I don’t intend to spend today’s Dollop on another EU-based rant, but I am constantly astounded by Nigel Farages lack of tact. In his victory speech on Friday, he trumpeted that Brexit had been won without a single bullet being fired, failing to acknowledge the fact that a Remain campaigner was shot by a man who claimed his name was “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” And yesterday, Farage addressed the European Parliament saying, “I would like to see a grown-up and sensible attitude to how we negotiate a different relationship,” before immediately adding, “Now I know virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives. Or worked in business or worked in trade or indeed ever created a job. But listen. Just listen.” He seems to be completely unaware of the irony and the contradiction behind those two statements. If Farage gets tired of “politics,” he could work in the trails department at BBC 5 Live. He’s got the requisite skills: being able to lace everything with irony and contradiction. Failing that, a marriage guidance councillor maybe.
On Monday, I was waiting for someone at Huddersfield train station. A little way off, there was a man shouting at someone, “help a homeless man, brother.” A minute later he’d got a bit closer to where I was standing, and was asking someone else if he could have 30 or 40 pence to get some food. Everyone he spoke to either ignored him or apologised and walked off. Then he approached me and began to speak. I felt bad about just ignoring him, plus the words of that Phil Collins song were going around my head. You know the one: “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, Oh Lord, Can you feel it coming in the air tonight?” Haha, you see what I did there. You assumed that I’d be referring to Phil Collin’s song about homelessness, Another Day In paradise, didn’t you? But I confounded your expectations by choosing a different Phil Collins song, and thus, hilarity was the result. Pick yourself up off the floor, and we’ll continue this anecdote.
“Excuse me,” said the man. Good start, I thought. I appreciate a beggar with good manners. He was doing well, and if he played his cards right, he might well be coming away from this conversation with 30, or even, 40 pence.
“Do you have 30 or 40 pence that you could spare mate?”
I’m not sure why he was incorporating such specificity into his begging. I might have been about to present him with 50 pence, if he hadn’t have been so rash as to underplay his potential bounty. I’ve heard a few homeless people use this approach of recent. In the past, it always used to be people asking if you could spare any change, but now there’s more specificity with the begging. Perhaps this has some psychological grounding, that people are more likely to give you money if you offer a suggested donation, rather than just asking for some change. But where’s this tip come from? Is there a manual for homeless people, full of handy hints about effective begging.
“Tip number one: always approach from the left. We are neurologically wired to respond more positively to people if you approach them from their left, according to a recent Harvard University study …”
Unfortunately, this particular man presumably hadn’t yet fully read the manual, as surely his next line contravened one of its key tenets.
“Do you have 30 or 40 pence to spare mate? I’ve left my wallet at home, and I need to get the bus home.”
Presumably, he hadn’t realised I’d overheard his first two requests for money, in which he said that he was homeless and wanted to get something to eat. I felt a bit annoyed. I know I might have been making light of homelessness a little in the last bit, but in reality I was sorry for his situation and ready to hand him the money. But now I wasn’t sure. He’d said too much, and was clearly lying about his situation.
“I thought you were homeless?” I replied.
“What?” The man seemed a bit taken aback by my challenge.
“You said to the people over there that you were homeless.”
“Did I?” said the man, before adding, “oh yeah, well I am.”
“But you just said you needed the money to get the bus home?”
The man didn’t respond, but just stood there, seemingly surprised by my challenge.
“And I thought you wanted the money for food?”
“er, yeah.” He was sounding rather unsure and unconvincing.
Then he said, “well, I’ve got something sweet to eat, but I haven’t got anything savoury to have before hand.”
I’m not sure how he thought this explained the disparity of his narrative, unless his tactic was to distract me from that line of thinking by saying something unexpected. Now, I know I might be coming across a bit obnoxious here. Obviously I’m sympathetic of people who are homeless. I know it’s only a very small contribution, but I have a monthly donation set up to Shelter. I’m not saying that this gives me the right to make light of homelessness, although, to be honest, that’s the only reason I give to charities, so that I can take the piss out of the people it represents. I mean, surely that’s how it works. So long as I’m giving them money, surely I am allowed to piss-take a bit? That’s why I’m having a go at Nigel Farage so much, because in actuality I’m shelling out loads of money a month to support UKIP.
Anyway, I was shocked by the “homeless” man’s line about only having something sweet, and not having anything savoury to eat first. I don’t want to use the line “beggars can’t be choosers,” but, you know … Plus, a minute ago he was trying to get home because he’d left his wallet in his house, and now that I’d rumbled his wallet-bus story and reminded him that he was menat to be spending the money on food, he’d manufactured a line about needing to buy something savoury to accompony his sweet. Clearly this guy hadn’t read the manual. Surely the rule is that if you’re begging for money for food, you get the savoury first, and then, if it’s a good day of begging, you buy yourself dessert as a reward for a good day’s work? I wasn’t at all convinced that this man was being truthful with me. There was something in his demeanour, and his story just wasn’t adding up.
“OK,” I said, in a friendly voice, “let me buy you something savoury.”
“What? No, it’s all right mate, 30 or 40 pence will be fine.”
I tried to reason with him, explaining that 30 or 40 pence wasn’t going to get him a meal, and I was happy to buy him something substantial to eat. But he just kept saying that 30 or 40 pence would be fine. I tried highlighting that 30 or 40 pence wasn’t going to be enough for his bus fair, and that I’ve been standing on the street now for five minutes, and so far, no one has given him any money. But he just kept saying that all he needed was 30 or 40 pence.
More doubt crept into my mind, but now it wasn’t doubt about this man’s credentials as a beggar, but at whether I was doing the right thing by challenging him. Everyone he’d asked for 30 or 40 pence had refused. Presumably if he was standing on the street asking for money, then he must need it in some way. Yes, his story might keep changing and he might be lying about being homeless, but surely you wouldn’t stand on the street asking for 30 or 40 pence and being continually knocked back, unless you really needed that money for something. And who was I to play judge and jury over this man?
So, feeling guilty for contesting his authenticity, I gave him a pound, and I didn’t even ask for sixty pence change. And then I apologised for challenging him, and wished him a good day. He muttered a thanks and walked off. A few seconds later, he was asking someone else for money.
“Excuse me mate. I’ve left my wallet at home, and I need to get the bus …”
Later that day, back in Sheffield, I had a couple more encounters with some homeless people, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. Hopefully you’ll join me, unless you think that this anecdote has shown me to be an obnoxious prick. In my defence, I was the only person, in the ten minutes I was standing there, who gave him any money. I await your verdict on my behaviour.