The Joys of Living in London – The Chuggers Bandwagon

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William James Downing

Despite Britain becoming a multicultural society, and London being a prime (if not THE prime) example of that, one is still overwhelmed by that very British, if not English, trait of reserved-ness, politeness and not wanting to create a bloody drama! There are multitudes of examples, but a few of you would say that this is to be sensational. There is one example, however, that is very British – chuggers: for in all other countries/capitals one is given a much more elaborate scenario, that of criminals and beggars approaching you in unison – essentially London has produced something more streamlined to fit in with the modern urban business person and responses to which that fulfill the nationally synonymous traits listed above.

Every morning and evening (and also lunchtime) the commuter has to deal with chuggers at the bottom of the escalator, the top of the escalator and occasionally on the pavement outside of the station. In the morning it is easier to be brash and apologetic with chuggers as you are “late for work” and have not been ground down by the boss yet, nor have you had to put up with the socially moribund colleagues and the milky sick coming round the email from middle-management. Lunchtimes and evenings, however, are a different steaming pot of gill-bearing vertebrates: By this time your energy will have dropped lower than the sympathy I feel towards flag-burners that are targeted in arson-attacks [this would only be topical if I was Elliot Carver]. Your defences will be limited – as there is less of an excuse to be busily on the way to something or, if you are as pretentious as myself, you are conscious that they have already heard your excuse a few hundred times today (essentially worried about uttering a cliché).

So you stand there, occasionally shifting from foot-to-foot like you have a full bladder, and let them deliver their monologue that is punctuated on every syllable with an elaborate and exaggerated piece of pidgin sign language and closed-questions that you wonder why they bothered with words at all. You hear them say, “oh, you look like you are in a rush, this won’t take a minute” [correct, it takes what seems to be a lifetime], “I won’t keep you” [thank-you for the reassurance, quite the opposite to the desires of the strangers I accepted liquorice from as a child] and “You look like someone who cares about cruelty/unfairness/injustice” [yes, although more specifically the type when you take me home and tease me whilst I am restrained by straps that cut and rub my skin] – these are the three main opening gambits.

Chuggers must be trained up by Google AdWords or suchlike, as on days where I look less flamboyant than usual, this is normally when the chugger that accosts me is a petite and curvy young-lady with a slight smirk and huge eyes who would not hesitate to do dirty things to me if society allowed people to do that on the street… On days where I am wearing my pink jumper it is a lad with a strong-jaw and an implicit appreciation for discussing beer that tastes like burnt caramel (a depiction of myself that, based on generalisation, means I should but can’t be a gay man). But what I am attempting to say is, they always know who best to target me… or I am highly susceptible to any sales spiel, whether it is from the mouth of a chugger or the mouth of this lovely gentleman I met last week called Jeffrey Skilling.

“But this is nearly a quarter of my state pension
and I really can’t… Oh, okay then.”

You concentrate on trying to look like you are focusing on what they are saying so much that you end up not paying attention to what they are saying and looking insincere and as confused as someone who has just read this sentence. You blink away the glaze that is forming over your eyes like sped up footage of a lake icing over – between the exaggerated movements of the chuggers and the reduced frame-rate caused by your constant blinking, this whole interaction is now looking like a silent movie to you.

They ask you a question, you start to not give a monosyllabic answer and they are already talking over you. Then they touch your arm and they talk a little quieter, so you have to lean in to hear what they are singing out and you get a whiff of their apple or cinnamon breath (sometimes it is both and that’s like Christmas to me).

You have a pen in your hand and are writing down your bank details whilst your mouth and brain are saying, “I really can’t afford this”.

“It’s the equivalent of 32 pence per day,” they say, “and that 32 pence will stop cruelty to the homeless children of political prisoners that were raised by abused dogs”.

“It will stop it? Stop it completely?”

Did they say yes or was it a cough? Best not disturb them, they are checking that you have written your bank details correctly and they still haven’t asked you out on that date; I mean they are attractive, they see that you are charitable, they touched your arm and spoke to you for longer than a girl has in a long time – it was a conversation about a shared interest. Stopping cruelty to dog- children! Children who have been – are! Are abuse- Homeless! Homeless because of… yeah, charity is good. Yeah, they’ll be asking you out on a date for sure, I mean they asked for your number, right?

Remember to cancel the direct debit in a few days and then avoid all the calls from the bloke at the charity headquarters who is sorry to see that the payment didn’t go through. Oh God, they sent a handwritten postcard to say thanks… best try to fit that into your reinforced file of broken promises and always check the peephole before answering the door, as it may be charity’s bailiffs.

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