In quiet streets within about 50 yards of the main railway station we were regularly waylaid by young gypsy women with small children (and babies). They were ostensibly begging, but would take a firm grip on arms and clothing - to the point of being lifted clear of the ground - and the idea was obviously to harass you out of money or possessions.
This was slightly surreal as well as upsetting. It made more sense when we saw, one day, on a piece of wasteland near the Forum, half a dozen of the women gathered round a neatly suited young man and his small but shiny car. He was haranguing one of the women; what caught our attention, however, was the sound of his throwing a few coins at her feet. Presumably she hadn't been working hard enough.
Margaret Maxwell was understandably distressed. This kind of thing is dispiriting even if you don't lose much. But perhaps she should reflect that thieves, beggars, drug addicts and others who are trying to get money in the streets must operate mainly in the busiest tourist centres where there is a high concentration of people who are vulnerable (because they are not on home territory) and carrying worthwhile amounts of money. Hence the railway station in Rome, the Place de l'Opera, and a handful of West End stores. It is easy to know what to avoid or where you should be particularly cautious.
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