It’s a growing problem on the streets of Cambridge. I don’t mind people thrusting the Big Issue in my face every 200 yards, and I’ll quite happily buy it from people who are using inventive ways of selling their product – the people who charm you into buying one, or who include a juggling dog as part of their act, or who persuade you to part with your money under the pretence of selling the Radio Times. Quite happy with all of those. (Well, I’d actually be mightily pissed off with anyone who did the last of them to me, but I would also feel a kind of grudging respect for them.)
But what’s bothering me is the people who stand making sarcastic comments to passers by, along the lines of “don’t all push at once” but repeated with dripping irony and loaded with hatred of humankind for its failure to line up and obediently buy a load of Big Issues. I don’t imagine it’s easy standing in the cold selling a flimsy magazine, but to chastise people for failing to line up and buy it is frankly quite offensive. God knows, in Cambridge the chances are that half of them have already bought one just around the corner anyway.
You couldn’t sell anything else like that – “please, Madam, before you walk away from that dress, consider that it at least looks better than the hideous clothes you’re wearing” … “oh, not going to buy that book after all, Sir? Is the writing too small or something?” … “I’d recommend this washing product, because you smell.”
And anyway, there are so many other options. There is a very charming man outside Great St Mary’s who threatens to puncture my tyres whenever I lock up my bike without buying a Big Issue from him – that’s the kind of creative approach to salesmanship I’d like to see more of. And I’ve never dared to say no to him.