Last night we had another power cut, blacking out most of the evening. Initially I was grouchy. I hadn’t yet cooked dinner and having been a bit peaky for a few days I had a lot of blog catching up to do. Then I got a grip. We were safe, warm (as long as we stayed in the one room), and a supper of cheese and biscuits would often be a guilty pleasure anyway. The situation was hardly dire or dramatic. Having some of your creature comforts taken away for a few hours does sometimes give you a bit of a reality check and remind us how lucky we are to have a home at all.
So, I have a story to share. I also tell this story every time I listen to someone complaining about people living on the streets.
In the UK in the 1980s there were a lot of visible homeless people, or beggars (there is a difference, one does not necessarily mean the other) on the streets in central London. Those years were so difficult for so many, and so lucrative for a small minority. I was OK. I was in my first job, with a decent starter salary and most of my income was at my own disposal. Not exactly a ‘Have’, but lucky enough not to be a ‘Have not’.
Newspapers and TV would often comment on the numbers of homeless, some sympathetically and some not. There were warnings that you should not give money, that it was a trick to steal your purse, or that some people were ’professional’ beggars and went home to a nice cosy house at the end of a lucrative day. Many also said that you were being made a fool of if you gave anything.
I found it hard to accept that all these people were con artists. Another line taken was that they deliberately chose to be homeless. Maybe some did, maybe some preferred this way of life, but I couldn’t believe that was the case for all. You had to consider that if they had made the choice to run away, or live on the streets, what awful things happened at home to make this the better option? Maybe this was not intended, but things had simply not worked out and there was no way back?
Anyway, whatever had happened to someone, however they had gotten there, I (and of course thousands of others) could not simply walk by every day and ignore a person on a pavement. I made a decision that I didn’t care if I was being ‘conned’, or made a fool of by some: that would be their problem, not mine. I didn’t give money to everyone I saw, but used to give a decent amount of money, so a few pounds, not pennies, to some, hoping it meant they could definitely eat that day.
It was Christmas Eve, and we finished work around lunchtime. As was traditional, a visit to the pub was in order for a couple of white wine and tonics (really, not sure I would like that now!!) and then a few of us headed to London’s Oxford Street for some last minute shopping. It was cold, getting a bit dark, there was festive music coming from almost every shop and a sea of Christmas lights. The pavements were thick with shoppers and sightseers, making it difficult to progress, or even just keep track of your friends.
But someone caught my eye. She was a young woman holding a notice. The notice was brief, and I have to be honest and say that now I forget the exact details, but I think it just said she and her small family had been recently made homeless, and asked for any spare change. She was not confronting anyone, not even speaking, just standing quietly. I made a quick decision that I wanted to do something nice that afternoon. My purse was full of cash so I went up, tucked a £20 note into her hand and walked on as she was saying thank you. Now in those times, this amount of money would easily buy enough food for a week. Some of my work colleagues told me I was stupid, that she had probably been given many times that amount of money already, I was lucky my purse hadn’t been stolen etc etc. We carried on up towards Selfridges, with them still telling me I was daft.
And then the worst thing happened. She started to follow me. Someone I was with saw her dodging through the throngs of shoppers “oh look, she’s after you!” Stupidly, we sped up. Now I could hear her calling out ‘Miss, Miss, wait!’. There was a comedy chase on for a few moments and then she caught up with me. I honestly don’t know what I expected to happen next. For sure I didn’t think I would be mugged as all the dire warnings would have me fretting was likely to happen, because she just didn’t seem like that kind of person.
But I was definitely not expecting to hear “this is a lot of money. Are you sure you meant to give me this much?”
I told her I had meant to, and she seemed a bit bemused, or surprised maybe. She thanked me again, quietly. I hope we wished each other a Merry Christmas, but you know, this is not the Hallmark Channel so I cannot be certain. But I remember this woman every year, and I always hope she is OK, that things worked out for her. I hope she had a good Christmas.
To me, I actually don’t care if she raked in ££££s that day, but I really don’t think she did. If she was doing well enough standing where she was, and was unscrupulous enough to ask for money when she had no genuine need, why bother to chase me? No. She was a decent and honest person, that for some reason was in a bad situation and had no other options. I think I got more from the encounter than she did, to be honest.
So this is my ‘giving, and thanks’ story. Happy Thanksgiving to all those that celebrate the holiday.
Oh, and whilst we were in semi darkness last night I managed to make a card.
Supplies: Tonic Rococo Build a Wreath dies; Anna Griffin ‘merry’ die; The Works for the smaller sprig die (it doesn’t seem to have a name)