There was a guy in Manchester who I’d see on an almost daily basis when I lived there, I named him 50p Phil. He was a beggar, just one of many I’d meet on my way to and from work in the city. 50p Phil had a slightly different take on the whole begging thing and a slightly unusual approach to twanging the old heartstrings. His routine was well practiced and executed perfectly every time.
He’d jog up to me, speaking before actually reaching me, he’s a little out of breath and clearly distressed. Stuttering through angst he says:
“’Scuse me mate, you couldn’t help me could you, I’ve lost me car keys/mobile phone – I just need 50p to make a phone call to my wife, it’s an emergency.”
As he reached me he’d put his hands together in a low half Namaste, and with his pleading wide eyed slightly stooped look you could be almost convinced of his plight. The desperation of his manner, the terrified crack in his voice, the haste of his actions, his panicked breathlessness – it resonates with an internal fear we all have. You can relate to his predicament, “That could happen to me,” your conscious tells you, and before you know it you’re handing over a silver coin.
I can’t remember if I actually gave him money on our first of many meetings, I probably did, I did give him a few 50p’s over the years; but by the time I left Manchester it had got to the stage where he wouldn’t bother trying with me, he’d get as far as “’Scuse me mate” realise who I was and veer off at the last minute unashamedly approaching someone next to me and starting the speech from the beginning.
The last time I was in Manchester I bumped into him again; it was same spiel, same panicked approach, the same half Namaste; he clearly didn’t recognise me– and all credit to him if it works then why change it. But this time it was a £1, a golden nugget.
As I fished around in my pocket I said, “Hang on didn’t it used to be 50p?”
“Inflation mate” he replied without missing a beat, swiped the proffered coin, gave me a massive grin and speed off to the next customer.
I wonder if he’s still doing the rounds, he probably is; either that or he’s a politician now – he certainly had the necessary skills.