Answers on a postcard, please

Jul 19th, 2008 | By | Category: Ireland

Having completed a sermon on the saintly Father Andrew and his fifty years of ministry amongst the poor in London’s East End, I wondered what his ministry would have been like and how he would have coped with situations today?

Contemplation was interrupted by a shout from the Best Beloved that there were small children, who seemed to be alone, lying on the grass just across the avenue. Wandering out to investigate, I discovered Deirdre, someone I have known for the past nine years, and three of her four children.

Deirdre lives in a town a few miles away and calls to ask for help when things get desperate, i.e. when her husband has taken every last cent in the house for drink and gambling.

“Deirdre, what are you doing here?”

“I didn’t think you were at home. I was tired and lay down here and fell asleep”.

“How are things?”

“Very bad. He’s been violent”.

“Have you money?”

“No, nothing.”

“Deirdre, I haven’t much cash. I can drop something to your house on Monday”.

“No, don’t do that. He’ll just take it”.

“Is there somewhere in the town I can meet you?”

“I have to go down the town on Monday morning – I’ve got my household budget meeting”.

I wondered if Deirdre ever tells the people who try to help her with her budgeting that it’s very hard to budget if your drunken thug of a husband takes all your money. In a good month all she gets is the children’s allowance, he takes everything else, in a bad month he takes that off her.

While we talked the smallest child exploded in violence against his sister. He had made a nest with grass cuttings and decorated it with circles of flowers picked from shrubs adjoining the road; my arrival had caused a distraction that allowed his sister to kick his arrangement apart. The air was blue. I suspect there are times when our neighbours wished I lived elsewhere.

I arranged to meet Deirdre outside the supermarket that is close to the office she attends for her budget meeting. I will need to get money and break it into small denominations, otherwise it is gone too quickly.

Deirdre and her children headed off, Deirdre proudly telling me that she had seen off a Traveller who had been going to call at our gate.

Father Andrew, what’s the answer?

Anyone at all, please what’s the answer?

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  1. Perhaps tokens that can only be exchanged for food and clothing might be a part of an answer

  2. Easy answer, leave the bastard! (I know it’s not that simple) Peter has a point there. In some of our aboriginal communities where welfare money is spirited away literally on alcohol, the mothers are given vouchers for particular stores which can only be redeemed for food, clothing etc. It works for the Coori people but shopkeepers who aren’t part of the voucher system are objecting. At least it’s not currency that can be spent on alcohol. The problem with your lady is that she’s paid in cash and he has the chance to purloin it before she hits the shops. Very tough call Ian but you’re very generous to help.

  3. Dad,

    Vouchers get sold on at a discount. “I’ve a voucher for a tenner here, you can have it for a fiver”. They could be barcoded to work with a pass card (like the Tesco vouchers) but the shops would say it’s not their business to deal with social problems.


    Where would she go? This is a country where the emergency social services number for reporting children at risk is only manned from nine to five Monday to Friday.

    The Left would set up an outcry at the thought of a system like the Australian one – middle class progressives like to feel they are caring about the less fortunate!

    I am not in the least bit generous – a couple of years ago a lady left a few quid to the rector to be used for charitable purposes – once it’s gone, it’s gone.

  4. ‘The poor are always with us.’ Is there any answer? We just have to keep doing what we can.

  5. I think there is no answer to poverty – it hasn’t changed much since Father Andrew’s day, we can only do ‘our bit’ for people like Deirdre and her children. The most charitable thing anyone can do is not sit in Ivory towers looking down on the poor, they are people like you and me.

    I’m familiar with Father Andrew being from Forest Gate originally, my great-Aunt Mary who is now 92 used to talk about him, something about him preaching at the “Poplar Baths”.

    In his words:

    Problems at the Manger

    O mighty God, O baby King,
    Thyself must teach what welcoming
    Thy children, old and young, should bring,
    How each should make his offering.

    For here are little boys and girls,
    With tidy clothes and ordered curls;
    A little Scout his flag unfurls,
    His mother kneels in lace and pearls.

    And here are faces pinched and white,
    And men who walked about all night;
    A soldier who has lost his sight,
    A boy whose sums will not come right.

    The young, the middle-aged, the old
    Are gathered here, some gay with gold,
    Some ragged creatures, starved and cold –
    The fat and lean are in Thy fold.

    And though our hearts at Christmas glow
    With sense of shame that things are so,
    Yet how to get the world to go
    In Christian ways wee do not know.

    There’s nothing wrong in tidy boys,
    It’s nice to give expensive toys,
    It’s natural to make a noise,
    And lovely things are perfect joys –

    Yet still we kneel before Thy straw
    In penitence and puzzling awe –
    Show us our system’s vital flaw,
    And that strong truth the Wise Men saw.

    Love, Thou must teach us, every one,
    To toil until Thy will be done;
    So never in this world again
    Shall child be housed in cattle pen.

  6. It’s pointless, needless poverty that annoys me. I think Father Andrew would have responded to need, but I think that last verse:

    “Love, Thou must teach us, every one,
    To toil until Thy will be done;
    So never in this world again
    Shall child be housed in cattle pen”.

    also suggests that he would have called for a social security system that put money into the hands of women and children; that got men able to walk to the town to the pub and the bookmakers into full time employment; and that made sure there were proper “safety nets” in place for when things fall apart.

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