As a 49 year old man, it’s always flattering when a young woman flirtatiously makes direct eye contact with me in the street. It’s a huge bonus if that’s accompanied by the kind of radiant smile that illuminates the soul and weakens the knees. Tragically though, this only tends to happen to me if a nearby charity fundraiser – or ‘chugger’, as they’re sometimes disaffectionately known – craves my debit card number.
In return for a short-lived fix of female attention, I’m expected to endure a robotic spiel detailing the plight of abused kittens, and pass my bank details to a complete stranger so that a monthly direct debit of £50 can be used to purchase cat litter and flea spray. Naturally, throughout the process, every passing shopper will silently be labelling me as a ‘sucker’. As I stand there, scarlet-cheeked, I will be painfully conscious of this. On balance, this is not a fair transaction. It is, in reality, a cynical attempt by the saucy temptress in the RSPCA bomber jacket to exploit my mid-life vulnerabilities using her feminine wiles. All for the sake of a few mangy pussies.
But rather that than be accosted by the odious, bumptious male of the species. His modus operandi is far less pleasant: coercion through humiliation. The other evening, I had the great misfortune of witnessing one of these goons fix his gaze on a young mother and her toddler then theatrically prance towards them, a rictus grin on his infinitely slapable face and thumb aloft at the end of an outstretched arm. Clearly a pathetic attempt to access the woman’s purse by ingratiating himself with the child. Unfortunately, his victim was too embarrassed / polite / slow-witted to evade the charm-free patter that no doubt ensured. Or perhaps she too was responding to the call of Eros; after all, women are no more resilient than men when confronted with the advances of the gregarious, young, and attractive. Then again, as the average male chugger seems to be the result of some pointless cloning experiment involving the splicing of genes from a malnourished, bearded 14-year-old boy and a hyperactive spider monkey, I’d like to think that we can dismiss that theory.
Now, I would hate for anyone to think that I lack social conscience or basic human compassion. I don’t really like to talk about it, but I donate approximately £7 of my monthly wages to a number of worthy causes (admittedly, I draw the line at contributing to animal welfare organisations as, in my view, animals are mainly for eating). But, like most of us, I’m sufficiently intelligent to independently choose the cause(s) that will benefit from my tremendous generosity. It’s a private decision that we all have the right to consider carefully, in our own good time. No one – however sexy, youthfully exuberant or cheekily charming – should attempt to cajole us into contributing to a given charity, particularly in the middle of the high street, when we’re giddy from an especially indulgent Primark binge or simply too busy to make a binding decision.
Of course, you wouldn’t expect the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association to agree with a blanket ban on street collections – it would put their staff out of work – but you would probably be surprised by their contemptuous attitude to those arguing for the right to shop unmolested:
“We don’t want to come across as being flippant and dismissive, but we really think the basis of this whole argument requires closer examination. Where does this ‘right’ come from?”.
Actually, it doesn’t have to ‘come’ from anywhere. Nobody is claiming that it’s a right of the statutory kind. Most of us value a certain degree of personal space and privacy as we go about our daily lives, and I’d contend that we all have a basic moral right to have that respected by others, especially strangers. The Association’s defensive tirade continues with comparisons to “paper vendors” and “Big Issue sellers”, neither of whom, in my experience, tend to launch themselves at harassed mothers or depressed office workers with obnoxious fake cheer and a direct debit mandate.
Unfortunately, despite recent kerbs on town centre chuggery, as the majority of the British public are hard-wired for courtesy, prone to guilt and easily made to feel uncomfortable, this unpopular practice will continue to be lucrative for the organisations concerned. The fact that the nation’s unwanted kittens will benefit from this, does not make it right.