Tuesday, 25 September 2012

1000-odd words in the mind of a chugger

I resent the word "chugger", I really do. I mean, it's trying to give us a bad name isn't it? Saying we're muggers for charity - that's not true. I've never mugged anybody and neither have most of the people I work with. Plus some people might get the wrong idea and think we're actually mugging the charities themselves, which nobody at Justice for Overweight Kenyan Elephants has ever done as far as I'm aware. Do you know what I think would be a better name? "Charmers". Like people that are "charming" in one sense, but also "charity armers" yeah? 'Cos that's what we do - we arm charities with cash. We give them the tools and then they use them to fix the world. Either "charmers" or "chegends". "Chegends" means - oh you can? Well okay, well done!

Anyway the key to being a Charmer is to be charming. There's no point going up to somebody saying "Do you have a minute to talk about bowel cancer?" if you're looking down at your feet and generally acting miserable. People might think you have bowel cancer and that isn't the impression we want to give at all. What a good Charmer does is engage their Tardo- that's what we call the public - it's short for "target donor", but it's also funny because a lot of them are actually quite thick. Some of the charmers from Mencap, and Mind don't like the word "Tardo", they say it contradicts their message or something, but generally speaking they're all wankers anyway.

Where was I? Right, engagement! Not to brag but I do know thing or two about this - I have the lowest blank rate of any mobile-urban-fundraising-agent I know. 99.9% of all Tardos are evasive. Rather than curing cancer or liberating Tibet they'd much rather spend their lunch breaks calculating the calorific intake of a Tesco meal deal or mentally composing risqué out of office emails they're never going to use. But that's Tardos for you and we can only work with what we're given. The key is to make them acknowledge your presence, once you've done that it's plain sailing down easy street all the way to the promised land. Of course Tardos know this. Despite being self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-centred, selfish scum, Tardos are not self-delusional. They know that once they get into a battle of wits with a Charmer there's only going to be one winner, and it's the person wielding a clipboard. So naturally Tardos try to elude us.

It's amazing how many Tardos think that pretending to be on the phone is all they have to do to avoid debating the planet's most pressing issues. In my younger days even I would sometimes fall for the old 'I'd love to but I'm in the middle of a phone call' look, combined with an apologetic shrug. "Excuse me sir", I'd ask "could you spare a minute to talk about muscular dystrophy?" but alas, he never could. "Morning madam, do you think literacy rates in Sub Saharan Africa are acceptable?" No response, maybe she did, maybe she didn't. Either way she wasn't going to interrupt her 'conversation' to tell me. "Alright squire, how do you sleep at night knowing that every year on average 146 stray dogs die of loneliness?" Not even a flicker - they were always busy on the phone.

Gradually it dawned on me: was it really likely for around half of the people passing through the patch of high street I work - an area I call the N Zone, partly because N stands for Nigel, my name, partly because its directly outside Next - to be on the phone? I started to do some research, going to the same place on my days off dressed in civvies and counting phone users. Guess what? There were significantly fewer!
This insight into the dark, callous heart of the Tardo revolutionised my tactics. If they were going to play dirty then so was I. If it was guerrilla warfare they wanted, I'd become King Kong. I began snatching phones from their owner's hands triumphantly screaming "Destiny Calling!" before exposing their dirty secret. Occasionally this would shame someone into a donation, but more often it drew unwanted attention from the police.

So I refined my technique. As Tardos passed me I would also pretend to be on the phone, causing them to drop their guard and in many cases end their fictional conversations. 'He must be on a break' they'd think, visibly breathing a little easier and then at that exact moment I'd pounce - spinning round, looking the Tardo straight in the eye and enquiring "Do you know what percentage of the polar ice caps have melted since this time last year?" I should point out that I've worked as a Charmer for many different charities; it's never really been the causes that have attracted me, but the thrill of the chase.

And "On a break"! Don't make me laugh, Charmers don't take breaks. We're like sharks, if we stop swimming we die. Except in our case it's not so much swimming, but charming. And we wouldn't actually die, but we would make less commission than we'd like. Oh and strictly speaking we do take breaks, but only to comply with EU working time directives and for most of that time were still thinking about charming.
When I'm asked - as I regularly am - what my favourite part of my job is, I always smile and recall the Tardos that I've enjoyed a bit of verbal sparring with. They're the exception rather than the rule this lot, but when you come across one it's like finding an extra veggie sausage hiding under your free-range, corn-fed, organic poached egg at breakfast. They really do brighten up my day.

You often find them in a rush. "I'm sorry, I'm in a rush" they'll say, as you ask them their views on lack of funding for Third World immunisation programmes. "You're in a rush?" I reply "well what a coincidence, so is the anopheles mosquito on its quest to spread Malaria in Africa". It's at this point the verbal sparrers like to make themselves known. "Listen", they say, "I've had a busy day and I'm not in the mood for being hassled on my lunch break." I anticipate this type of response and counter: "Well at least you can afford lunch unlike the billion plus people who have to survive on under $1 a day".

Jousting like this can go back and forth, three, four sometimes even five times. Such is the speed and ferocity of our ripostes foreign tourists often think this is a scripted show put on for their benefit . It usually ends when the Tardo - intellectually defeated - calls me a parasitic, hypocritical or mercenary cunt and storms off. But deep down I know they don't really mean it and I like to think we've both shared a special moment.

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