I know I am a misery, but the other day something happened to me which galled me to my innards. Yes, we all know people with young families don’t have much spare cash. Well, I thought we all knew that. It appears that people in St Albans don’t know this. At all. In fact, it appears that the poor plebs of St Albans are there to sponsor the rich ones. You see, I have now become aware of what can only be described as sanctioned middle class begging.
Walking past our magnificent Abbey I was literally forced to a stop by a young, obviously wealthy and public school educated girl; ‘will you sponsor me for my bicycle ride across Italy?’ You can imagine what I thought. However, I have manners, so I simply nodded ‘no’ and smiled politely. Then the father standing next to her gave me a look there was a noticeable stand off, where I was not allowed to pass for a few seconds, until they spotted their next prey. Now, perhaps I am mean, but why on earth should I give a child who clearly has wealthy parents money for what sounds like a rather good CV enhancing holiday? I don’t have the cash to pay for a foreign holiday for myself and if I did, I can think of 100 charities that I would rather give my money to.
What also galls me a little is that it was clearly begging that was sanctioned by the authorities. I wonder why it is acceptable for the middle classes to beg, but if the middle class girl was replaced by a homeless person for example, I have no doubt they would be moved along. When I think about it, this is allowed to happen time and time again, in St Albans at least. For one thing why would you want to get your child to beg? Why not pay yourself, or perhaps heaven forbid, they could forgo the Italian trip and go to the local campsite to ‘discover themselves’.
I spoke to colleagues and I hear tales of fund raising for Duke of Edinburgh Award trips to remote parts of Africa where the child will spend 2 weeks building housing and a few weeks on an adventure holiday. In order to do this CV enhancing activity they need to raise £4,000 from parents and ‘sponsorship’. I am enraged by this, not only is it unfair to those families that cannot compete but surely the money would be better spent engaging the professionals to help in the third world and sending the poppets off to deepest Snowdonia (like I had to back in the day).
I often see homeless people around the town, some of whom I speak to as I have seen them about for years and have met them in a work capacity. I know some of their stories and their struggles. These people do not beg for money, they know that they cant, they rely on local shelters, the kindness of strangers to buy them lunch or coffee or just to chat to them. Although now the council has refurbished the local toilets with popular bench, I suspect times are a little harder. These are amongst the people that should be allowed to ask strangers for money. Their lives are important and they have interesting things to add and enrich our lives (see for example this amazing project working with the homeless on an archaeology project in Bristol). In my opinion these middle class parents and their children asking for money should be ashamed of themselves.