Thursday, 4 July 2013


It’s not often you come across some really creative begging. 

Mostly you see scurvy looking knaves with mangy dogs, possible playing a basic recorder or mouth organ, either instrument badly; that’s the scurvy knave, not the mangy dog. If someone trained their dog to play mouth organ or recorder, I would be impressed. 

Or there are those who sit on the pavement and look pathetic, not saying anything but shaking a pot with a few coins in, as if to say, “Here I am. Give me a few coins more.” Some are more pro-active and spin you a line about how they need some money to feed their kids, pay their rent, buy some food for the mangy dog an so on. Many of these have cultivated a special “pity me” whine but the ones outside our local supermarket have opted to sound cheerful about it and beg with great energy. And every supermarket has its quota of doorway beggars. 

Then there are the rather more organised beggars who have a notice, varying from printed to badly scrawled on a piece of card, which explains their situation and asks politely for a little help. Since la crisis hit, more and more of these are older and/or more middle class. 

The parking-beggars, who seemed to have gone to ground when the weather was bad, have re-emerged in the sunshine, waving their arms at every passing car and gesturing them into a parking space. This morning I saw just about the fattest parking-beggar ever; maybe he does really well and spends all his earnings on beer and pies. 

However, just occasionally you see some really creative begging, as I said at the start. Today, in the sunshine of Puerta del Sol, just outside the fruit shop, I saw this: 

He, or I suppose it could even be she, sat perfectly still, not even a muscle of his/her face moving. It was truly impressive. 

The beautifully produced sign at his/her feet said: Charity for: adolescent Atlantic Triton, unacknowledged bastard child of the Merman. Without resources. Thank you. May Neptune bless you. The Merman is El Sireno, the strange swimming statue on the top of his column in the square called Puerta del Sol. So the site has obviously been selected intelligently. The costume is quite exquisite. 10 out of 10 for effort and initiative! And yet .... 

And yet this clever version of the human statue appeared to be a child, probably nor more than 10 or 11 years old. Now, what kind of parent sits his child on a stool in the broiling sun for passersby to photograph and hopefully to donate funds? It must have been close to 30° when I went through there just after midday. The elaborate costume had me wondering exactly how “without resources” this beggar was, or more likely his parent(s). 

Initially I was enchanted by the vision of this child of El Sireno but the more I think about it, the more disturbed I am by it. Essentially this is surely another kind of child abuse, not very different from the situation I saw when I first came to Spain in the late 1960s. Then it was gipsy children, all ragged clothes, dirty feet and faces and huge, liquid brown eyes with thick dark lashes. They knew perfectly well how to smile at passersby and make themselves look appealing as they held out their grubby hands for money. A Spanish friend of mine at that time used to take a bunch of them to a cafe and buy them a sandwich and a drink. They were pleased to be fed but they also wanted some pesetas because, as my friend knew, they were likely to be in trouble if they went home empty-handed. 

Exploitation of the appealing child! Child abuse! Is the little son of El Sireno much different? I wonder!

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