49. Chugger Off

Chugger, n. Amalgamation of the words charity and mugger.

Every UK high street has them. Over-privileged, hyper-confident, young students wearing brightly coloured corporate rain jackets. It is almost impossible to walk down a main pedestrian street at lunchtime without one of these androids waving frantically to attract your attention or bounding over to you like an enthusiastic puppy who has just met a long-lost friend.

If you have never experienced this phenomenon, then when blindsided and cornered, be prepared for flattery and a real shakedown. They always pretend you are the most sexy, interesting and attractive person they have ever met and open with cheesy, cringeworthy lines.  Apparently you do look like someone who wants to save a child’s life today. By implication, a child will die if you do not donate. How do they know that I’m not a paediatric surgeon, who has already saved two children today?

No, they can’t accept a one-off cash donation. It has to be a “longer-term arrangement”. They want your bank details.  It’s only £3 per month to provide clean water, save the donkeys, end homelessness, *insert charity here. Soliciting a direct debit agreement is not considered begging, like asking for cash, which is an annoying legal loophole as I have reported aggressive begging before to a local Police Officer.

I hate the way these highly organised, paid street fundraisers, irritate me with their consistent, constant intrusion, even if I do my very best confrontational stare, not breaking eye contact first. I can go from neutral to hostile in a matter of seconds. They’re used to rejection. It is water off a duck’s back. There is no fear. It’s a game. Theatre. Playing the part of the pantomime villain. They know the tactics. It is wonderful – for them – that they have cultivated a strong sense of self-confidence and resilience so young, but not at the expense of the rest of us. They may pretend to show compassion and empathy for their charity, but when probed, their knowledge is an in-depth as a leaflet. I can see them doing a volunteer gap year abroad where they kid themselves they’re being green and helping the environment by flying half-way across the world to do a menial job that a local could do for three months then swanning around Goa for the remaining nine months, because it’s so cheap to live there.

I’m too old for the age range where they have the most success.  If I spot a herd, I walk behind another member of the public.  I avoid them by walking right past ignoring them completely. I do not engage at all. I’ve even stopped saying, “No thank you” because once, a young man took this as an opportunity to engage further and followed me for a few steps. He said, “What do you mean, no?” I turned and shouted in his face, “When a woman says no, she means no!” It is frightening just how resilient they are to the word, “NO.” (I wonder in what other situations they choose to repeatedly ignore it.)

Swearing does not work either. It’s a badge of honour that deserves primitive fraternity whoops, with high-fives all round from other chuggers whenever one of them is told to “Fuck off” by a member of the public.

I do feel a bit sorry for the desperate-to-have-a-job door-to-door newbies. Thank goodness we’ve got signs on the lampposts down my street saying that we do not buy or sell from the door. I don’t feel at all sorry for that certain kind of character who does commission-based sales, preying on the vulnerable with their scripted banter. They can jog on. As can the PR reps who insist in the press that this is the most effective way of obtaining funds, and what would we have the charities do instead? That’s your job to figure out, not mine.


28. Baby Barista

Every few months, someone ‘gets parole’ and gets out of this shithole. This time, it’s Lorna. She had an unlucky start in life, was a teenage single parent, who got glassed in the face accidentally, by someone who thought she was someone else. She said she found the whole criminal justice experience fascinating, so did a law degree at night school over six years, and is now leaving to do her pupillage at some Employment Law firm. She wants to be a criminal barrister, and I have no doubt she’ll be brilliant at it.

The scar runs around her eyebrows right down her left cheek, and over the bridge of her nose is a tiny ridge of lighter coloured, hard skin. It doesn’t bother her usually, only when she wears sunglasses. She says it makes people take her seriously. Every so often, some well-meaning person will tell her about the benefits of some oil that reduces scarring or gently enquires why she never had plastic surgery. She’s so stoic, and will say things like, “it could have been worse, and made me appreciate what I’ve got now, and not what I had.”

I’ve never met a more hard-working woman in my life. Full-time job, mother of a tweenie, studying for a degree, learning karate, and has a part-time job as a barista. “Men can wait” she says, “I haven’t got time to look after anyone else right now.” She was only a kid herself, when she had her son, and his dad is a “bit of an arsehole” but she doesn’t stop him seeing the boy (when he can be bothered to) because she doesn’t “want to be the bad guy in all this.” Her son has already been let down by him loads of times and he is coming to the realisation on his own that his dad is a dick. There was a brief few years, when the boy was out of nappies but not yet bored of going to Maccy D’s every week, when her ex tried to make an effort, but teaching a boy to play pool is not really being a proper father.

Sid thought he was being clever by writing the same thing in every leaving card, including Lornas.

There we are then, perhaps I should say, old friend, farewell! See you next time!

His acronyms might have been funny the first time round, but they’re wearing thin now, Still, they’re better than the crappy “best wishes” and “good luck” or the even slightly witty, “see you in court!” She’s up for it and taking it all in good spirits, and is even wearing the ‘trainee barista’ t shirt someone gave her.

Lorna’ ex is ironically, up in court next week for some offences called “outraging public decency” and “voiding urine.” Apparently he was caught shagging some woman in a car in the multi story. In broad daylight. After leaving the police station, he then went out on the lash to celebrate and the very same copper caught him taking a piss in the street. He said he had some weed on him, but they confiscated it and let him off for that.

Sid said, “he likes getting his cock out in public, doesn’t he?”

Lorna laughs and says, “you’ll never guess what he does for a living? Not really a living though. Go on, guess? What kind of no-effort job could a lazy, vain man get?”

Sid shakes his head.

“Fucking life model. Twenny quid an hour to stand stark bollock naked in front of a load of bored housewives and then he gets to shag one of them afterwards in her car!”

A few months later, I see her in the street and we have a quick chat to catch up. She tells me that her first prosecution was a bail application in Crown Court, and she couldn’t even do that one because she was ‘professionally embarrassed’. Turned out, the defendant was one of her ex’s friends.

16. Rugby is a Man’s Game

One summer, I temped where my dad worked. It was a huge, grubby, Victorian ‘factory’, which although still impressive, was a fading reminder of its glory years from back in the day. It was almost in the middle of this once-thriving Yorkshire market town, and was where real blokes with dirty fingernails and steel-toe capped boots bought a paper every day on the way to work, read it back to front, took all day doing the crossword and drunk their brews in double figures. It was a 24/7 operation, so you were assigned red shift or black shift when you joined, and there was always two of everything (such as children’s Christmas parties) so all shifts could always be covered. Some towns didn’t have this industry as a back up after the miners strike so we considered ourselves lucky.

Greetings always went something like this.

“Ay up cock.”

“Nah then t’old lad. Hahz tha doin?”

“Champion bud. Champion. Misses sez she’s sin your lass dahn t’chip oil”

(Translation. Hello friend. Hello friend. How are you? Fine my friend. Fine. My wife said she saw your wife in the fish and chip shop.)

The ratio of men to women was about 30 to one, so shares in Lynx went up whenever a new woman started. I’d been there a couple of weeks and one or two had already tried their luck practising their cringeworthy chat up lines on me. I didn’t blame them. It was a game. I was a single student in her early 20’s, who drank pints and smoked roll-ups. It was flattering to be admired like that for a change, the way some of them tried to coax a blush from me, and the amusing banter was cheesy or borderline rated 12/Carry on Film at best. I was well aware that the sort of chatter that was said out of earshot of us women was less respectful though. I heard the odd snippet here and there like “up and down like a bride’s nighty” or “I gave her a face like a painter and decorators radio” and “imagine having a go on that” but I was only going to be there for two months, anyway. There was no rutting and they kept their hands to themselves. But the attention did wonders for my ego and confidence.

One day, I happened to mention to my dad that Chris from the rugby team had asked me out.

“Which one’s Chris?” He enquired.

“The one with the black hair. You know his uncle Steve. He runs that pub. Remember, he was at that wedding.”

He pauses for a few seconds, thinking. “Oh yeah, I know him, He’s alright he is. Are you gonna go?”

“Yeah. I said I would. But I don’t want to be a rugby team bet.”

My dad chuckled, then said, “But you already are a rugby team bet.”

My dad always got straight to the point. No mucking about. Whenever someone had some gossip, they knew they could ask him direct and he’d tell them if he knew what was what. He’d say something like, “That’s got round quick. I only started that rumour yesterday.”

Friday night came and I met Chris in the pub. He was a great date. He got there before me, stood up when I arrived, greeted me with a peck on the cheek, and got the drinks in. He was attentive, charming and funny. He looked freshly showered, not over-groomed and smelled amazing. In his early 30’s, he clearly exercised regularly, so had the tight torso of a footballer and no hint of a dadbod. If I had to describe who he looked like, I would say a cross between the football managers Mauricio Pochettino and Marco Silva. He sported a recently-cut short back and sides, with a tiny bit of product for shape. Face freshly shaved and moisturised, it was just at that point where you can kiss a man before his stubble starts growing and your own face gets grazed to shreds. “Pash rash” it’s called.

There was enough spark for mutual flirting, but we both knew that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. We just weren’t into enough of the same things, and I was going back to College soon, but it was nice to spend time and have a few drinks and a laugh with someone. Maybe a kiss. Nothing more. No awkwardness at work. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

“So, who else was in the running then to ask me?” I asked, after my third drink.

“Wh..what do you mean?” He scratched the back of his head.

“Nah, I can’t ask you that. Ok then. How much was I worth? It’s alright. You can tell me. I won’t be mad.”

“Fifty quid”

“Fifty quid. Is that all?”

“Well, some of the lads wouldn’t put in.”

“Why not?”

“They’re scared of your dad.”