For reasons which need not detain us here – well, all right, relations with Her Indoors had broken down because as a male I’d done the logical and ventured to suggest that she should choose any present I bought her if she wished to get what she really wanted/needed, which apparently was totally unacceptable because they then wouldn’t be a surprise when she opened it/them on Christmas morning – yesterday under duress I was ordered to go shopping and then, when she was finally ready to join me, wait outside Boots the chemist until she got there.
It was then that the fun started.
About ten minutes of people-watching later I was approached sideways by a somewhat dishevelled cove in a battered overcoat who, after stuttering badly in introducing himself, asked if I could spare him the price of a cup of tea because of the time of year etc.
Restraining an urge to call for police assistance on the assumption that Austerity cuts would have completely removed the boys (and girls) in blue from trudging the streets of Blighty – and (I like to think) to a degree overcome by festive spirit and my love of Man to the point of being willing to make a grand gesture – I decided that the quickest way of getting rid of him was to comply and offered to gift him the shrapnel that I might have in my pockets.
I don’t personally know what the price of a cup of tea in Islington is these days, but it’s doubtful whether the entire (£1.40) contents of my pockets then handed over would have gained my temporary friend more than a tea bag, never mind a cup of tea. As he trudged off down the street afterwards I felt that I’d scored a minor victory against the world and that it had been cheap at the price.
It wasn’t long before my next source of entertainment pitched up. On my manor there is a familiar group – I won’t say ‘gang’ – of foreign mixed-gender (by which I mean a combination men and women, not that they are all transgender types) who turn out regularly to beg in the streets.
I could get into trouble here and/or reveal my subconscious racialist trait by mentioning it, but my received impression is that their country of origin may be Romania – or else perhaps one of those countries like it – from which Ukippers claim that hundreds of thousands annually queue to arrive in Britain in order to take advantage of our bountiful welfare system.
Anyway, there are four or five of them – including two women and three blokes – who fan out and take up stations all around the shopping area from where they adopt sad, mournful pleading faces and down-and-out personas, the better to prey upon the good nature of those locals who are out and about.
One chap in particular is a bit of an area celebrity – he’s either got some sort of lower limb disability or else is skilled in pretending that he has – and, aided by a single crutch, lurches about as if he is Quasimodo off taking a break from his daily bell tower duties.
At the risk of compounding any impression I may have given of being a prejudiced fascist, several years ago now I once watched a TV documentary in which a troupe rather like this was depicted commuting into town in a flashy black, two year old, Mercedes limousine complete with black-tinted windows, paying for a day-rate slot in a local car park, spending the day begging on the streets … and then, lugging their spoils, returning to their vehicle about 6.00pm of an evening in order to drive back to their four-bedroomed semi in the leafy suburbs to count them before then settling down to a three-course dinner featuring Beef Wellington, fine wines and a Walnut Whip dessert – all served by a butler and sundry domestic staff.
I am not suggesting for a moment that any of those frequenting where I was yesterday were featured in said programme, but let’s just say that the familiar ‘celebrity’ with the single crutch and the Quasimodo style of getting about suddenly hove into view on the horizon, coming my way from the direction of the Tube station.
Now, my inner belief that I’m something of a smart dresser may or may not be wide of the mark, but it soon became plain that the gent in question seemed to have formed the impression that I was not only a begging competitor but worse than that, one who was currently occupying one of his regular ‘spots’.
There was a ‘daggers drawn’ demeanour spreading across his face as he approached in the general throng and (as it did so) for some indefinable reason I ‘twigged’ that there was every chance he was going to give me a drop-kick in the nether regions as he came past, the better to assert his proprietary rights to the pavement space outside Boots.
That is, if his disability enabled him to do so – and I had formed the view (on past observational experience) there was every likelihood that it would because his general agility was amazing.
At the crucial moment I flinched – partly deliberately and partly because all males possess a primeval instinctive nether region protection reflex – and turned to one side as he swung past me and then continued up the street to take up a position two shops away.
Two-nil – I’d got away with it.
It was at that point that I spied Her Indoors striding towards me with a look of thunder and intent.