Donald MacInnes: It was either the charity collector or a frightening-looking dustbin

In The Red

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The Independent Online

Recently, I mentioned Kensington High Street's charity collectors and confessed to having been burned by one of these salaried beggars back when I had just fallen off the haggis truck.

It was 1998. I was a sporran-eyed Oliver MacTwist, staggered by London's mice-like hordes, parping traffic and aromas which made you sad. I had got a job at the Press Association which, as you may know, is one of the big news agencies which tend to break stories before newspapers.

Back in that pre-internet world, news agencies could publish their stories as they were taking place, unlike papers, which had to wait until the next morning to tell their readers that so-and-so had stabbed his cat or come out as gay or been buried under an avalanche. Or all three.

So I was making my way to the offices inVictoria when I saw a bloke ahead, smiling and looking friendly.

Although I had only been in Gotham City for a few days, I knew that such behaviour was not acceptable in public, so I veered away from him. However, in my alternate path stood a rubbish bin.

Now, this was at the tail end of the IRA's bombing campaign and, as a newly arrived country mouse, I was convinced every bin contained something Irish and dangerous.

As this irrational fear began to percolate, I was caught in two minds. Speaking to the blue-jacketed guy seemed preferable to inching past the bin as if I were tip-toeing through a room of sleeping lions in a morris dancer's outfit. So our paths duly crossed.

"Hi!" he said. "How are you?" I told him I was okay, all the while keeping a wide-eye on the nearby bin, which was surely seconds away from becoming The Smoking Crater of Death.

He started his spiel about needy people needing my money more than I needed it and showing me pictures of crying children. All the while, I could hear the bin ticking, feet away. Tick...tock...tick...tock. A solitary bead of sweat slithered danced down my temple and fell to the pavement.

"I'll do it!" I cried, grabbing his clipboard and signing my name and bank details. It was thus I spent the next year part-funding doctors who fly around Africa, fixing cataracts in people's eyes, which is obviously a very good thing. Not exactly what the Provos wanted to achieve with their Semtex and alarm clocks, but then again, who knows...?

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