18 December 2014
Award-winning English comedian and ActionAid supporter, Mark Watson, shares his reflections on childhood, the best and worst things about Christmas, and how becoming a father spurred him to sponsor a child with ActionAid.
Mark’s childhood adventures
When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be an author and actually wrote a series of books called ‘The Adventures of Mark and Dad’ in which my father and I were a crime-fighting team like a scaled-down Famous Five. I feel pretty fortunate to have a life that’s similar to that dream, although the Mark and Dad franchise didn’t go global in the way I envisaged at the time.
What did you think the future would be like, as a child? It’s a complicated question because it’s so difficult to look back at your young consciousness without filtering it through all the newer information that’s in your brain. But I’m not sure I ever looked ahead more than a few years at a time — sixth form, then university, then some sort of job in the arts. I don’t remember picturing my mid-thirties, marriage, a mortgage, that kind of thing. Maybe you can only ever really go a little bit at a time.
Best things about being young
What three things were best about being a child? By far the best was the lack of responsibility, the lack of importance attached to decisions — something you can’t possibly appreciate when you ARE a child. Then there was the sheer amount of free time, something which I would kill for now. And also sleep. Really all three of them are privileges you only fully understand when they’re gone. That’s why they say youth is wasted on the young.
When you were small, what were the three things you couldn’t live without? Computer games, sausage and mash (which is still the case now) and football (also still the case now).
What piece of advice would you give to your 10-year-old self? You don’t really know what you’re doing until at least 30, if then. Don’t take life seriously until then — at the earliest.
Christmas — the good and the bad
What was the best Christmas present you were given as a child? The best — as above — was a Commodore Amiga computer in about 1994. It came to dominate my life and it spawned hundreds of hours of brother-versus-brother game time, so although gaming is sometimes seen as anti-social and alienating, in this case it enriched the family.
And what was the worst? The worst, through no fault of its own, was a bike when I was about nine. My parents had rightly decided I ought to be riding a bike by now, but I had no appetite for it and only ever got on it about three times (falling off each time). Still can’t ride one now.
What one thing would you change about Christmas? I know everyone says this, but I’d try to make it a bit less of a deranged materialism-fest. I’m not one of these killjoys who set a present budget of 79p per person and talk about how it ‘gets earlier every year’. But when it gets to the point where shops are talking about their Christmas adverts as if they’re launching a work of art, it might be time to wave a magic wand and go back to a simpler age.
Becoming a dad and sponsoring a child
I got involved in the child sponsorship scheme a few years ago when I’d just become a father myself. I think that was a turning point because it made me care about the idea of children going hungry, or being without crucial amenities, more personally than I ever would have before.
I think it’s a very direct way of getting money to places where it’s going to make a positive difference. People often feel with charities that they’re pouring money into a far-off place that will never solve any of its problems. With child sponsorship you get to see the relationship between your donations and the real improvements in a specific person’s life. It’s really rewarding as well as being desperately needed.
In 2010 Mark came to Senegal with us to see first-hand how ActionAid child sponsorship is helping change lives for good. While Mark’s favourite memories of childhood are the lack of responsibility, free time and bangers and mash, for many children living in poverty childhood is quite the opposite. They often have to work from a young age to earn money for the family and they rarely get a hearty meal. As Mark saw for himself in Senegal, sponsorship can change that.
You can follow Mark Watson on Twitter here.