The big issue when I donate £1 to charity

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The people from Help the Children came round on Saturday. They were knocking on doors, collecting boxes in hand, spreading the word about the charity and appealing for funds.

The people from Help the Children came round on Saturday. They were knocking on doors, collecting boxes in hand, spreading the word about the charity and appealing for funds.

Help the Children? It was a new one to me. I asked the middle-aged man about the organisation. He handed me a laminated board on which it was explained that Help the Children, also known as "A New Vision for Children", worked with disabled kids in south London, using water and swimming as therapy.

I asked how the swimming therapy worked. The man looked at me sorrowfully like one forever wearied by the cynicism of the modern world. "It's all there," he said, pointing to the card. I put £1 in his collection box.

But there was something a bit iffy about this. A New Vision for Children seemed an odd metaphor for an organisation that dealt with water. I checked it out on the Charity Commission's website. There was no sign of an organisation fitting its description.

Yet it felt mean-spirited, to doubt the honesty of a couple of respectable-looking men who had given up their weekend to shake a collection box. After all, my record when it came to giving was not as honourable as I would like to think. The odd donation to crisis appeals, buying The Big Issue now and then, tossing a coin into the odd hat, was about it.

On the other hand, asking people to make a donation to disabled children and then pocketing the money yourself ­ if that is what these men were doing ­ seemed a low trick. They were doing well, too. When I found them in the next street, it was obvious that Help the Children, or somebody, was benefiting from most of the calls they made.

This time I spoke to the older man. He expressed exasperated affront at my suspicions. He gave me the charity registration number, its address and telephone number but, strangely under the circumstances, declined to give me his name.

How I wish they had sounded like Mr John Townend, the conservative MP who complained last week that the Anglo-Saxon culture had been undermined by immigration, or Mrs Mary Kenny, the columnist who bemoaned the disappearance of the "gentle place" that England once was, a land of Ian Carmichael and Kenneth More, of "law and order under Dixon of Dock Green".

But they did not. When none of their details checked out, I rang the police. Did the gentlemen have any distinguishing features, I was asked. They were, well, East European. The police officer chuckled. "Why am I not surprised by that?" he said.

It felt unpleasant, grassing up the Help the Children gang. After all there are many worse home-grown scams than gently relieving householders of spare change on a Saturday afternoon. I felt as if I had joined the Townend/Kenny team, reporting non-Anglo-Saxon behaviour to a nice, English Dixon of Dock Green.

It occurred to me that the act of giving has become complicated recently ­ more a question of presentation and theatre than it should. Personally, I want the recipients of my generosity to behave appropriately ­ to be sad without being downright depressing, tragic but not too tragic, to make me feel good about myself.

They should be cheerful, like the man selling The Big Issue outside the British Library, or at least apologetic, like the down-at-heel old gent asking for the price of a cup of tea on the Gloucester Road. Those who use dogs, or ­ shameless! ­ children, or who simply sit, hopeless and blank-eyed, in some doorway, are just putting on the wrong kind of show for me.

Perhaps, if a middle-aged man came to my door and said he was a refugee down on his luck, I might just have slipped him a pound, but somehow I doubt it. So Help the Children it had to be.

terblacker@aol.com

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