Opinion

Story of the island with more Easter eggs than people tells us we need relatable joy – wherever we find it

With warnings of a mental health crisis on the horizon and a government unwilling to tackle it, let's enjoy life's lighter moments when we can

Sanday's Easter egg glut will raise money for a great cause. Image: Sinclair General Stores / SWNS

There is a quiet, absurd nobility to the Sanday Easter egg story. 

To recap, there are 500 people living on Sanday. It’s up there in the Orkney islands, minding its own business, full of beaches and bronze age remnants and Norse names, as close to Norway as it is to Glasgow. Or thereabouts. 

A few weeks ago, Dan Dafydd, owner of Sinclair General Stores on Sanday, ordered Easter eggs for his shop. He thought 80 would be enough. By now, you’ll know Dan made a mistake. He ordered 80 boxes. He ended up with 720 eggs. I don’t know much about Sanday except that Peter Maxwell Davies was from there. So, for a time, I had an image of Dan, eyes fixed on the North Sea, hair billowing around him as he listened to Farewell to Stromness on repeat and contemplated his chocolate future. Go on, Dan. 

Dan has spoken of his “embarrassment”. He has also talked about finding “non-conventional” means to get rid of the eggs. Not sure what that meant at first – was he fashioning them into a large neolithic chocolate henge? 

Turns out, Dan set about raffling some of them with a ‘guess the number’ competition (unless something curious is going on, surely the number is 720) with each guess costing £1. It’s open to non islanders, so given the publicity, there is a chance of a fair sum being raised. The money is going to the RNLI, which makes all sorts of sense for an island community. 

Dan has no reason to feel embarrassment. At some point we have all misordered – the wrong volume, the wrong size, the wrong trousers. We have all been the casualty of lack of online focus. 

And Dan’s is a wholesome tale, like the secondary, very gentle, storyline on a formulaic Sunday evening TV show. I can see why it was widely reported. People need Sanday Easter egg stories.

A report by Dr Vivek Murthy, the US surgeon general, recently said “young people are really struggling”. For one of the first times, young people are less happy than the older generation in the US. This shift is expected to be repeated in western Europe, though a detailed study isn’t yet available.  

We all want our children to live at the gates of a brighter future, where their opportunities are brighter than our own. That’s not to say ours were bad, but it’s a natural instinct to wish them better. The US report doesn’t explain it – though Dr Murthy has been warning over the toxic impact of social media for some time. 

There is more to it, no doubt. The spiralling cost of housing, the diminishing chances of work that pays and brings security, the existential threat of climate change. It’s a wonder a younger generation isn’t simply nihilistic. 

When Mel Stride, the minister for work and pensions, cautions that UK attitudes to mental health have gone too far, making it too easy for people to get signed off work and that there are 150,000 with mental health conditions he wants to get back into work, I’m uneasy. It may be that there needs to be a change in assessment for some, but by finger pointing he immediately makes anybody suffering subject to accusations that they’re at it.

Given we’ve taken the best part of a generation to get people to talk about mental ill health, Stride’s is an unhelpful intervention. The Centre for Mental Health calculated recently that the annual societal cost of mental ill health is £300 billion. You could argue about the thoroughness of those figures. It’s a very chunky number. But clearly, getting to grips with it will take more than Stride’s insistence that, in effect, a load of folk need to pull themselves together. 

And this is a why a story about the over-ordering of Easter eggs on a tiny Scottish island matters. It offers an alternative, even for a moment, to the diet of doom. It will not change things on a big scale. But it will offer a buoy in a moment of choppiness. 

Here’s to you Dan Dafydd, and your bad maths. Here’s to you. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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