Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Street life

My new follower the Fearless Threader doesn't like people on the street asking for money, and neither do I.

I don't mind the homeless, don't get me wrong. Sometimes it's not their fault that they've fallen on hard times and I always used to give a few quid out around Christmas. Although it's an increasingly cashless society, isn't it, so it's getting more difficult to do that. In fact last year I didn't really give anything.

What's an acceptable denomination to give, anyway? This is another problem. Used to be you could sling a few coppers in the pot and walk away feeling like the Good Samaritan. It was a win-win homed-to-homeless transaction. These days if you try offloading your shrapnel, the homeless will probably give you a sharp retort. You can hardly get away with less than a pound, truth be told. And in these straitened times that's not really feasible.

After all, how are you supposed to choose which homeless gets your charity? You give the pound out to the guy under the Sainsbury's cashpoint and, before you've got to the end of the street you see the girl under the Tesco's cashpoint. And she's not half bad. A bit scrawny, but that's to be expected. But that's not how you choose, of course, it mustn't be how you choose. Still, it's a conversation starter, isn't it. Although if it went well, the 'your place or mine' would be more or less redundant.

No, it's wrong, totally wrong. But you've given your pound to the bloke down the road and all it's got you is a look of disdain from a homeless hottie which could have been a smile that lifted your day. Your feel good factor's through the floor. If she ever gets back on her feet and scrubs up she'll remember your lack of charity and she'll never go near you. If you'd helped her out, maybe she'd seek you out when her huge inheritance came through and you'd live happily every after.

So you decide to go double or quits. You lean down, smile and put a pound in. She doesn't even look up. You cough. She doesn't look up. You say in a calm voice (not sounding angry, but firm): "I just gave you a pound. How much more do I have to give you before you act a little more gratefully?" She looks up and says: "Fuck off!" You think to yourself: hang on a minute Baz, she's an ungrateful little cow. So you say: "Only, it was meant to be 50p. You reach in, take out your pound, put back 50p, just to save your face, and she laughs a hollow laugh and you walk off down the street while she screams abuse at you. You're trying to hide your face from the other people on the street who are wondering what you've done to the homeless girl to make her shout at you. And then she screams: "He offered me money for sex the fuckin' pervert". Which you absolutely did not do; that's not what you meant at all. But you decide to run anyway, just because you hate people looking at you like that.

It's this kind of situation, which could happen to anyone, that makes it difficult to give money out on the street. In the end it's best to give nothing to anyone; at least it's fair.

I used to buy the big issue but I stopped because it's a shit read. I fully endorse the organisation's attempts to get people into paid employment but if you're going to try and involve me in commerce to help the homeless, as opposed to charity, then you need to create a product that I want to buy. Especially now we have the Metro, Shortlist, Sport and all those other wonderful freesheets. Come to think of it, I probably stopped buying the Big Issue right around the time the Metro first graced our transport network.

So, what do people want to buy that the homeless could sell? The only thing I can think of is booze, and that's just a recipe for disaster.

Anyway, all this is by the by. The kind of people I was referring to at the top of the post are chuggers; students paid commission to get your details so other students can phone you and try and give you the guilts about not helping the charity they're working for. They always seem to be really tasty girls who smile at you and then don't want to chat once you've signed up.

This is an old trick and predates the chugger. Back when people on the street used to simply want to ask you questions, they were often attractive girls as well. The most unusual one I ever stopped for was doing some market research into how people feel about being asked questions on the street by people doing market research, no word of a lie.

Here's how it went:

Her: Hi there, would you mind just answering a few questions?

Me: Well, I'm kind of in a hurry...

Her: It won't take very long, I promise. And you could be helping to save a life... Please?

Me: Oh, alright then.

Her: Oh great, thanks. That's so great. Right. First, can I ask you: How often do you stop for these sorts of surveys?

Me: I don't know, really.

Her: ...Don't.. know. Question two: When you do stop, how many questions do you tend to answer?

Me: It depends on how much time I've got.

Her: And how much time have you got?

Me: Well, how long will it take?

Her: I can only accept answers, I'm afraid, not questions.

Me: Oh. Sorry

Her: That's ok. Now, would you say that, in general, these surveys are 'a' under-rated, 'b' over-rated, or 'c' you'd rather not say.

Me: Erm, 'c'. I'd rather not say.

Her: Lovely, thanks. Nearly finished! Now, when you do answer questions, do you prefer 'a' multiple choice questions...?

Me: ...or?

Her: That's the question.

Me: Eh?

Her: I'm going to have to hurry you, I'm afraid, sir.

Me: Er... yes, I suppose I prefer multiple choice questions.

Her: Great! And when answering multiple choice questions, do you prefer 'a' one option, 'b' two options, 'c' three options, 'd' four options, 'e' five options or... 'n', 14 options?

Me: Er... 'c', three options? I suppose it depends on the question.

Her: Ok, nearly done now. If you feel that surveys are dragging on for longer than you had originally anticipated, and indeed that you've been misled by the canvasser, would you 'a' let them know, 'b' indicate your impatience some other way, say by looking at your watch, or 'c' pretend that you didn't mind?

Me: 'c' - I'd pretend that I didn't mind.

Her: And how long would you be prepared to go on pretending that you didn't mind? Would it be 'a' a short while, 'b' a long while, or 'c' other?

Me: 'c' again, I think.

Her: Right, that's it! Thanks very much for your time!

At this point, readers, I tried to move in for a bit of a chat up. I'd been there fifteen minutes and I was late for work. But she moved straight onto this other bloke, and he had it all figured out. Their exchange was over in seconds. It went like this:

Her: Thanks for stopping. Can I ask you: How often do you stop for these sorts of surveys?

Him: Almost never

Her: Next question: When you do stop, how many questions do you tend to answer?

Him: Only two.

Her: Ok, thanks very much indeed. Have a nice day.

Him: Look, here's my number. Give me a call if you want to go for a drink.

Her: Ok, I will.

I was gutted readers, totally gutted. And I never did find out what she meant about saving a life.

Project Onan's turning into Project Onerous, btw. I'm really losing interest and I'm only a fifth of the way through.




  1. I hate to comment when I have nothing other to say than "That was hilarious" but I must.

  2. I get stopped on the street all the time for those blasted market research surveys. The researchers (I use the term loosely) hone right in on me because I appear nice. They soon learn I'm not so nice. Not so nice at all.

  3. The art of the blank gaze; both at computer screens and researchers.

  4. OMG I just got mentioned in someone else's blog. Must think of something witty to say.......................................

    No, lost my train of thought altogether. I still buy the big issue, mainly because I don't do public transport. And if I see someone looking in need I buy them a cuppa tea. That way they get warm and some nourishment from a bikkie to go with it and they can't spend it on booze or drugs.

    Oh now I sound judgemental! I give up.