TRAVEL back to times BC, before Covid.
Let York author, singer, event organiser, conference speaker and dementia care campaigner Ian Donaghy take up the story. “Imagine if we had been told on New Year’s Eve, ‘enjoy the next 12 weeks because, come March 2020, schools will close the gates,” he posits.
“Pub and restaurant curtains will be drawn and live music venues and theatres will be told the show mustn’t go on… and on top of that, there will be no cuddles allowed’.”
Never has the world needed a bigger cuddle than in these uncharted waters, says Big Ian, whose response to lockdown inertia was to write a 229-page cuddle of a book entitled A Pocketful Of Kindness.
“During lockdown, many people were furloughed, uncertain of their futures,” says Big Ian, larger-than-life host of such York community events as A Night To Remember at York Barbican and Xmas Presence, former school teacher and now a “key voice in care”.
“As a conference speaker, I suddenly realised the venues I usually fill with delegates, whether ExCeL London or the Harrogate Convention Centre, were now Covid-19 Nightingale hospitals. Everything I did on my public-speaker travels had disappeared.”
At his home, not far from the York Barbican, where his band Huge played the first ever show, a restless Ian needed to keep himself busy.
Noting the acts of kindness that were proliferating in lockdown, he hit on the idea of writing a pocket-sized book on that very subject.
He already had two all-life-is-here books to his name, firstly Dear Dementia, published in June 2014 and now available in libraries home and abroad.
Next, in December 2017, came The Missing Peace, Creating A Life After Death, whose transfer to the stage by Gemma McDonald and the Rowntree Players should have been playing the Joseph Rowntree Theatre this weekend.
The Missing Peace had taken three years from first thought to printing, a longer gestation than an elephant birth. Come 2020, he had so many heart-warming stories bubbling away, waiting to be told, he felt compelled to put finger to keyboard once more, and lockdown’s quietitude allowed him a more concentrated focus, a much faster turnaround.
“Like many people, I like to work from a finish line backwards, so I needed to create a finish line. Not just a raison d’etre, but a raison d’aider, to help people in this difficult time,” says Big Ian, whose 50th birthday fell in those shutdown weeks.
“So, after transforming the garden and doing some pretty shoddy decorating, I reflected on what was important in this new simplified world.
“The world had stopped, giving us a rare period of clarity – an opportunity to reflect, to see who and what really matters in our lives and who and what doesn’t.”
He set about writing stories from his experiences in dementia care; teaching young people with learning difficulties; working in crime reduction for the Home Office and 30 years as a showman singer, fronting bands in his native North East, Yorkshire and Nottingham.
The book combines short stories, monologues and TED Talk-style chapters highlighting the virtues and power that kindness has had in transforming people’s lives.
Page after page of true stories, full of humour, revelation, wry observation and pathos too, recount the deeds of England and Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson, Irish boxer Barry McGuigan, American blues guitarist Robert Cray and an army of selfless people you will “never have heard of but will want to meet”.
Big Ian’s celebration of kindness attracted award-winning Private Eye cartoonist Tony Husband, who provided a cartoon, such was his belief in the inspirational project.
“The idea behind the book is that you gift it to someone who has made a huge impact in your life with their acts of kindness who may not realise it,” says Big Ian. “This enables you to reflect on who has helped get you where you are today.”
Seventy stories in total, they will make you laugh, cry and think in equal measure, promises Big Ian, whose storytelling elan has prompted one reviewer to call him “an Alan Bennett for the 21st century, who finds tomorrow’s charm and nostalgia in today”.
A Pocketful Of Kindness is available only from bigian.co.uk and is proving popular already, selling 1,500 copies in its first week, based solely on word of mouth.
“Many companies have bought bespoke versions of the book with their company logos to show their employees how appreciated they are,” says Big Ian.
Summing up his philosophy in advocating a championing of kindness, he says:
“Look back on your life and think…
Who believed in you?
Who pushed you?
Who said, ‘If there’s anything you want, I’m here’….and actually backed it up.
Who asked you how you were and waited for an answer?
Who inspired you?
Who believed in you when even you didn’t?
Who gave you your standards?
Who made time for you despite being so busy?
Who was kind when the world was not?
Think who helped make you.
Who would you send the book to?”
Inevitably influenced by being written in lockdown, A Pocketful Of Kindness is “a book for our times”. “As its centre-piece, it even features a chapter called Stop The World I Want To Get Off about the chaos 2020 has dealt us all,” says Ian.
“But now I predict a new pandemic that I’ve already witnessed in communities and in care homes that I think won’t need a vaccine, as I expect the result to read: Covid 19 Kindness 20.”
AS an act of kindness in the lockdown lull, Ian Donaghy asked yours truly to edit some stories that he wanted to turn into a book.
As an act of kindness, CH said ‘Yes’…and so the to and fro and fro and to of 70 stories began.
As an act of cruelty, Ian subjected CH to his erratic punctuation, or “punktuation”, as his father has so aptly described it.
As an act of generosity, ex-Maths teacher Ian put up with being judged as if for a school report, story after story.
Now, however, the result can be yours, courtesy of Big Ian providing five copies to be awarded to recipients for the five best reasons to do so, honouring acts of kindness you want to showcase.
Send those brief stories of kind deeds to firstname.lastname@example.org, marked Kindness Acts, with your name, address and daytime phone number, by September 13.