A typical lunch break. My first stop is the cash point. The problem is always the same. I only need a quid for my can of Coke, but I have to take out a tenner. I've always hated this. The remaining nine pounds just fritters away. Life would be so much better if the ATM could cough up a single pound coin.
The problem with pedestrianised town centres is charity collectors. Today they're out in force. When I first started working here I stopped and engaged with them (I was too polite to say no). I don't do this any more.
The thing is, I have decided what I will give, and who I will give to, and these guys are so persistent and commission-driven that stopping to chat is like being beaten with a fly trap. Don't get me wrong, charities do wonderful things in this world. It is simply that having to walk past four or five of these guys twice, on the way out and on the way in, three lunch breaks a week, is just too much. On a good run only two of them will approach, but on a bad day it could be every one. Twice. You end up feeling like Ted Striker in Airplane.
A number of options are available:
"Man of Steel"
This is my favourite, and simply requires you to walk determinedly by, looking neither to the left nor right, avoiding all eye contact and smiles. It's not always easy to blank them, but is probably the most efficient option.
"Give in Always"
This one speaks for itself. My least favourite option.
"Say No like a Gentleman"
Don your hat and take your cane, this is where you stride past with an air of grace and kindness, giving them a firm no, but with a gentleman's smile.
"Oh, is that my phone?"
This is also known as the "cop-out" method. You simply pretend you are on the phone. This is a tad deceitful, but can be made genuine by making a real phone call (if you have one to make).
No prizes for this one - just cross over to the other side. Note, this can be tricky if there are a lot of charity collectors (there usually are), as they often spread themselves out to cover all available space.
Take cover, and slink, dodge and scurry your way round them, ducking behind other pedestrians, lampposts, flowerbeds.
Today I am the bad Samaritan of Steel, zig-zagging my way between the charity collectors, my face set with a steely "even Clint would be in awe" glare.
Café du France. This always makes me chuckle. A "French" café in Surrey that is run by Poles. In an ideal world there would be a mad triangle - an English café in Poland run by Frenchmen, and a Polish café in France run by some Englishmen. Bizarrely as I write I hear "English, French, Polish, English, French, Polish" going round my head to the tune of the Three Blind Mice. Now that's weird.
I like this place because it is cheap, and because of the table-service. The problem with Costa (& the rest) is the noise, and the queues, and worst of all, they're so expensive. Why spend twice as much money AND queue for a quarter of my lunch break?
The Poles own two cafés, one either end of town. All the staff are Polish, which I have no problem with (I actually find it quite nice, almost self-contained in fact), but I wonder what the "equal ops" brigade would say. I guess there are equal opportunities amongst the Polish...
I take my can of Coke and sit down. A glass and ice are brought immediately - it is just so nice for things to be speedy - and this is where I normally take out my book. Right now it's Ivanhoe, and I love the frequent use of the word knave, which I'm told means boy, but that's not important right now.
Anyway, lunch break is over now (after all, I have spent it writing this), time to venture back down the street. I take the long route through the indoor shopping centre (for some reason the charity collectors are not allowed in there), but still have to pass one final sentinel. But I'm in luck, a "cancel out" unfolds right before me. This is when one charity collector is chatting to another, forcing them both out of play and providing a temporary opening. I took the opening and it made my day.
A helping hand, ca. 1910s
3 hours ago