This is one of those articles that I hesitate before writing – it has the potential to make me look like an unforgiving, detestable fart of a person if written poorly, so I have to take specific care to get my point across without seeming like a massive dick.
I work relatively near to Wimbledon train station, and there are a couple of roads that pass by in front of it that I must cross every day, with a traffic-island in the middle and plenty of traffic lights everywhere to regulate the automotive stampede. In total this is about a 50 metre square area, or just under 200 square feet for our international readers, and I walk across this every single day, especially at lunch when I go and buy whatever I’m eating that day.
However, the lunch-run is no simple thing – every day this small area of space is home to dozens of figures actively trying to stop you from getting to wherever you are. These people are handing things out, trying to get you to sign things or trying to sell you something. They hail from charities, fast-food restaurants, nearby shops and magazine or newspaper retailers. Every lunch I have to endure and survive The Charity Gauntlet.
I will stop here to say that I am not a mean-spirited person – charity is a wonderful and noble cause, and I have donated to several charities before and intend to donate in the future. What is annoying is being stopped by an overly-chummy person intent on getting your email address to fulfill their daily quota, eating into the scarce and valuable free time I have. In England we have a word for these people – Chuggers, a contraction of ‘charity-muggers’, which is a surprisingly apt description. I’m sure everyone has been stopped by someone with a huge grin on their face, constantly calling you ‘mate’ if you’re around their age or a respectful ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ if they want to appeal to your sense of class. They will try their damnedest to become your best friend in the whole world, only to make you feel bad enough to give over your personal details and money.
Normally this wouldn’t be an issue – we’ve all experienced this and we’ve all walked on by either saying nothing at all or a passing “sorry.” But what makes The Charity Gauntlet so daunting is that there can be numerous chuggers in this small 50 metre square area, all from the same charity. There can be other charities there too, all with their own small gathering of minions. Add in the people handing out leaflets for nearby events and we’re well into the double-figures, but then factor in the other people handing out coupons and vouchers for shops and fast-food restaurants, and you should realise that I have to turn down at least twenty people in this small space on a bad day.
A lot of you will be saying “Oh you great wuss, just walk straight past them or give them a big sneer,” but I can’t – I was raised to be kind to people and to actively seek out new friends in everyone, so turning people down is not an easy thing to do for me. In fact, it makes me feel downright uncomfortable and like a bad person. If someone approaches me and greets me first, my first instinct is to greet them back, but I know as soon as I do that, that’s their signal to go in for the kill. As such, I try to avoid eye-contact with as many people as I can, or assume a purposefully gruff demeanour in order to discourage people from approaching me in the first place.
Neither of these things makes me feel particularly good about myself, but there’s not much else I can do – if I want my lunch-run to take the ten minutes it’s supposed to instead of eating into the precious little free time I have during the day I have to bypass the hordes somehow. And that’s not an exaggeration – the sheer concentration of hander-outers and charity-chums in that small space has caused me to lose sizable chunks of my lunch before. I’m considering wearing a badge asking people to not hand me things or approach me. Or maybe just a very scary mask.
So call me a curmudgeonly bugger if you want, but if you haven’t experienced The Charity Gauntlet in full flow and have the disposition that I do, your words will fall as flat as those of the guy giving out Burger King vouchers. Actually those aren’t bad, you can save some real money there.