True Gripes: Sweet charity: Neighbours like to feel they belong

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The Independent Online
Every June I dread it with the same intensity. But somehow I always agree to do a house-to-house collection for Action Aid week down my leafy road near Portobello market. My trepidation arises at the thought of having to try to persuade my neighbours (none of whom is a friend - it's not that sort of road) to part with their hard-earned cash or benefit money in a climate of pervasive compassion fatigue.

Having faced the fact that I have to do it, I drag my seven-year-old son Marlon along to create a sympathetic image - mother and child makes

giving easier is my theory - as well as to educate him about the charity. Not to mention the neighbours. At this point, I remember that the intriguing bit of this venture is discovering

exactly who our neighbours are. Because we normally never encounter them.

We start at the southern end of the street which is mainly three-storey Victorian houses divided into flats - the idea is to collect from one side one evening and the other side on another evening. I have to confess that this is an unorthodox collecting method (and Action Aid probably won't approve) because you are supposed politely to leave the little envelopes first, then return on another occasion.

However, I prefer a more immediate approach. Confronting the first impersonal entry phone system, I instantly recall all my previous mistakes. Stuttering, being indirect or

quietly timid does not work. You have to get the message across succinctly - it's 6.30pm, they're probably just home from work or college, and they are heartily sick of Jehovah's Wit-

nesses on this same step.

Initially, I try to appeal to their sense of neighbourhood. There isn't one in this street but I know they'd like to have that sense of belonging. I'm homing in on a lost neighbour within.

'I'm your neighbour from No 13,' I tell them and they love it. Next, I give them a little spiel on Action Aid

sponsoring projects (schools, well-building, medicine) in Third World countries, and lastly I demand their money in the nicest possible way, saying that I won't be upset if they refuse.

And I'm amazed at just how caring, concerned and friendly these Lon-doners are.

For the most part, they give me a pound. Down my road, I discover

students with pierced noses and big hearts, a man from Zaire who wants to talk French (then tries to persuade me to teach him English), a woman in the bath who insists I return the next day, a real neighbour, Mary (whom I do say hello to, and Marlon calls 'one of the rich people' because they own a whole three-storey house) gives me pounds 5, some people who have just been burgled, a posh man who's straight off the plane from Bucharest but who stumps up a pound, a snotty Frenchwoman who screams 'No]' at me, a young music-biz type who thrusts pounds 4 into my hand, and many more, including the tiny Vietnamese woman who wants me to return, and a little old lady who answered the door in a scruffy dressing gown, so I pretended I had pressed the wrong bell. I'm overwhelmed by people's obvious desire to give freely. I'm shocked at how generous they are; we col-lected pounds 69.10 from our street, which I think is pretty good going.

The only thing is, I probably won't see any of them again until next year. . .