Begging Styles of the Down and Out: London v New York

8 PM Sunday 15 April 2012 Nunhead Heights

Down by the London Bridge there are quite a few beggars. For much of the noughties beggars were hard to find in London – not that you’d want to find one.  I guess it was hard to say that Margaret Thatcher took away your job and you can’t find another when millions of foreigners were streaming into the country and finding work. Luckily, times have changed.

The Wild One – aged 9 – and I went down to the Thames and one of the beggars was a pretty teenage-looking girl who would fit into a CentrePoint Homeless Charity newspaper ad. The one who “for 40p you can give her a safe place to stay at CentrePoint tonight.” Well, she could stay at my house for free. Of course, it wouldn’t be safe but…

My son loves the Thames beaches and so do I. The Thames is the best thing about living in London. During low tide you wonder: Am I going to find an Elizabethan tobacco pipe or a set of horse’s teeth or a dead body?  Calling Sherlock Holmes. And during high tide on the Thames you think: Isn’t London beautiful?

And a lot of London is beautiful. But a lot is surprisingly ugly – at least to me and Madonna. She noted that right next door to a magnificent Georgian mansion is a 1960s state-built housing project filled with the wrong kind of people and their wide-mouthed dogs. I added the bit about those people and their dogs. I don’t think Madonna ever ran into anyone in those buildings or saw their dogs.

You’d be surprised at how many Londoners don’t realize the good in their city and try to obliterate it. See what I wrote about how the council is destroying Nunhead Cemetery.

So we are down by the Thames. I can only do what my boys want to do because their main home is only 300 yards away and if they’re unhappy they just march back to their mom’s. If you are a separated dad never live close to the kids’ mother. Live on another continent: You’ll see them more than I do living on the next street in Nunhead. You’ll get the same accusation I heard today: “You have gone out of your way to distance yourself (from them)” but if you live in Australia it won’t sound nearly so insane.

Did I mention that on the way out of the flat I saw The Wild One on the roof of the building? He climbed 12-feet up to get his football. There is nothing I can do now except pray. Attention seeking and risk taking is what happens when you don’t pay enough attention to children when they are very young. I have photos of me on top of buildings, too.

The CentrePoint girl is all sad-looking. I feel for her. English beggars are different from the New York variety. They just sit there, looking forlorn, not moving, each with an ugly dead-looking dog, laying dead-still. Not at all like the all-singing all-dancing New York-style beggars: “I don’t rob or I don’t do drugs and my apartment caught on fire today and I lost my job because I only have the clothes I am wearing now and the welfare office was closed and I need $12 to go to a shelter, blah blah blah …” New York beggars actually work for their money.

I used to think that the English wouldn’t give to a beggar who showed any energy – any movement would mean they didn’t really need the money – if they could move they could work.

Now I know that it is just bad form to seem to want anything in this country. “I want doesn’t get” is what children are told. Asking for money is just plain rude. A beggar must let the potential giver think he is coming up with the idea of giving that dead-looking man with his dead-looking dog money. And people in England would rather give to a dog than to a person but not to a dog that seems needy. Hence, the catatonic pooch. “I want doesn’t get” relates to pets, too.

The trip to the Thames was a delight. The Wild One didn’t slip onto the rocks and die. We found a dead mobile phone and a bit of pottery. I didn’t get arrested for offering to put the CentrePoint girl up for the night and I’ve picked a spot where I’m going to do my begging. The way I am heading I am going I’ll need to. I just hope I can sit still long enough and can stomach having a dog.

@lewisschaffer

Listen to Lewis Schaffer on the Radio Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer every Monday evening at 10:30PM on www.resonancefm.com and 104.4fm London. Or listen to the show’s podcasts at bit.ly/NunheadAmericanRadio

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Posted in Life in Britain, Parenting
One comment on “Begging Styles of the Down and Out: London v New York
  1. as children we were told ‘I ask doesnt get, I don’t ask doesn’t want.’

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