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.

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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.

18. Wading In

“Do you want a little brownie, Sid, with your coffee? Sue made them last night.” I ask him.

“I made a little brownie this morning.” He replies.

I ignore him. It’s far too early for his childish comments. “Take one from the middle. The ones at the edge are a bit hard.” I continue.

Sid helps himself. “You need to drink more water if they’re too hard. You’ll give yourself piles.”

And 5-4-3-2-1. Here we go again. The oversharing colleagues.

“I had piles when I was pregnant with our Tommy. I couldn’t even reach to do the cream. I was that big. Our Andy had to do it. He didn’t want to, but I told him he got me into this state, and if he ever wanted to have sex again, then he’d better do it.” Interjects Sue.

“Er… too much information” Sid says, taking the unbitten brownie back out from his mouth. “I’m trying to eat here.”

“Well, you started it.” I mumble.