Why, oh why is it that every time I go into the city centre I am accosted by people wanting something? I have come into town to either shop, have a coffee and stare at the wonderment that is humankind or go on an appointment or junket.
I am beginning to wonder if I have ‘gullible bint’ printed somewhere upon me that these people hone in on and I am starting to recognise the benefits of a Burka or hoody.
“No thanks” I say with a smile “I have enough of my own”
“Got a quid or so for a coffee, I ‘ant ‘ad a drink all day” said the puppy eyed man, his rolled up, dog-eared Big Issue shaking in his hand.
GUILT. Now I felt horrible; in fact evil, selfish and thoughtless. I went into my purse and gave him £1.50.
Ten minutes later (and I’m probably over exaggerating here, it felt more like seconds) I turned the corner and out popped another one in front of me like a jack in the box. I am convinced the previous seller of this magazine had radioed in giving him my description.
“Big Issue? Please, I’ve got loads to sell” He begged.
“But I’ve just…ugh…right give me a magazine” I took the paper and gave him the money.
“I don’t s’pose you’ve got any spare change for a drink…” he continued.
“No, I gave it to your mate round the corner” And off I went with the Big Issue sticking out of my bag in plain view for all the other Big Issue sellers to notice.
A short while later as I was admiring the artful arrangement of clothing on the mannequin in Karen Millen’s window and wondering if I had a chance in hell of looking as good as that undersized, breastless, childlike plastic model, I spotted a bright red T shirt in my peripheral vision. I made the mistake of turning around instead of darting deftly into the shop.
“HEY – HOW YA DOING?! Shopping? “ enthused the curly haired, Tigger- like University student.
“No, no. I just came out to meet people and give them money” I retorted.
(Nervous laugh) “ Funny, yeah, that’s cool, can you give me a few minutes, won’t be long, seriously, you look like the kind of person who’d help us, only £3.00 a month, though you can give more, if you would we’d appreciate it and I’ll give you a free badge, it’s gonna make such a difference to the environment” he said without drawing breath.
Not wanting to refuse a free badge so that everyone knew I was at one with planet Earth sold it to me. Well, that was my excuse for signing on the dotted line along with losing the will to live.
At this point I felt like marching into the town square and emptying my purse in the middle and shouting “FREE FOR ALL” at the top of my voice. This would surely be easier and less time consuming. I decided that I needed to appear more assertive and slightly chilly; adopt a ‘Diva- esque –don’t- even -THINK- you- can- talk -to- me’ cold front that people could sense from 3 feet away. I looked at my reflection in the shop window and practised my mean stare, even the mannequin flinched, I’m sure of it.
I marched forward purposefully, shoulders back, menacing look in place, although it was more of a squint as it was particularly sunny. I needed sunglasses. I reached into my bag and put my sunglasses on and this was where I made my first mistake.
“ Excuse me…we are doing some research on a new packet of crisps, could you spare a few minutes?” said the slightly mousy, verging on helpless, middle aged lady.
“Seriously? Is there a conspiracy against me or something? Do you know how many times I’ve been stopped today? I haven’t even made it to the end of the street and back. I really don’t have the time, I’m sorry, I’m ever so busy and this sort of thing is just making me start to hate people unnecessarily” I griped.
The Lady looked as fragile as a lame kitten and I could feel myself beginning to crumble. She didn’t look like a ‘people person’ who was used to being in the face of the public, all toothy smiles and sales talk. Perhaps she had been forced into this pitiful position as her husband had lost his job in the recession. Maybe she was a single parent and this job was her only salvation and means of putting something from Iceland on the table to feed her family. Perhaps she was on the verge of suicide or doing a ‘Shirley Valentine’ and my refusal to partake could just tip her over the edge.
“You’ll get a free packet of crisps” she ventured meekly.
Well whoopie- doo. What could I say? I left the city without my usual coffee, no change for the car park and nothing to show for the hours I’d been there except my virtuous character.
The problem is I feel awful if I say no. Big Issue helps the homeless and is in fact an interesting read. I do care about my planet, whales, ill treated animals, children in need and the starving millions and I also understand that people are just trying to do their job. However, I am unable to give my money to everyone ( as my bank manager will verify when I asked him for a partial default on my bank loan recently) my time is usually limited and quite frankly I’d like to be left alone to choose, by free will, which charities I donate to. What a dilemma this is.