s just that they don’t have any tradition of individual efforts (often at the cost of personal dignity) in the name of charity. Fund raisers tend to be overtly noble events, with national celebs wheeled out to look serious and tearful on TV, and not a dot of silliness in sight. We have an annual marathon – THE original Classic Marathon, run along the same route that ended with the hapless messenger uttering ‘We won’ before dropping dead all those years ago – but you won’t see any comedy costumes struggling towards the finishing line in aid of their favourite charity.

This presents me with a bit of a problem. Over the past few months, I’ve been making myself walk for at least an hour every day. I have come to realise that putting one foot in front of the other, and to keep doing it, is no big deal - and it offers plenty of benefits. I’m stronger, a little leaner (though no lighter, much to my chagrin), and much more relaxed. I have thought that the next stage might be to start running, but I’m a little worried that my pounding the pavements might spark an earthquake alert in Athens.

What does seem natural – and do-able - is a Sponsored Walk in aid of some worthy cause. But when I mentioned it to my Other Half, he looked at me and shook his head.

He’s right, the typical Greek response might be: “You’re going to walk all day. Why? For someone else? And you want ME to pay you for it? Forget that, come and have a coffee – we can do our bit for charity by buying some UNICEF exercise books for our kids.”

Like I said, Greeks have no shortage of charitable sentiments – they’re simply not used to this particular form of giving. I’m sure that once they get over the “We don’t do things that way” barrier, they would happily cough up – even in these cash-strapped times.

Now, I may regret this. But if anyone has any ideas (events for me to participate in, good causes to do it for, etc.), I’m willing to put my best foot forward so long as you are willing to put your money where my trainers go.

Just don’t expect any “Iron Man Triathlons”. “Wobbly Woman” is more my style…

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