Why is it that people jump to the wrong conclusion when they see me dressed in my usual attire?
Some time ago I went to London to stay with friends and I was told that one of them goes out at night with members of his church to go to London parks and feed the poor and the down-and-outs.
Would I like to join them?
On the day in question a van from his church called at his house and he and I and two others drove into London just before 10 o’clock at night.
We parked the van by the roadside and it broke my heart to see literally dozens of people sitting on the wet grass waiting our arrival.
“Word soon gets around” I was told “they tell each other that we’re here by around 10 and every time we come there’s more of them!”
“There’s another van parked a hundred yards away” I said.
“Yes … it’s another church. We’re glad they come too because we couldn’t cope on our own!”
I was given a big box full or pre-wrapped sandwiches which the ladies in church had prepared and I walked by the park edge handing them out as the vagrants got up and went to the van for a hot drink.
By the time I had emptied my box of sandwiches I had reached the other van from the other church.
“Hello … you are new here” said a middle-aged lady from near her van “I haven’t seen you before!”
“Yes … this is my first time here …” I smiled back.
“Would you like a sandwich?” she asked “and a cup of soup? We have chicken and tomatoes, which do you prefer?”
“Oh no …” I smiled, “I don’t need anything to eat … thanks!”
“Do sit down …” she interrupted, “the chicken soup is hot and tasty … I made it myself!”
Before I could answer she was joined by another lady who said “He’s probably shy, Mary! It’s very difficult for some of them to accept our help.”
I was about to explain when Mary interrupted again “You look very cold my dear … this jacket you’re wearing has seen better days … we have a spare coat in the van … about your size I should say … let me get it …”
“No … no … you don’t understand” I protested with a smile hiding the insult at my authentic 12 years old tweed jacket, “I am not one of the poor people. I came here to help with my friend from another church!”
“Now you’ve embarrassed him …” said the other lady to Mary, “either that, or the poor man is hallucinating … it happens when they’ve been drinking … does he smell of drink?”
I’ll have you know dear readers that I do not smell of drink but always of the best after-shave lotion I can buy for a few pennies down the market. This farce had got on too far and it was time I put these two lovely well-meaning ladies straight.
“Look ladies …” I said calmly yet authoritatively, “believe it or not, I am not here to ask for food or drink or clothing. I came with my friend from another church to help feed these poor people. I came in the van parked … parked … over … there!!!
“Where has the van gone? Where’s my friend and the other two people from his church? Did you see them leave?”
“Never mind …” said Mary in her sweet voice, “sit down here and try this soup and sandwich … I’ll go get you the coat!”
As she left I told the other woman, “I don’t know what’s going on. My friend is from St Bartholomew church. Do you know it?
“He’s gone and left me stranded here … can you help me please and give me a lift in your van to his house? It’s near the church.”
“Oh no …” she replied, “we’re not allowed to take passengers in our van. It’s only for us to come here and serve food …”
She walked away hurriedly and stopped Mary who was coming towards us with a coat. They both moved towards the van at speed. A man came out of the van towards me and said “Here friend … I have something for you …” and handed me two sandwiches.
He then jumped in the van and they drove off.
I gave the two sandwiches to two men sitting nearby and hurried as quickly as my legs would carry me towards the main road where I stopped a taxi and went home.
“Why did you drive off and leave me?” I asked.
“We thought you’d gone into town to see the London sites” was the jovial unperturbed reply.
“But … but … I was wearing my cowboy hat with a large feather in it … clearly visible from afar … what do you want me to do? Put on a flashing light on top so you can see it from miles away?????”
This story is dedicated to someone I know who does a lot of good work feeding the poor at night in London.