I mostly live and work in Central London. There are many advantages and something for everyone. I love that it is a cosmopolitan and vibrant city, bustling with people, great scenery (I never get tired of the view of the City crossing Waterloo Bridge), there are easy transportation links, great shops, traditional pubs, theatres, bars and restaurants.
However, there is a darker side – homelessness and beggars. As the festive season approaches, I tend to notice beggars asking for money and hustling on the streets and I make a point of offering the friendly ones (using my gut instinct and reading their body language), a hot drink and some food. I never give money.
Recently, I was pleasantly surprised by an encounter with an elderly vagrant. He got my attention because he was much older and sober and he gave a good opening pitch. “Can I have some money? I just need enough for my dinner. I’d like chicken curry.” I told him I did not have any money, but I could buy him a sandwich from Pret. He was adamant, he definitely did not want a Pret sandwich – turned his nose up.
He looked me in the eye and said slowly: “I want chicken curry and rice, with extra chilli sauce and a coke.” Pause. “Not diet.”
So I smiled and said “OK, I’ll see what I can do” and began to walk away. He called out after me and told me which café to go to – very specific. That made me laugh, so I said I had some errands to run, I’d get his food when I finished, which I did.
He was still sitting in the same place when I returned half an hour later. Obviously starving, he thanked me genuinely, opened the take away container and got stuck into his meal. I walked home knowing I’d made a small difference that day.
When I shared this story recently with friends, they said I was soft, I got played and I was conned, but I disagree. I thought his approach was right: he gave a good pitch; he was direct; he connected and read me perfectly and was successful. He got his chicken curry meal.
What surprised me was how I felt. I did something small – the take away cost £3.70 – and it made me smile.