Many years ago, I was polishing off a bottle of wine when I had a startling phone call. It was a student from my former place of higher education, and he wanted my money. Would I make a donation to the old college? he asked.
Wasn’t my time there absolutely maaahvellous? And, because there was something slightly supercilious in his voice, I almost told him to go to blazes, and then I thought, hold on: he’s right.
I was transported back to my four-year stint of indolence, fuelled by taxpayer-funded champagne.
Call me sentimental, but I was seized by the desire to ensure that others could enjoy the benefits of this unique method of instruction, and before I could stop myself I had coughed up my bank details.
For almost 10 years, I have preened myself on this single modest benefaction. Higher education continues to be woefully underfunded; my college continues to beg; and yet I always tell myself that I have done my bit.
Not a bean, not a brass farthing, have I added to my original donation. I say this partly in a spirit of self-flagellation, and partly because I hope to embarrass others who may be in my position; because it has lately been borne in upon me that we Brits – especially by comparison with the Americans – are so miserly, niggardly, scrooge-like and generally mean that we ought to be ashamed.
I don’t just mean in the field of higher education, where Americans give, or give back, to their places of nurture on a scale that we find unthinkable.
Our relative stinginess is evident also in the arts, about whose funding I am now in almost constant meditation, and in every other area of charitable giving.