Teacher in Wolf’s Clothing? May 29, 2009Posted by Jane Matthews in Uncategorized.
Tags: Big Issue, homeless, Milton Keynes, milton keynes community foundation, MK Dons, tattoo, Wolf Man, Wolfie
Oh joy! Another Big Issue seller. And this time I’m nowhere near Tesco, but heading back from some trustee duty stuff at Milton Keynes Community Foundation.
I have my money out at 200 paces, and the £2 coin is still changing hands as I blurt out “Got many left to sell?” – thinking this time I’ll be brave and offer to take them all off his hands.
Only this Big Issue seller grins when he replies. “Oh yes, plenty.” And I realise I’ve got it wrong again. He wants to be here. This guy is pleased to have a reason to stop and chat to the occasional Suit, dashing up the city for an M&S sandwich.
So instead of offering him money to go away I stop to talk.
Blow me! It turns out I’ve stumbled on a celebrity Big Issue seller. My new (toothless) friend might be sleeping out under the stalls in the marketplace and selling the magazine for beer money. But once a fortnight, during the football season, he puts on a wolf’s head and prowls the line at the MK Dons’ football stadium. He tells me his real name’s Ernest but he’s known to thousands as Wolfie. He’s even on YouTube. And probably loads of fanzines because he’s got the Dons’ logo tattooed across his forehead. Apparently, he got fed up wearing the logo on a woolly hat.
We chat about the fact that the Dons let him into matches for free. That Wolfie would rather sleep rough in Milton Keynes where he can still follow his team, than do what the local council suggest and head back to his home city of Birmingham where he’d get onto the housing list. In any case, he doesn’t think after all these years on the streets he could sleep indoors again, he says. It would kill him.
But sleeping rough is hazardous. While he’s crashed out his stuff gets nicked, and there was the time some late nighters laid into him with a baseball bat.
Wolfie is also a poet and musician, he tells me, and to prove it launches into an energetic rap: his life story told in a series of staccato couplets.
To be honest, the lack of teeth make it hard to follow.
But every so often there’s a hand gesture directed at the forces of law, order and clean streets which I can understand: payback for hassling Wolfie about his life choices.
Milton Keynes’ own Smiling Man?
What a reward for spending £2. I’ve accidentally stumbled on someone who represents exactly what I mean when I talk about putting myself out there. Wolfie does it every day, hard knocks and all. I have no idea if he’s happy; whether I’ve just caught him on a good day; whether he’s just making the best of a bad job. Or if this really is who he is and how he is.
But I do know that he never once stopped grinning while he was talking to me.
And that afterwards I felt like I was the one who’d benefitted from someone being kind to them. Funny that…
Making a Big Issue of it May 22, 2009Posted by Jane Matthews in acts of kindness.
Tags: Big Issue, comfort zone, Euston Station, Tesco
So in my first post I told you I couldn’t walk past a Big Issue seller. Turns out I lied – and kindness doesn’t flow freely through my veins but is a habit I need to learn. How depressing is that?
I was in the Euston station buffet and a cheerful Big Issue seller came by and invited me to buy one. Quicker than the railway companies close a line in bad weather I looked up and said ‘not today thanks’. What? As if he was offering me a pint of milk rather than the chance to show a bit of human kindness.
(Though not quite as cringeworthy as the girl on the next table who told him ‘I haven’t got time’ – then continued to sip her latte and nibble on a monster muffin. Even the seller – who must have heard some pretty lame excuses in his time – looked a little baffled by that one.)
See what I mean about habit? My habit is not to notice all those people who want something from you in public places, especially any place involving public transport which seems to work like a magnet for attracting the weird and the wandering.
No excuses though. Especially from someone who’s just declared she’s setting out to be a nicer person. The only way I could make amends was to set my radar to find another Big Issue seller I could do right by.
Now here we have one of the dilemmas of doing anything that might vaguely qualify for the ‘social responsibility’ tag: the downside of the upside if you like. I knew exactly where to find our local Big issue seller because he knows exactly where to find the biggest crowds. Bloody Tesco! To perform my small act of conscious kindness meant driving (not kind) to Tesco (extremely unkind – so here’s a link to compensate) . Oh, and I might as well do my weekly shop while I was at it.
The poor guy looked miserable, even in the sunshine. And even more miserable when I emerged £79 lighter and an hour later, and he still had the same number of mags unsold in his hand. I asked him how long it takes to shift a load. “Six or seven hours,” he said, “For 30 or 40.” For those of you who deal in details, the Big Issue sells for £1.50 of which the seller gets to keep 80p, so averaging it out he’s selling five every 60 minutes which equals a wage of £4 an hour. Less than I’d just spent on a bottle of wine.
“And does anyone ever buy more than one?” “A few. Maybe.”
Which had to be my cue to get my purse out again and buy the rest so he could go home. Only like yesterday I ducked it.
Awkward and weird
Admittedly I was still reeling at how the few things in my trolley could have added up to £79. But, interestingly, the main thing holding me back was the knowledge that to buy his entire stock from him would have been one of those big, awkward, weird gestures that embarrass me/us. Putting my head above the parapet. Making an exhibition of myself. You get the idea.
And yet getting out of my comfort zone and experimenting with living a bigger, more generous life, is exactly what this whole blog is about. And until I find the courage to be embarrassed, if necessary, I’m not going to find out whether making a difference also makes a difference to me.
So, two out of ten, Jane, for a pretty feeble start. Plus a note to self that not only am I going to have to try harder, it appears I’ve still got some unfinished business with the next Big Issue seller I see.
Love to know if you’ve ever held back from doing something nice for fear of stepping out of line or looking foolish. Just click on ‘comment’.