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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

03 August 2009

The train beggar

YOU CAN SEE his pale, alert face through the connecting door windows as he swings quickly along the aisle towards your carriage. Some of the commuters glance up as he enters and slams the door. Then they fix their eyes back on their mobile phones and newspapers and books. They can guess what is going to happen now he’s taken the stage.

OK, I know you’re all tired and you just want to get home and you probably don’t want to have to listen to me. But if I could please, please ask you just to hear me out, just for a minute. As you can see . . .

(He shrugs and puts on a hangdog smile of self-recognition.)

. . . I’m homeless, and all I’m asking for is some change, just so I can somehow get together enough money to pay for the hostel for tonight. Because I really don’t want to be sleeping on the streets like I was last night. And once again I want to say I’m really sorry to have to ask you this. Thank you very much for listening, thank you.

Beggars want to sell you a clean conscience and, like other advertisers, they have to create the need if you haven’t already got it. They also have to cut the risk of being physically attacked. The train beggar is one of the best at doing both these things. He works his reluctant audience on commuter trains running through Blackfriars station into south and south-east London, either just before or after rush hour, when the carriages aren’t too full to hinder movement, and never at night.

After a long absence, he resurfaced briefly some months ago with a refinement to his routine: an overdone stammer, making his pitch last twice as long as before. And then no sign of him since. Maybe dead, or scrubbed up, or carrying on as before somewhere else, the long hallway of doors closing behind him.

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