The Blog

London Keeps on Giving

I've lived in London for over ten years. It can be a pretty tough city and you quickly learn to develop a thick skin and and a no-nonsense attitude.

Sometimes London can take you by surprise.

It was about 23:00 on a Thursday night and I wasn't in the best of moods. I'd been at a gay bar in Soho, working hard to try and drum up some crowds and raise some funds for a gay sports organisation. You'd think that would be an easy sell, but on a rainy October Thursday it seemed like everyone wanted to be somewhere else - including me.

I couldn't be bothered getting changed so was trudging along Charing Cross Road still dressed in my short shorts and vest, clutching my charity collection bucket, and probably looking quite grumpy.

As I was powering past the Garrick theatre, I vaguely heard a small plea for attention:

"Excuse me!" I looked down, it was a young-ish girl, probably in her 20s, camping in the doorway, begging for money.

I've lived in London for over ten years. It can be a pretty tough city and you quickly learn to develop a thick skin and and a no-nonsense attitude.

I looked down at the girl, instantly clocked the situation, and briskly said:

"Sorry, no." My standard response to beggars. Also my standard response to street performers and unnervingly friendly people asking me to sign petitions. "Sorry, no."

"Wait, come back!" said the girl.

I stopped and looked around. She was holding 10p out towards me. I went back and presented my disappointingly empty charity bucket. She smiled at me and happily deposited her 10p. I thanked her as the coin rattled down into the rest of the money that I'd collected that evening.

I was a bit stunned.

10p doesn't sound a lot, but if you've had to earn it by sitting on the cold pavement begging people to part with their change, then you're not going to part with your earnings easily.

As I walked on, homeward, towards a warm bed and a boyfriend, I couldn't help but wonder why she had wanted to donate - why she had called me back and had looked so pleased to be donating her money to my charity bucket.

There wasn't any branding on the bucket, so it wasn't like she had a specific affinity with what I was raising money for - she didn't ask, she didn't know, she actually didn't seem to care.

The further I walked away the more questions that I had, but I didn't turn back so I will never really know the answers.

I guess she felt sorry for me, I would definitely have looked a bit ridiculous and a bit miserable.

But I also can't help thinking that she wanted to feel part of something.

The life of someone who begs on the street for money must be pretty marginalised. You're on the fringes of society. Your day is filled with people avoiding you, people telling you no.

To be able to donate money, to give to charity, to give to others, is in many ways a luxury. There is a sense of fulfillment, if also a little self-satisfied smugness, from helping others less fortunate than you. But there's also a sense of community - that as people we are stronger and more connected when we work together and care for each other.

Finding a sense of community in London can often be a bit elusive.

I think I had a little taste of it that Thursday night on Charing Cross Road.

Sometimes London can take you by surprise.