Reputations have a habit of being in constant flux. A good reputation does not take much to tarnish, and similarly even the most bruised apple can bounce back.
But there is something that has suffered for too long to ever really be respected again: the humble lanyard. Once used in corporate offices to denote who is responsible in case of a fire, the lanyards use by charity muggers on high streets has turned it into a shibboleth, a way of identifying that the person in a North Face jacket cantering towards you like an excited Spaniel is, in fact, about to bother you with something you don’t care about.
Do you donate to charities? I don’t, really, but there have been exceptions. If someone I like/know in real life is running a marathon I like to offer support, but seeing my paltry £2.50 up against more generous donations can sting. If my weekend plans involve watching Paul O’Grady’s For The Love Of Dogs while clutching a bottle of Hendricks gin, I can also find myself bawling my security code down the phone to the Battersea charity, pledging to adopt all the dogs, all creeds and colours, like some canine incarnation of the Jolie-Pitts.
Charity mugging irks a lot of people, so maybe it’s too easy to bark on about how annoying it is. I still think, though, there’s a time and a place. On Oxford Street, after I’ve taken out a mortgage on a pair of brogues or decided to buy a new Paul Smith suit in lieu of keeping one of my kidneys, maybe it’s not ideal.
Part of the problem lies in the sociolinguistic construct between charityperson and shopper. That sounds more complicated than it should. What I mean is, when someone wants you to sign up for a charity, there’s a pretty basic level of interaction you can have. You can say yes, and make their day, or you can say no.
A lot of people act like cunts when they do the latter. You hear about them shoving charity workers or telling them to do one or flipping the finger. But being pleasant – ‘Oh hi no I’m not in a hurry actually you can probably tell by my slow saunter of a walk even though thats mainly because I have a blister from running yesterday man exercise sucks I’d love to know more about this charity and what you do’ and having a solid rapport kind of makes refusing to sign up to their charity more difficult.
Case in point, last week I was on Oxford Street; I was waiting for a friend who works nearby, and I work nearby, and had some exciting news about work, so we decided to have a quick pint.
I see the lanyard first. Then the North Face jacket. Then that the mugger looks like Theon Greyjoy from Game Of Thrones (Alfie Allen to the rest of you). Theon has spent a lot of S3 being tortured, mocked, hurt, flayed, and spread on a cross, so to see someone so strikingly similar made me think it would be nice to talk to him.
He was from the Sunday Times! Not a charity. I was thrown.
Anyway he’s selling subscriptions, so I listen, because the more Sundays I wake up feeling hungover AND alone, I realise that not having to leave the house to buy a paper might be really amazing. And I’d get a subscription to the website, meaning I can stop remaining ignorant of people tweeting ‘Amazing; you MUST read this interview on the Times [£]’. That would be good.
So the packages range in price but for me – a vigorous young go-getter, in Theon’s words – I would probably enjoy the weekend one. The Times on Saturday, and The Sunday Times. Those are the good ones, I thought. Maybe I could read them at the breakfast table. I could make those waffles I saw on Buzzfeed! Life would be a fine thing.
Thing is, my mate is here now, having only been marginally late for our going-to-the-pub thing. I’m umming and ahhing about getting this subscription – especially since Theon explains I have to pay an extra pound to get them delivered to my house. (“How am I paying for a subscription if they’re not being delivered?” I ask, sensibly. “We’d post you a coupon you can redeem for a newspaper at selected newsagents,” he explains, which to me is shorthand for THIS IS A LOAD OF FAFF WHAT AN UTTER FAFF).
Whenever I try to figure out if I’m being fleeced I multiply the deal by however many weeks/months are in the year. This deal, for the year, is £208. It’s good, but I am wanting to have a think about it. My mate photographs me being, in his words, ‘mugged off’, and I turn and wave as he does it, making me look a bit like Alan Partridge. He tweets it 😦
“Look, I mean it sounds great,” I say.
“Ah, Chris, don’t let me down man!” the guy says. And herein lies the problem. We’ve been having a chat, I’ve been making some hilarious quips, he’s been laughing in all the right places. Our chat is nice. But it’s crunch time now, and the whole thing becomes tricky.
“I don’t think I’m interested in signing up today,” in what I think is a flat, serious tone (NB: I probably grinned like a mug the whole time).
You are! He says. You said so! He adds. Such good value, he reminds me. Can I get some kind of leaflet and think about it, I ask, ever the diplomat. No. The offer stands right now, it will be gone after today.
I think in 95% of cases, forcing someone to make that kind of decision in a fleeting moment will result in them backing away and ducking out. I gave the guy my number (???) and said he should call me at the weekend and I’ll think about it, but I have made up my mind at this point.
(He rang today actually but I turned the phone on silent and went and made a pot of coffee. He predicted this would happen on friday, but I laughed it off with a ‘HA classic Theon Greyjoy’ remark)
It’s the same thing with charities. At this exact moment, on my lunch break, do I want to sign up to a charity? Probably not. And because of my saunter (/blister) I walk awfully aloof, so people catch me. Once, when someone from a dog charity approached me, I told them I was very interested but my partner and I just adopted a retired greyhound from that EXACT centre. We called him Chester, and he was a kind of mottled colour, very quiet, and friendly, and he was fitting in really well, but we had spent so much on his vet bills we couldn’t commit to a charity right now but maybe next year! In truth there was no dog. No adoption. Chester does not exist. I didn’t even have a partner 😦
Then you feel bad because even though they say it’s nice to chat to people instead of having scrunched up copies of ES magazine hurtled at them by commuters, you do feel like you just wasted their time. Theon said he had to sign up one more person and he could go home. Maybe that person was walking past while he and I talked.
So what’s the lesson here? Maybe it’s that being nice isn’t always enough. Or that diplomacy can be detrimental. Or never to meet friends on Oxford Street.
Then again, if I saw Kit Harrington in a lanyard, I don’t think I’d have it in me to be rude.