"Excuse me, love," she says. "I'm not a beggar."
Uh-huh, I think, she's going to ask me to lend her the bus fare home because she's had her purse stolen.
"I was wondering if you could lend me the bus fare home," she says. "I've been visiting my son. He's disabled with Creutzfeld-Jacob disease and we don't expect him to last the week. He was born with Parkinson's disease, and the Legionnaire's nearly got him twice, and now he's caught this. He's only five years old and he's a martyr to his cerebral palsy. Anyway, I spent the last of my cash on books and magazines for him, he's got an IQ of 180, you know, and now I don't have the money to get home."
As I say, I look like a soft touch, and it's probably because I am: anybody tells me an inventive enough story, I'll stump up whatever's in my pockets. I dig around and produce a pound coin and a couple of coppers. She accepts it gracefully. "Thank you," she says, "God will bless you for that."
"That's okay," I say. She bends down towards me and starts fingering my big coat, which has come back out of the wardrobe since the summer ended. "I hope you don't mind," she says. "I just wanted to see what it was made of. I'm a designer, you see. Clothes and things. That's what I do for a living, so I'm always interested in what people are wearing."
"Thank you," I say, "It's Moroccan."
"Moroccan?" she bounces backwards. "That's amazing. My husband's Moroccan. Well, German, actually, but his mother is from Albania. He died last year. Caught hepatitis C, you know what that is?, from a doctor in this cancer hospice he was volunteering in. Turned green and had fits. Awful, it was. We had to tie him to the bed. I don't suppose ..." - she bends closer, smiling her graveyard smile - "you would happen to have a cigarette on you would you?"
I give her a fag. She breaks the filter off, cups my hands with her crusted fingertips as I light it. "I don't usually," she continues, "not since they took my lungs out. But the stress is too much sometimes, you know?"
I agree. I find the stress too much roughly 30 times a day, myself. "The thing is," says Wino Lady confidentially, "It's all the fault of that Princess Diane. It's her did it. She's put a curse on me because she's jealous."
Suddenly I realise that everything she has hitherto said has been the stone cold truth. Because I don't know if you've noticed, but the Princess of Wales has obviously taken up voodoo recently. I bet somewhere in her cave, on a shelf among the baseball caps, there is a line of Sloane dolls covered in pins. Because if one thing's for sure, this is not a good week to be a pal of Charles's. First Camilla, then Kanga: if I were even on nodding terms with the POW, I would be pretty nervous by now.
"That's so weird," I say. "She's had a curse on me for days. Yesterday a giant-sized jar of gherkins just jumped off the kitchen top and landed on my big toe. I thought the top of my head was going to come off."
"Mmm," says Wino Lady. "And have you noticed it starts raining every time you go outside? That's her fault, too. Her and that Mother Teresa." She rolls up her sleeve and shows me a brackish graze covering most of the underside of her forearm. "That William Hague did that," she said.
"No." I have always suspected William Hague of peculiar necromancies, but beating up bag ladies would seem beyond even him. "Yes. All I did was wish him luck with that, with that ..." - she pauses to reflect - "general election, and he pushed me into the gutter and drove his Rolls-Royce over my arm."
"I wouldn't vote for him again in a hurry."
"Don't you worry. I won't be." She nods. "Nor for that John Prescott. He was at school with my brother, you know. Used to bully everyone until they gave him their dinner money. Anyway ..." - she straightens up - "I must go. I've got to see on my mother. She's got ebola. And a stomach ulcer. They don't expect her to last the week, not that that Tony Blair gives a damn. Too busy eating in fancy restaurants."
She moves on a few feet and starts chatting to a cross-looking Asian girl. Reflecting on the perfidiousness of our public figures, I catch the bus and get home just in time to catch Boyzone queer-bashing fat Tony on EastEnders. I always knew that Ronan Keating was a wrong'un.Reuse content