Charity begins at home

 It’s been a humbling week.

My four year old daughter has decided this week to turn into a teenager, every request is met with either complete indifference, or (with the comedy timing of John Cleese) a perfectly blown raspberry. But just when I am completely at the end of my tether I meet a family who have overcome bigger problems than I could ever imagine possible:  Jake Peach and his mum Karen, and step dad Martin have been to hell and back over the past couple of years.

I first met Jake and his family this time last year when he stunned the normally very jolly Pirates’ Charity Premiere audience into complete silence as he made an accomplished and moving speech about his battle with leukaemia and his treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital. He looked pale, but you could tell he had guts and a fantastic sense of humour. The photographers who would normally have been snapping constantly throughout the speech all stopped, and you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. Afterwards I managed to meet his parents and was overwhelmed by their strength and how they calmly told the story of watching their boy in a coma and wondering if he was going to live or die.  

You can forget, as a parent, how lucky you are to have a cheeky, energetic, occasionally disobedient but ultimately, healthy, child, or at least, I had. And a year on I get to meet the family again. Jake is blooming with health, he’s even picked up some freckles sprinkled across his nose. I get to speak to his mum, Karen, and ask her how her year has gone. ‘It’s been very busy. Martin and I have both changed jobs, and we’ve moved house. We’ve been lucky that we could take time off to do things with Jake as he’s been busy raising money for the hospital. He persuaded Arsenal football club to sponsor Great Ormond Street Hospital to fund a new lung function unit, and he won a Pride of Britain award.’ It’s staggering to think what this family has achieved in a year when so many of us get stuck in a rut in our lives. I ask Jake about school, and suddenly he’s just a regular 13 year old boy, ‘What’s your favourite subject?’ ‘Erm . . .P.E?’ ‘and your worst?’ He grins and nods, now we’re on the same wavelength, ‘Geography.’

Later on, back at my daughter’s school, they have a special ‘Solidarity Day.’ All the little kids bring an ingredient for a salad, they make the meal together for their parents and the parents make a donation towards a Guatemalan charity for children. Our daughter helps with the dinner and then stands up and shows the assembled parents a photo of the Guatemalan children, pointing at it she says sincerely ‘They don’t have anything to eat.’ Suddenly my stroppy child transforms into an angel, and I melt.

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