Buildings burning on the box, refuges, homes, forests in flames. Night after night. Be good to do something, anything. So last Thursday I made a start. But first back to the Wednesday before. My wife and I eating our evening meal on the sofa. Pointless soap opera on the tv. My wife says.
-So tell me again. I wasn´t really listening.
-I want to give money away.
-OK, whose money would that be?
She cuts me a sideways glance.
-Our money. I say.
-Fine. Why do we watch this?
She flips through some channels.
Free Money Day started in 2011 in Australia, and has gone viral, as they say…… sort of. Every 15 September ordinary people take it upon themselves to approach total strangers on the street and give them money. And there´s no catch. Except that they´re asked to pass half of what they´re given on to another complete stranger. The point, of course, is to illustrate that a more generous, fairer, more just way of dealing with money is possible. As we´ve all told our warring toddlers many times the best way for everyone to be happy is if we share.
Thursday morning. I´ve registered my activity on the free money day website global map and no one is going to miss my little arrow. So now I`m committed. Then the weirdness of it grips me. Why can´t you just sit in the café like any other English expat reading two day old copies of the Telegraph and wondering why the Germans can´t make a decent cup of tea? But then I think UKIP, Trump and a planet that seems to be burning ever more rapidly to a crisp and I think I can´t do nothing. And then I remember Thomas, the café owner and my oldest friend in Berlin, will be there so I shall take my courage from him.
So Free Money Day sign in the café window, ten two euro coins at the ready, reflected heat from the unseasonably warm sunshine falling on us from the flat windows opposite, we´re ready. We wait. No one comes. Then a middle aged couple appear at the corner twenty yards away coming our way. I ready my coinage in my sweaty palm. They´re almost upon us. Remember, good grammar, clear voice.
-Excuse me. May I speak to you for a moment?
A flash of panicked confusion in their eyes is quickly quashed and they sail on by as if no words had ever been spoken.
-Weird couple. Could have told you that, says Thomas a little late, possibly.
A young man appears. Maybe seventeen. Eyes darting about a bit, maybe a bit too twitchy but the words are already on my lips.
-Excuse me. Could I speak with you for a moment?
Even as I talk his gaze doesn´t really come to rest but he´s not moving so he gets the whole spiel. Consumer society, climate disaster,….no reaction…. inequality timebomb, species loss…..no reaction….dessicated plains, sunken cities,…. no reaction…..so I decide to round off with a flourish,
– …..and all you´ve got to do to avert these and other untold disasters is take four euros off me!
Silence. Then his eyes finally fix on me and he says.
-I think you need to find someone else for that.
And off he goes.
But soon, of course, people did come by, mostly younger people, singly or in pairs, who got it, and were happy to take four euros and pass two on. And it was funny and fun. To watch as the cognitive gear changes shift people`s expressions from mild anxiety at being spoken to at all, to curiosity, then blank incomprehension, finally turning to smiling understanding was a rare and real treat. In the end I talked to maybe twenty people.
That evening. TV supper, as posh people call it, again. My wife says.
-In a population of 200 million.
-Sorry, I say.
-You talked to maybe twenty people in a population of two hundred million?
-You looked at the map on the website?
-I did. Yours was the only activity on the map in Europe.
-Big in Nigeria though, I reply, and Australia.
The soap opera burbles on.
-You´ve got to start somewhere, I say, trying not to sound apologetic.
-Very proud of you, she says and flips some channels.
More information about free money day can be found here.