These days people do all sorts of crazy stuff to raise cash for charity. They jump out of planes and climb African mountains and share a bath with ten thousands of worms.
I'm afraid I'm way too decrepit for anything like that. Well, I guess I could manage the bath filled with worms thing, but....
So when I made up my mind to raise a few quid for a truly wonderful charity up in Sanquhar called Clark's Little Ark, I decided to be completely boring and stick to what I know best.
I have written a book.
Right now the animal sanctuary has a problem. Recently they lost a big chunk of their grazing which means they are having to come up with £250 a month to pay for the hay and straw they need. If they can't find the cash the donkeys might have to go and live somewhere else.
Which would be a bloody shame.
The book is my 25th.
If I was inclined to be posh, I might call it a novella. But let's face it, 'novella' sounds pretty pretentious. And Blackburn lads aren't very good at doing posh. So I'll stick with 'book'. Not that it will ever appear on paper. It will be forever digital.
The story is 25,000 words long – about 70 pages or so – and everyone who has read it so far seems to have got through it in one go. I guess it will take a couple of hours to read. Thankfully initial feedback suggests it is hard to put down, which is all I ever strive for.
The story is called 'When Broken Lives Mend' and you can find it in two places.
You can read it on my blog page by following the link below.
Alternatively you can grab a copy from the Amazon Kindle Store for £3 – all proceeds obviously going to Clark's Little Ark.
The story takes fictional characters through real places and events. The places are Helmand Province, Northern Nigeria, First Base in Dumfries and Clark's Little Ark in Sanquhar. The characters are made up from bits and pieces of lots of the people who have walked through our doors over the years: people who's lives have been broken into many pieces.
When things go well, we help these people to mend their broken lives. When things don't go so well, we have our bad days.
Real life drama tends to be much less glossy that Hollywood drama. However real life drama is nothing if not dramatic. I have always tried to catch the essence of these real life dramas. Hopefully 'When Broken Lives Mend' does so. It is not really for me to say. The reader always knows best, right?
To tell you about Clark's Little Ark and why they are such a completely worthy cause, I might as well lift a passage for the book where I describe who they are and what they do.
'The next morning I got into my van and made my way up the Nith valley to Sanquhar. It was the kind of Scottish spring day to make life absolutely worth living. The river sparkled in the sunlight and the trees showed off every kind of vivid green.
The old coal mining village almost looked content as I drove in. The high street was home to more than the usual number of people and for once the shops seemed to carry a hopeful air about them.
I took a right and worked my way through familiar narrow streets to the edge of town. Over the railway and past the sturdy square houses where once upon a time the mine management must had looked down into valley below. The narrow urban road became a narrow rural road.
I turned left down a small track to Clark's Little Ark.
This is one of my very favourite places. In my book, it is everything a charity should be. The right charity in the right place at the right time run in the right way by the right people.
Local, front line, welcoming, not judging...
It's a bloody long list.
The place was set up by Alison. In 2013 her son Clark tragically died from Cerebral Palsy when he was only nineteen. Clark had always loved animals and so Alison decided to open an animal sanctuary in his memory.
Like you do.
She managed to copper up enough cash to buy the grounds of an old brickworks and started out on the task of turning this derelict piece of ground in a post industrial coal mining village into an animal sanctuary and four years on she can feel very, very proud of herself.
Here is the very epitome of what a small, local front line charity should look like. No fancy head office with an expensive London postcode. No HR department. No all-expenses-paid jollies to conferences. In fact nobody gets paid at all.
She built up a gang of volunteers and the place came together plank by plank. When I first visited, it took me about ten seconds to realise these were people who would never judge anyone, which made them the perfect folk to give out our food parcels to anyone in Sanquhar who was going through tough times.
So they became one of our storage points.
I guess I should mention a couple of other factors which played pretty large at the time. When Alison first called and told me her surname was Shankly, my mind couldn't help but draw a map. Sanquhar lies a mere twenty miles south of the now disappeared village of Glenbuck. Both villages sit on top of the same seam of coal. And once upon a time a certain Bill Shankly mined that very seam of coal before heading south to make Liverpool Football Club what it is today.
Mention the name 'Shankly' to any of us Liverpool fans and we go all misty eyed. I first saw the great man from the Kop way back in 1973. So Alison's surname begged a question. Was she by any chance related? She was.
Bloody hell. I was talking to royalty!
And there was another thing. When I first arrived at Clark's Little Ark I was greeted with a sound which is now very familiar to me. It was the sound of five donkeys braying at me at the top of their voices.
So there we have it.
In Helmand province, in Northern Nigeria, in Sanquhar.
Anyway. Things haven't been great in Sanquhar for years. Ever since they closed down the pit. It is like the places in Pennsylvannia and Ohio we have seen so much of on the news over recent months. It's a left-behind village which is home to a lot of left-behind people. Lots of people are getting by on not much and you need to take a bus to find any prospects. There are many young families in Sanquhar who can only dream of having the spare cash for a day out with the kids. What they can afford is a walk up the hill to Clark's Little Ark. They can afford it because anyone can afford it because it is free at the point of use.
And that is a big deal in my book.
Mental health workers take along their clients. Local dafties serve out their community service hours and more often than not they stay on when their time is done. Kids with learning difficulties are brought along by their support workers.
It is a haven in a world of austerity. And like First Base they have had to learn the art of living on the edge of a financial cliff. Somehow the money they need for the next delivery of hay and straw always turns up at the eleventh hour.
And yes it would be nice if they had enough in the bank to make them feel safe and comfortable.
It would be nice if there was lasting peace in the Middle East.
Lots of things would be nice, but they don't tend to happen.
Actually, I have just realised the brave new world of the new media offers me an opportunity. We're online here which means I can slot in a link to a Border News piece about Alison's place. So why not take a break for the written word and check out some moving pictures.
I hope you now have a feel for what kind of place Clark's Little Ark is. If ever anyone deserved a leg up, it is Alison and her team. My JustGiving page can be found by following this link.
To read the book on my blog page follow this link.
If you want to download a copy for your e reader to can get a copy from the Amazon Kindle store here.
I guess that is about everything. Our last three fundraising campaigns have been spectacular. I can only hope this one will continue the trend.