Tuesday, 31 October 2006

PostHeaderIcon It beggars belief

This is a bit of a grumpy old man rant, just bare with me...

It's that time of the year when all the semi-professional beggars come out of the woodwork and accost you on the streets and in your own homes when you're at your most vulnerable. They come in all sorts of guises from the innocent looking child on the street, to the respectable looking middle aged Christian at your front door and even disguised as your own work colleagues.

The other day I was entering my local Tesco Express when I was approached by a boy probably no more than 8 years old "have you any money for the Guy, mister" he said. This 'Guy' was the sorriest excuse for a Guy that I've ever seen; it didn't have a face (in fact I'm not even sure if it had a head) and it looked like it was made from rags that probably came from a dogs basket.

Anyway, as it happened I didn't have any change so I just shook my head and continued on into the store. Of course had I had any change I would more than likely have lied to the boy and then have felt guilty for doing so. On the way out of the shop he confronted me again but this time I was ready for him; I had unconsciously - but probably deliberately - taken more time than usual in returning my credit card to my wallet as if to prove that I hadn't been given any change in the shop. I find it incredible that this young boy was intimidating me enough that I would change my behaviour just so I didn't feel bad about not giving him any money when I really didn't have any to give. I've felt less bothered by some of the biggest, ugliest beggars on some of the hardest streets of the meanest cities in the world.

What I should have done is asked him what he wanted the money for and the conversation would go something like this:

Me: "What's the money for?"
Boy: "It's 'penny for the Guy'"
Me: "Yes but what are you going to do with the money?"
Boy: "Buy fireworks."
Me: "You're too young to buy fireworks, what's the money for?"
Boy: "My Dad will buy the fireworks for me."
Me: "So why can't your Dad pay for the fireworks himself?"
Boy: "Because he's unemployed and spends all his money on cigarettes and alcohol."
Me: "Fuck off!"

Today is Halloween and in recent years this has become an excuse for another type of begging or Trick-or-Treat as it's better known. You don't mind a few of the neighbours kids knocking on the door if you know who they are but when kids from other streets come knocking just to get a hand out of free chocolate it's not only a nuisance but can be quite intimidating, especially when they're teenagers who'd keanly key your car on the way past when you send them packing. It's gotten to the point were you have to go out for the night just to avoid the hassle. Of course you can hide away in the house and not answer the door but then the neighbours kids think your miserable sods for not joining in the fun. One year whilst we were sat in the dark pretending not to be home we had one neighbour shouting through the letterbox "Emma, Gary we know you're in there, open the door."

With Christmas coming we'll soon have the "carol singer" beggars knocking on the door. These are worse then the trick-or-treaters as they make know bones about the fact that they just want money. Come the first week of December you can almost guarantee the doorbell well ring a couple of times a night and when you answer the door there's a pair of sullen looking teenage girls who reluctantly launch themselves into a poor rendition of Jingle Bells (it's not even a carol for christ's sake) and then trail off after the second sentence and just stand there looking at you as if to say "ok, give us a quid and we'll piss off". It gets to the point where you have to hang signs on the door asking them to kindly go away.

Christmas also brings with it the "charity" beggars, you get these all year round but they come out in force during the Christmas period hoping to cash in on peoples Christian nature during this season of goodwill to all men etc. Christian, my arse, I don't care what the cause is there is nothing Christian about disturbing a person in their home to ask for money, most of which will get eaten up through management overheads and not reach the needy and deserving.

I can't see what the distinction is between this type of charitable begging and a homeless person on the streets asking for handouts. At least you can walk away from the man in the street and they won't trespass on your property disturbing you in your own home. In fact the beggar in the street is probably a more deserving charitable case, you know all your money's going straight to the cause without being wasted on overheads or distributed by a committee more interested in their own political games. OK, so he'll probably waste it on Carlsberg Special Brew but if that's all he's got in the world and it makes it more bearable to live then fine.

Of course they don't only get you at home they also coming looking for you in the workplace. This is far worse than them knocking on your door as you have the added peer pressure of not wanting to look like a tight arse in front of all your work colleagues.

With the "charity" beggars you have to ask the question why do these people do it. They probably say it's because it's a cause they believe in and want to help as much as they can. If that's the case then why can't they just give a substantial amount of their own income to the cause without wasting their own time and ours by begging for handouts? I suspect there's a deeper egotistical reason behind it and it has nothing at all to do with acts of altruism. By spending time collecting say £100 from a bunch of friends, neighbours, colleagues, strangers makes them feel like worthy people and good about themselves, whereas giving £100 of their own money doesn't have quite the same warm feeling when others don't know you're doing it and you'll have less money in your pocket to spend down the pub on the weekend.

In recent years the company I work for has put together a circular of season greetings which gets distributed around the company attached to our payslip in December. Anyone can put a personal message on this list providing they pay a sum to charity. The idea for this came about when certain people who weren't going to send Christmas cards to their colleagues didn't want to look like miserable Scrooges and so thought up this idea to donate the money to charity that would have been spent on cards. This is all well and good until you consider that there really is nothing wrong with not sending Christmas cards to all your work colleagues, it's often an empty gesture anyway. So in reality this is just an exercise in self congratulation allowing everyone to see how good you are for donating to charity. This has nothing to do with begging but reinforces the point about charity collecting being more to do with personal self congratulation than wanting to make a difference in the world. I think this year I might add my own message, something like this "I'm only putting my name to this so you'll all think I'm a wonderful charitable person and not just that miserable git who sits in the corner. Seasons Greetings - Gary"

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for giving money to charity, I just want to do it on my own terms and when I want and not be hassled, intermediated or cajoled into giving just because someone shakes a collection jar in my face.

OK, rant over.

Please feel free to leave comments.


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