Wednesday 27 February 2013

'You might be just the man to help me, sir...'

He came striding towards me on Cromwell Road yesterday evening as I was waiting to cross. Black overcoat, scarf, suit and tie, glasses, in his mid-40s maybe. 'You might be the just the man to help me, sir,' he began. The accent and manner suggested perhaps a minor public school (expelled) or, more likely, the full HMG (home-made gentleman). He exuded serial failure - well merited, no doubt - and, although well dressed, he didn't have the grooming or the glowing complexion of the truly prosperous. He looked, alas, like what he was.
'I'm really in the most embarrassing situation,' he continued. 'This is so humiliating...' Here we go again. His convoluted tale involved a celebratory lunch with friends - drink taken (though there was none on his breath) - chaotic journey across London, in the course of which he became detached from his wallet and briefcase - unhelpful hackney carriage company - unhelpful public transport authorities, etc, etc. At various points he delved in his inside pockets for documentary proof of his bonafides, which mysteriously never appeared. The one constant was the mobile phone in the palm of his left hand and the cigarette smouldering between two of its fingers. Anyway, the upshot of his unfortunate adventure was that he was quite resigned to walking to Paddington, but once there he would have to present the sum of £22.50 (it's always a precise figure) in order to board the train to his home in Great Malvern.
Along the way, he shook my hand warmly, gave me his full name - which was something suitably posh, along the lines of Anthony Charles Beaumont - told me his business was in buying and selling property and suggested an exchange of cards (his seemed to be invisible, I don't carry one) so that he could return the money to me with all due dispatch.Well, I am a bit of a sucker for these minor con artists - I keep hoping that one day I'll come across a bullsh*tter in the league of Dr Reo Symes - but I had a train to catch, so I didn't encourage any further elaborations on his narrative. I gave him a few quid - he seemed mildly affronted that it wasn't £25 and keep the change - and went on my way. He lost no time in introducing himself to a hapless tourist who had just stepped out of a hotel.
It wasn't a great performance, but it was quite inventive, and at least my friend 'Anthony Charles Beaumont' (or whatever it was) has made an effort. Unlike the much more downmarket panhandler who used to appear night after night on my homebound train with the same unvarying spiel, delivered in a wheedling tone: 'Ladies and gentlemen, I'm really sorry to disturb you - I wouldn't normally do this, but I'm desperate. I'm not a beggar...' I never gave that one a bean.


  1. Your story reminds me of a refined gentleman I met many years ago when I was much younger and more naive than I am now. He approached me in Manchester as I was heading towards Victoria Station and explained how he was newly released from prison and needed no more than the rail fare to get home to Preston or wherever.
    It just so happened that I had been reading only that day of the plight of prisoners released without adequate provision for their first few days of freedom, and who cover their deficit by the only means they are familiar with. I responded rather more generously than I would normally have done.
    A little while later, with time to spare before my train, I went into a pub for a drink and became aware of a now familiar voice telling a story of how he was businessman newly arrived from the USA. He always made a point of visiting Manchester because the people were so friendly. (And the con-artists so ingenious, presumably!)

  2. Ingenious indeed Rob - your man was a cut above mine I think, tho who knows what other stories he might have had up his sleeve?

  3. My favourite is a chap in Liverpool who would simply ask for fuel money - for his Ferrari. He did not look like a Ferrari owner. I've not seen him around for a while so I can only assume he finally gathered enough spare change to fill his tank.

  4. Ah,, a post worth re-reading twice!! i wanted t know more...

  5. I feel you gave your quids to the Wrong Beggar!

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