After my encounter with the “homeless” man in Huddersfield, which I told you about in Dollop 181, I was approached by another homeless person in Sheffield, later that same day. I heard him asking people for money before he came to me, and no one seemed to be responding positively. Unlike the man in Huddersfield, this man’s story remained constant, and didn’t change with every new person he met. I was proud of my home town of Sheffield, for sporting a better class of beggar than those of Huddersfield. If I gave the Huddersfield man some money, and he couldn’t even stick to a plausible story about why he wanted the money, then surely I would have to give something to this seemingly more genuine man. So I also gave him a pound. He thanked me and went on his way.
A minute later, I was approached by another man, who told me he was homeless and asked me if I could spare any change. What was going on? Is there a homeless network where fellow homeless people tip others off about good prospective givers. I didn’t even hear this one ask anyone else before me. It was as if he’d just gone straight to me, as if he knew who I was. Perhaps the man at Huddersfield had alerted the homeless community of Sheffield.
“Hello Sheffield, this is John from Huddersfield. I’ve got a tip off for you. There’s a blind man with blonde hair and blue eyes heading in your direction. He’s just got on the train. He should be at the train station in just over an hour. Oh, and a word to the wise: make sure you get your story straight. I nearly botched it. It seems as if his going rate is a pound, although you might get more if you get your story straight first.”
This man also got a pound. What the hell, I thought, I’m a folk singer for goodness sake, I can obviously afford it. He thanked me and we went our separate ways.
A couple of minutes later, I got lost while trying to find the bus stop, and I was stopped by a man who asked me if I needed some help. I told him where I was trying to get to and he offered to walk me there. As we walked we got chatting. I asked him what he was up to today, and he told me that he wasn’t really doing much, as he was currently living on the streets. Damn, I’d fallen into his trap. He’d obviously been tipped off by Huddersfield and possibly also his other homeless friends in Sheffield, and had deliberately offered to help me, knowing that I would surely have to give him money, perhaps counting on the fact that I’d give him even more than a pound if he did something for me in return. Each homeless person I was meeting today was getting progressively more adept. I reached into my bag and pulled out a pound, which I gave to him. He thanked me, and then informed me that he was lost and he wasn’t sure on the way from here. He then walked off, leaving me more lost than I was before he’d come along.
I stood there for a few seconds, trying to decide how I felt about what had just happened. I felt a mix of emotions. I felt sympathy for the man, assuming that he really was homeless. I also felt a bit angry though that he had taken advantage of my situation, seemingly just to guilt trip me into giving him money, which, when given, he buggered off to leave me to fend for myself. My annoyance began to build, usurping my feelings of sympathy and goodwill. I considered the first homeless man, who didn’t seem to really be homeless, with his changing reasons for needing money. My frustration caused me to start doubting the authenticity of the first Sheffield homeless man, and I began to feel even more irked. After all, in a sea of people refusing to give any of these people money, I had now given money to four homeless people, the first of which had lied to me and then not thanked me, and the last of which had led me down some alley somewhere, making me completely lost.
“Are you lost mate? Where are you trying to get to mate?” A man approached me. I told him where I was trying to head, the man took my arm and we began to walk. I thanked him for his help, and then, for want of anything else to say, and thinking that it might do me some good to get what had just happened off my chest, I said, “you’re not homeless are you?” It was a sort of jocular conversation opener. Basically, he would say no, I’d have piqued his curiosity about why I was asking, and it would mean that I could vent my spleen about what had just happened. Except my plan backfired.
“Yes, I am mate. I am.”
Bloody hell, this was getting ridiculous. What was I going to do? I’d asked as a kind of joke in order to facilitate a conversation topic, but now I’d inadvertently put my foot in it. I’d have to give him some money, surely? I began to reach into my bag, but then I stopped. What if this man was part of the homeless network, and had received all the tip-offs from the previous three homeless men, including the last one about the pretending-to-help-the-blind-man-find-the-bus-stop scam? I can’t keep falling for this. If I gave him money, then he would probably just toddle off, tip off another “homeless” man and then it would happen all over again. When would it end? My hand remained poised at my bag while I deliberated on my course of action. I decided that I wouldn’t give him money until he got me to the bus stop, and then, if he got me there, I’d give him some money before getting on the bus and leaving this madness behind. Otherwise, I might never get home, and would end up broke after spending days being approached by homeless men offering assistance, only to disappear as soon as I gave them money. Ironically, all of this would result in me having no money myself, and therefore having to live on the streets and relying on the money making tactics that I’d picked up from all the homeless men I’d met over the last few days, except I’d be at a distinct disadvantage, as not being able to see, I’d be a bit useless helping blind people find their way to bus stops.
I shuddered at the thought of what would surely happen if I didn’t take control. I’d wait until we got to the bus stop before I gave him any money. Yes, the decision had been made. Except, I realised that as soon as he’d said that he was homeless, I immediately halted my walk, put my hand in my bag, and we were both now standing there, while I had my hand in my bag, clearly deliberating about whether to give him money or not. It would be too awkward to pull my hand out of my bag and not give him anything now. Damn. I pulled out a pound and gave it to him. But the man refused it.
“No no, it’s fine mate, you’ve already given me a quid mate. I saw you ten minutes ago.”
It was the first man who asked me for money at the train station. I apologised for not realising it was him. He said that he thought it was a bit weird when I said, “you’re not homeless are you?” He’d assumed that I had decided for some reason to challenge him about his homelessness, when in fact I’d had no idea it was the same person. I felt as if I really needed to explain why I’d asked him whether he was homeless, and so I told him about the man who’d offered to help me get to the bus stop, but then, as soon as I gave him money, toddled off. We then had a bit of a laugh about our misunderstanding, he took hold of my arm again, and we began to walk.
But then a man jogged up to us. “Sorry mate, that took longer than I thought, but I’ve got directions from someone and I know where to go now.”
It was the man from earlier. It turned out he hadn’t just buggered off, but he’d gone to ask someone for directions. Suddenly everything felt good again, and I began to feel a restored sense of faith in humanity.
I introduced the two men to each other and the three of us walked together to the bus stop, chatting. The two men seemed to be getting on really well, and as they chatted away to each other, I began to daydream about them becoming best of friends, and perhaps they would help each other to get off the streets, maybe moving into a flat together. Maybe they would be each other’s best men, and godfathers to their respective children …
I realised just how all over the place my emotions were today. One minute I was really angry at the homeless people I’d met, thinking that they’d been duplicitous, and now I was getting all excited about the prospect of a fairytale scenario involving these two homeless men in which they both live happily ever after. I was so overcome with emotion tht I gave the pair a twenty pound note. They accepted it, then shouted “so long sucker,” and walked away laughing, leaving me even more lost than before. No, don’t worry, that last bit didn’t happen. They got me to the bus stop, and I got the bus home, feeling as if I’d learnt a valuable life lesson. I hope that you have also learnt a thing or two in this blog, even if that thing you’ve learnt is simply never to read another very lengthy badly written blog post by David Eagle ever again.