Why I shouldn’t go down alleyways…

15 Apr

A few years ago Dublin had become my second home, my research and education took me there most weeks, and I was rapidly being absorbed by the wonders of the library at Trinity College. I’d been giving serious consideration to moving there permanently, as it made more sense than to spend up to six hours a day travelling up and down the motorway.

For various reasons that move didn’t happen. And I’ve been a bit neglectful for the last few years. The city has begun changing and I feel like I’m playing catch up when I’m down. I can still orientate myself fairly well, but haunts have gone, eateries have closed, friends have moved away.

I must have been sticking to the nice areas recently, because on a visit at the weekend I was reminded of the one aspect of Dublin that sticks out when you’re a nice polite boy from Belfast – the scammers!

Begging is a condition that afflicts most major cities, and large towns. Whether its a Big Issue seller yelling after you for walking past his patch, a drunken ginger Santa bumming 50p for the bus, or a Romany type with an amplified violin. My own patience was pushed to the limit some time back (I’ve told the story before), but people beg for all sorts of reasons and there but for the grace of God… etc.

In Dublin beggers are a breed all of their own. The most pushy, aggressive, intimidating group of beggars I’ve ever come across.

Pushy beggars is nothing new. I recall being pursued on the Champs Elysses by one flower seller; another scammer sat trying to trick tourists into handing over money at the rail ticket booth in Milan; and in Belfast they’ve taken to seating themselves just in front of shop doorways or adjacent to ATMs, so you’re guilted into handing over something before they pickpocket you (seriously, I’ve told that story). But Dublin is a whole new level of aggressive.

I remember being warned about the pick-pockets by my teacher when I first visited as a teenager. You do tend to find a few quiet ones strategically placed on the bridges going into town, but it is down the main streets where trouble is to be found. They sidle up to you in parks and museums, asking for spare change, they chase you down when you ignore them, or refuse, and all the time you’re unconsciously tapping your pocket to make sure your wallet is still there while their accomplice works out exactly which one to dip their sticky fingers into.

I made the mistake of wandering down a small alley off Dame Street I hadn’t been down before – heck there looked to be life on it – only to find me running a gauntlet of beggar types. I watched as one well-dressed woman handed over some change (looked like a few Euros) to a woman, only for the beggar woman to shout after her because it wasn’t enough. Oh shit… Eyes locked on the exit. Walk faster. Escape.

Seeing my friend off to the multi-story after coffee, another beggar sat facing the pay machine on the stairwell to the upper floor, talking very loudly and persistently.

“Excuse me. EXCUSE ME. Have you any change. HAVE YOU ANY Change.”

No actually.

“Only I’M VERY HUNGRY”.

Can’t get up stairs past him…

I know, you think less of me complaining. Maybe you have to be there. And I’m sure there are genuine hopeless cases out there. But I’m so cynical. I don’t believe you should be bullied into giving over money, or guilted into doing so. I also think you need to be careful, because there are people out there simply looking to pull  a fast one. Admittedly I’ve watched a lot of Real Hustle and no longer trust any strangers as a result, but…

And no, it isn’t all a case of foreigners coming into the country and causing all the trouble either. I’d say drink and drugs probably had more to do with it.

Just have to remember to not wander off the well-trodden path too much in future.

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