With Comic Relief Red Nose Day on the horizon, how can you help by using your PC? Arnold Evans sends in the clowns and investigates
I was in France for the last Red Nose Day and had to make do with watching CNN's round-up of the main events in the television lounge of a small provincial hotel. Also watching were a gaggle of madames et monsieurs who needed no further proof that les Brits were even madder than their vaches.
It's hard enough trying to explain to a French man what baked beans are, let alone why a middle-aged bank manager would want to sit in a bath of them for 24 hours. Nor why schoolmasters, who surely set great store on retaining the respect of their students, should choose to appear in morning assembly dressed in taffeta and camiknickers, ready and willing to dance the can-can. My French, which is fine when it comes to summoning un autre verre, wasn't good enough to explain how a day of self-conscious silliness can do much to help the underprivileged. Or why the prospect of an evening's telly devoted to good causes and bad jokes has British viewers reaching for their wallets instead of their remotes.
But somehow the formula works. In its 15 years, Comic Relief has raised pound;174 million, and next Friday, March 16, Red Nose Day promises to be the most successful yet. That's good news for the dozens of charities who will benefit, and for all those closet clowns who relish the biennial opportunity to let their hair down - or, indeed, shave it off or dye it red, white and blue. Perhaps more importantly, however, the day offers children a cheerful reminder that they needn't be defeatist about the state of the world: that with a concerted effort and plenty of imagination, they can do their bit to make it a better place.
One eminently practical way of helping pupils retain the high spirits and high ideals of March 16 is to encourage them to create a few pages for their school's website in which they too can say Pants to Poverty and put the fun into fundraising. As an added incentive, remind them that they could end up winning Becta's Comic Relief School and College Web Awards - but only if they can get the pages up and running by Monday March 12. If they haven't started the work already, it will mean a mad rush to meet the deadline. However, an element of madness seems to be a prerequisite for any undertaking worthy of the Red Nose logo.
The Net can inspire children and teachers in other ways. They'll find a vast store of information on the people most desperately in need of their help, and practical advice on how they can really make a difference. Their first port of call should obviously be Comic Relief's own site. As well as an online treasure hunt, loads of ideas for morning assemblies and the inevitable hints on daft ways of raising money, the site provdes a range of classroom materials to complement the documentary footage which will punctuate the Friday telethon.
Never guilty of under-selling themselves, Lenny Henry and his chums reckon the material is relevant across the curriculum, being especially useful for PSHE, PSD, RE, ICT and dear old geography - one of those old fashioned subjects which hasn't yet been dignified with a set of impressive initials. It goes without saying that all those teachers who are obliged to incorporate strands of the citizenship curriculum in their lessons are sure to find these classroom resources an absolute godsend.
If this material doesn't quite fit the bill, all the other major charities seem to have developed comprehensive educational programmes which can be downloaded or ordered via the Net. You can find links to them all at Charity Choice. If you feel a pang of guilt about receiving ready-made lessons for free, I'm sure the organisations wouldn't raise any serious objection if you and your pupils thought it fit to send them a donation.
Now for the really good news. Thanks to the Internet, you can make regular payments to a long list of charities without it ever costing you a bean. Simply ditch your current ISP and sign-up with Care4Free. It provides all the facilities you'd expect from any other service provider - five email boxes, 15Mb of Web space etc - but unlike its commercial rivals, Care4Free distributes 75 per cent of its profits to good causes. The more often you log on, the more money you generate.
While you're online, you can add even more money to the coffers of your favourite charities simply by shopping at free2give's virtual mall. The site hosts Amazon, HMV and many more online retailers. They pay a fee for every purchase made at free2give who, in turn, forward a percentage of it to charity. And if you choose to pay for your shopping - online or elsewhere - with Comic Relief's own credit card, the organisation receives six per cent commission for every pound;100 you spend. So shop 'til you drop and still feel virtuous.
Even better, thanks to the Internet you can enjoy the unique thrill of giving away someone else's money. All you have to do is visit thehungersite.com and click on a button that dominates its homepage. Every time it's clicked - which happens over three million times a month - sponsors donate two cupfuls of food to help in the fight against famine.
And if clicking a button doesn't strike you as being a particularly jolly way of saying Pants to Poverty, you could always try doing it wearing a red nose and camiknickers.
www.comicrelief.comwww.becta.org.ukschoolswebsiteawardswww.charitychoice.c o.ukwww.care4free.netwww.free2give.co.ukwww.thehungersite.comTell Arnold how you would say Pants to Poverty at email@example.com