Navigating your way through the streets of London is not as easy as it used to be. Aside from charging commuters, skateboarders and swarms of enthusiastic tourists, necks craned with lenses pointed skywards - there is a new peril to avoid: chuggers. These street fund-raisers or "charity muggers" as they've affectionately come to be known lurk on every corner, indiscriminately blocking and blighting the path of tourists and residents alike. They congregate in great numbers around the West End and in particular The Strand in central London and it was there at Charing Cross station, as I emerged dazed and disoriented from the depths of the tube network, that I was blindsided by one such gentleman.
I use the term loosely for there was nothing gentile about the way "Tom" attempted to whisk me awkwardly around the cobbled forecourt, making small talk about the weather all the while. Dressed in civilian clothes, with no immediately identifiable badge or luminous logoed gilet, it took a while for me to realise that this was imaginative, stealth fund-raising at its best.
When I forced our routine to an abrupt stop, my dance partner revealed his dishonourable intention to extort money from me. He raced through a 30-second pitch about his non-profit organisation, littered with guilt-laden phrases starting with "All you need do is …" and "If you can find it in your heart to …". Mildly irritated and now very late for my next appointment, I explained politely I couldn't sign up for a regular UK direct debit to fund his cause as I wasn't domiciled in the country. Had he an envelope handy for donations, we might have parted on better terms but as it was, he let out a sigh and looked over my shoulder for his next victim.
Bring back the kindly, rosy-cheeked ladies in fleece jackets, rattling tins full of coppers and handing out stickers, I say. The hard-sell and aggressive ambush with sarcastic parting words has no place in modern society and serves only to give legitimate charities a bad name.
Now, if the Victorians are to be believed, it's not becoming of a person to carry coins. In Dubai, however, they are not the easiest things to part with in a charitable way. If you are lucky enough to receive them - for there seems to be a permanent shortage at my local Spinneys - there are no charity boxes on the counter or at the exits in which to deposit your dirhams. Indeed, it seems like a wasted opportunity to me that fast-food outlets and petrol stations aren't awash with brightly coloured plastic donation canisters. For as we know, charity of course begins at home, but what's to say it can't also begin in Starbucks?
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