Whilst walking along the High Street the other day, a guy called out to me, “Excuse me, mate. Could you lend me a quid?”
Now, leaving aside the issue that we have never met so the term “mate” is a bit tenuous, how would this “lending” arrangement work in practice?
Would I have to give him a pound and leave a forwarding address for him to send it back or place under a decorative flowerpot? Would we have to arrange some clandestine meeting outside McDonald’s or maybe I could just leave him my bank details for its’ return?
To save me from this unwanted hassle, I just said: “Sorry, ‘mate’” – Well, he started it – “I have no money on me” because I didn’t want to get into a haggling war where he says, “Well, how about 50p, then? Maybe a penny? Have you got any unwanted Euros?”
We all know from previous experience that this money never gets returned and so does the person asking and the use of the term “mate” and asking for a “loan” is a just a polite way of being consensually robbed. So, that’s okay, then?
The more creative have asked me for a quid to buy some petrol because their car has stopped or that their girlfriend is giving birth in hospital and they need a pound towards the train fare.
If I had a pound for every pound I’ve been asked for then I would… probably break even?
But there are genuine reasons for not giving away money to random strangers just because they ask nicely.
The main one being that I feel they will only spend it on cans of beer and packets of fags.
A scurrilous theory I’ve come up with on the grounds that most have approached me whilst being in possession of a can of beer or smoking a fag.
The real shame of this “acceptable begging” is that for every one of us who says “no” there is someone who will say “yes” and worse, for every person who “tries it on” there is a really desperate person in genuine need.
Telling the difference, is the hardest part for us all.