THE BLOG

HIV And The Day The Penny, Pound, Fiver, Tenner...Dropped

05/12/2016 11:52 GMT | Updated 02/12/2017 10:12 GMT

The world is getting more cynical. Everyone seems to have an angle. Increasingly, we trust no one. Society is becoming paranoid. We question the actions and motives of those we meet like never before. What do they want from us? Why are they acting in such a way? Can I actually believe what they're telling me? It's not just politicians and our so called elected representatives who are to blame, although their behaviour does often seem to be symptomatic of life today.

I for one am frequently astounded, or maybe I'm not, by the selfishness, greed and downright dreadfulness of those I come across on a weekly, almost daily basis. Therefore, on Thursday December 1 between the hours of 4pm and 7pm, I found myself in completely unchartered territory.

As part of World AIDS Day, I was collecting on behalf of Terrence Higgins Trust, the HIV and sexual health charity. It was the first time I had ever done such a thing. For them or anyone else.

Truth be told, I'm not really a shaking the bucket type of guy. Then again, thanks to the incredible medical advances over the last 15-20 years in the treatment of this once deadly disease, I'm fortunately not really a kicking the bucket type of guy either. I'm now far likelier to meet my end under the wheel of a car or van driven by a careless motorist as I cycle round London's streets.

Anyhow, as I stood in the concourse of St Paul's tube station, my expectations weren't high. On the contrary, I was kind of dreading it. I had visions that at the end of three hours, I wouldn't have collected a single penny and would be forced to dig deep into my own pocket to look as if I had at least achieved a vague modicum of success. This was partly due to my own personal cynicism, but also due to the way I think people view HIV in the second decade of the 21st century.

It's sort of fallen off the radar a bit. To an extent it's been forgotten, overshadowed by a host of other medical conditions. This, of course, is largely thanks to the lack of public health awareness campaigns that the government should by all rights still be investing in if infection rates aren't to start rapidly going up again. Sadly, unawareness only leads to more stigma which means more of us are less likely to get tested.

However, I'm delighted to report that my assumptions and preconceptions were totally debunked. Despite what I had initially thought, I was quite humbled by the kindness of strangers: a feeling I'm definitely unused to.

Instead of merely rushing for the gates with their Oyster cards in their hands and their heads bowed low, folk approached me, engaged with me and, yes, dropped coins into my bucket. And not merely coins, but notes as well.

The first pound that hit the plastic was like making my first million. The sense of satisfaction was overwhelming. Inside I was doing a little jig of joyfulness.

As my bucket gradually got fuller and fuller, which I'm certain had nothing to do with the fact that the loudness of my voice could be heard at Edinburgh's Waverley station or my assertion that wearing a red ribbon would help to keep them warm in the cold, it became clear people hadn't forgotten and perhaps they did care about their own sexual well-being and that of the 107,000 in the U.K. who are now reckoned to have HIV.

After the first ten or so donations, I stopped counting. But to those members of the public, the men and women who I'll probably never come across again, I'd like to personally thank each and every one of them who gave whatever they felt fit - be it small, large or a stray washing machine token (there weren't any, by the way).

Even to those who didn't stop and take out their wallet or purse, I'd like to thank them for not coming up to me and saying anything remotely rude or reminding me that the tabard I had on wasn't the most flattering article of clothing I've ever worn.

I'm not sure how much I and my co-collector raised during our stint or indeed how much THT and other similar charities raised in total on the day itself. I can only hope it was enough to help continue to improve the lives of those with HIV and change people's perceptions and improve their knowledge of the disease.

If there's one thing World AIDS Day 2016 taught me, it's that I may now have to start reevaluating how I see human beings and humanity as a whole.