5th May

After Dinner

Dinner was over. The men were still round the table, drinking port. They were talking about poverty, the engrained poverty of post-industrial cities. Alan was a historian, a teacher, he knew the statistics about overcrowded housing, child mortality, poor nutrition, all of that. And there was a legacy, generations later, even though things had greatly improved.

Donald agreed. He was a GP, he saw the divide between rich and poor every day in his patients. Forward progress was not guaranteed, Donald said. It was quite possible to start sliding back; and in fact he believed this was already happening.

Malcolm was an artist, a painter primarily. He said, ‘There’s poverty of experience too, of expectation and opportunity. People whose lives are culturally barren – maybe they’re not cold or hungry, but they’re excluded in other ways, made to feel worthless. Yet sometimes art can change lives as education or medicine can. It can show another way of seeing the world, of seeing yourself, and that can be transformational.’

‘I don’t disagree with you,’ Donald said, ‘but you have an interest in promoting that idea, don’t you?’

‘We all have an interest,’ Malcolm said. ‘All three of us.’

‘I remember a story,’ Alan said. ‘I don’t know where I heard this, or all the details of it, but I’ll tell you anyway. There’s this man, a white middle-class bloke like us, maybe a doctor or a teacher, and he’s in some country, doing charity work. The people have nothing, absolutely nothing. And a wee boy comes up to him, he’s in rags, but he’s so proud because he owns something, and he wants to show the white man. Do you know what he owns? He owns a spoon. It’s his spoon. Our man is totally shocked and humbled. And then the wee boy goes running off, because he’s remembered he doesn’t just have a spoon. He has this other thing, and he wants to show it to the man too. You know what that is? A bowl. The bowl that goes with the spoon.’

The others were silent. They could hear the women laughing next door. It seemed obscene, somehow, to refill their glasses and join them.

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
Subscribe here for more stories & music