Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Beggars At The Bus Station

City Centre bus stations seem to act as magnets for people begging. Maybe it is my imagination, but there seem to be an increasing number of them, of all nationalities. Maybe it is the economic downturn. Take Edinburgh, when I visited the other day. In the past there used to be competing pipers, busking at most street corners. They are still there but further along the pavement are beggars propositioning passers-by. I must have been stopped fifteen times in half an hour.

So it was no surprise to be stopped in Carlisle yesterday by a girl with studs in her eyebrows, nose, ears and possibly tongue.

"Can you lend us yer change?" she asked politely. But I disappointed her, because I think I have found a way to differentiate between the real hard cases and those who are just after money for drugs or booze.

"Come with me," I said. "Come into this shop over here and I will buy you whatever you would like."

She started to backtrack. "No don't worry, mate."

"Oh come on, you can have any food you like."

"Naw, I don't want to trouble yer," she said before running off. I think that was probably code for 'I want the money for drink or other illicit substances.' It is not a foolproof system, and perhaps it is foolish to make judgements, but usually the really badly off seem to be grateful for any kind of food.

I get to the other side of the bus station and I am propositioned again by a Romanian violinist playing some Romanian folk tune very badly. I give him some money, breaking my own rules. Hypocrite. but this was not done out of charity. It was appalling self interest - to get him to stop playing his cat's chorus and give me a minute's peace.

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