Column: December 14, 2011

TWO women turned up at my front door last week. Churglars, I suppose you could call them, like chuggers, only they come to your house.

Chuggers are easy to avoid. I use what I call my Big Issue face. This is the expression I make when I have bought a copy of the Big Issue the previous day, and find myself confronted by a Big Issue vendor hawking the same edition. I raise my eyebrows, cover my top lip with my bottom lip, and tip my head back over my right shoulder.

This expression says to the vendor: “I am a liberal, socially aware man, who sympathises with your plight and would pay more taxes in order to alleviate your suffering. Indeed, yesterday I bought a copy of the Big Issue from somebody like you. Though not you.”

I appreciate this is quite a lot of work for one expression, but I do have quite an expressive face. But it is impossible to employ at one’s front door.

“Don’t worry,” said one of the churglars, “I’m not trying to sell you something.”

That was where things went wrong. In my experience, the only people who begin a conversation with, “I’m not trying to sell you something” are people trying to sell me something.

She went on to tell me about a benighted but deserving section of society, and suggested I might want to support these unfortunates by setting up a direct debit.

Yes, the opening to her spiel was accurate. She wasn’t selling me anything. But I have to wonder about the meeting at which her pitch was decided. Did they really think that the bit that people don’t like about buying things is the getting stuff, rather than the emptying of wallets?

At that point, I politely wound up proceedings, loath as I am to hand over my bank details to strangers.

I was able to do this because my irritation with their heavy- handed methods outweighed my guilt that I was not supporting their charity.

About 90% of my altruistic acts are prompted by guilt. The remainder can be attributed to ignorance, but guilt is, by far, my prime mover.

I was reminded of this last week. I was full of the spirit of Christmas. I had listened to an hour of live choral music, my hands had more or less healed after the previous week’s struggles with a Christmas tree, and I was thinking of chancing a mince pie.

Had I happened upon a raggedy orphan, I might even have tossed him a shiny sixpence, if that sort of largesse didn’t land one on some sort of register these days.

The rest of the parents shuffled out of the chapel, and we were at the back of the crowd. I realised there was no way there would be any mince pies left by the time we got out. “No, look! Over there,” I whispered. There was another exit, one ignored by most of the people around us.

I led my wife through the wall of unsuspecting adults, my eyes on the prize. And, to my relief at the time, there was a child holding a collection plate. Yes, I had cheated, but this was an official exit. I had not gone rogue in pursuit of a mince pie. I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out my only change – two pound coins. I intended to drop one on the plate, but the child had spotted the second, and I did not want to appear as cheap as I actually am. Besides, it was for a good cause. Guilt won.

We turned the corner, and found ourselves outside the first exit. Behind all the other people filing out. I sighed. And then I saw her. Another child, with another collection plate. And the only money I had left was the £20 note in my wallet.

I had a choice: appear to everybody around me as if I were the sort of person who ignored collection plates after carol concerts, or hand over 20 quid. Yes, it was a good cause, but not that good. And I had already coughed up, dammit!

I pulled out the only weapon in my armoury: my Big Issue face. And so I was able to pass the collection plate without causing a scene.

Obviously they had run out of mince pies.

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