Shazia Mirza’s Weekend Column

Charity is alive and well, but the lengths that people go to… “Oh,but it’s for charity,” is always the line to coax me into doing the ridiculous.

Can you bungee jump from the top of Mount Everest in just your underwear? “It’s OK – it’s for charity.” Can you donate a urine specimen? Can you run around a park and plant a tree at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning? “It’s all for a good cause.”

I was walking down the street the other day when I was accosted by a young boy trying to get me to join his charity. “Don’t worry,” he told me, “we’re registered.” Registered? What’s that got to dowith it? I could be a registered sex offender – it doesn’t mean that it’s OK to harass shoppers with a clip board and a direct debit form.

And just this week I received a letter from a woman asking me to donate my bra. The one that I wear. I had to think long and hard about this, because I have many bras, but wear only one, all the time. Bras are like mugs – you always have your favourite. The woman wrote that she wanted the bra for a piece of feminist art work that she’s planning to display on a public bridge in the name of charity. The art work is dresses made from donated bras, called Bra-ra dresses. She tells me this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do some feminists sit at home thinking, “Right, what can I do with my bra next?”

I didn’t realise that parting with my bra would be such a traumatic experience. And I hope she doesn’t label the bras with the donors’ names on them – as was my entire PE kit, including pants, at school. The thing is, though, I can’t say no,because it’s for charity. If I say no, I will feel like a bad person.

I was walking down my local high street the other day with a friend when we noticed that a new Oxfam bookshop had opened. “Well, that’s an official sign we’re living in a nice area,” my friend said,like an estate agent.

I’m always a bit wary of second hand books, because you often getan olfactory insight into the previous reader’s living room. Alan Bennett really isn’t the same when page seven looks like spaghetti bolognese and page 11 smells of Jack Daniel’s.

Anyway, I decided to go in to have a look around, and the moment I’d stepped in the door, there it was, that book just staring me in the face. It was meant to be. I had to have it.

So I’ve bought a copy of Salman Rushdie’s… well, you know what. Whoever was burning that didn’t do a very good job. I got it for £4.99.Page 396 smells of regret. A fatwa ona middle-aged, dishevelled intellectual has never been so sexy. He’s never had so many beautiful women after him. If that was me, I’dbe dead now and there’d be no chance of getting my book, not even a curry-stained one, from Oxfam.

I went home to visit my parents over the weekend.

On Saturday morning, I woke up and walked downstairs to find them sitting at the kitchen table counting piles of money. I feared the worst. I know there is a recession, but have my parents robbed a bank? They are always trying to guess how long they’ve got left to live, so maybe they’re leaving me their life savings, thinking they’re going to go soon.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re counting money,” my mum replied.


“Because we have collected this money to give to charity.”

“What’s the charity?” I asked

“The charity for widows.”

Even widows have a charity? They’d been fundraising for a group of people who are collectively defined by having been married.

“If you get married, you might benefit from this charity one day,” my mum added. She made it sound as if becoming a widow was a prize in a raffle.

I composed myself and decided not to be churlish and instead helped with a donation of something for their cause. It should raise £4.99.