"Often when I've been walking through town and have passed a beggar or some lowly tramp, I instinctively find my hand going down inside my pocket to extract a coin. Then I stop myself and ask, 'Do they really need it? Am I better giving them money or would a sandwich be more appropriate?' I then begin to instantly think about those professional beggars I have often read about, who, as a life choice, reportedly earn hundreds of pounds a day simply by holding out their hand to busy passers-by. The really clever ones who know how best to tug at your heartstrings will often be seen with a pet dog at their side, invariably hungry at the mouth, and who also looks in want of food and grooming.
I have read that begging is becoming more prevalent on our streets day-by-day, and that just as some poor migrants may pay thousands of pounds to smuggle themselves into Great Britain in the back of a truck, the professional beggars in our large cities even pay hefty amounts for lessons in easy extraction, plus the booking of the best-begging sites, that would have Fagin blushing.
Successful begging is much more difficult than it looks. Contrary to popular belief, it is an art form that takes years of dedicated rehearsal and practise to master. All good beggars can pull appropriate faces to match any occasion. They are, in short, nothing less than film stars of our streets; the 'conscience welcome mats' in shop doorways.
How then do we know when to give and when to withhold? How do we know who is really in need or who is merely in want of easy funds? How do we know when to say 'hello' to their impoverished circumstances staring us in the face or 'walk on by'? The simple answer is that we don't, and we therefore usually depend upon our mood and judgement at the time of first noticing the outstretched hand wanting to touch our hearts.
I once recall walking through Manchester with my mother as a child. During our walk, we passed a tramp and he begged the price of a cup of tea off my mother as we drew closer. Without a second thought, Mum opened her purse and gave him half a crown. Having barely enough money to feed her family for the week, I instantly berated her, saying that the money she had foolishly given the beggar would be spent on beer and not on tea. I will never forget her reply, 'You're probably right, Billy. He's probably in the pub right now.' (She also mentioned something about him doing something up against a wall, if I recall correctly).
'If you think that, then why did you give him the money, especially when we have little enough to exist on?' I asked in exasperation.
'Because if I didn't, I'd never sleep tonight! The first time I stop to think that the next beggar who holds out his hand isn't genuinely in need, I will not give, and he may just be the one in dire need of instant food. Then, where would I be? I'll tell you, Billy Forde; in the devil's handcart, being pushed by Satan himself!' she replied.
Before we got back home from Manchester that day, Mum had also given another outstretched hand and sorry face her last sixpence.
I'll tell you where you are today Mum, and it ain't in any devil's handcart. You're in heaven, Mum, where you deserve to be; hopefully sent there by the prayers of all the poor folk you helped in life who never forgot the kind woman who just hadn't the heart to 'walk on by!'" William Forde: February 7th, 2018.