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Come flyer with me

October 7, 2013

I find myself on a street corner, suddenly invisible to the naked eye. It’s not a new diet, or indeed a super power, and it’s only partially due to the blinding shaft of afternoon sunlight between the gothic towers of a Cambridge College that’s turning everything a bright vermillion. No, the reason I’m invisible this afternoon is because I’m handing out flyers.

It’s an experience everyone should try, as it perfectly epitomises the highs and lows of human nature. There are those who will greet the sight of an outstretched hand with a piece of paper in it with curiosity and grace, pleased to be given something interesting to look at. There are those who will cross over to the other side of the road, or suddenly find something fascinating to look at on their phone/ipod/underarm instead of the proffered piece of paper. And there are those who will look right through you, allowing your arm to bounce off their bodies soundlessly as they charge past, never breaking their stride or conversation. These people outnumber the others ten to one.

I pity people who are trying to extract money from others on the street – the charity workers, volunteers, and indeed, the homeless. If I can’t get people to take a free piece of paper, that is only exhorting people to have a good time, then what chance do people have of trying to convince perfect strangers to part with their cash?

We’ve all been there. You’re rushing for a train, laden with bags of shopping, and some cheery-faced do-gooder (generally blonde, female, young and on the lookout for hapless males) stops you as if asking for the time, and then extracts a clipboard from the depths of their person and tries to sign you up for three years at £7 a month to save the elephants. They use this amount as the seven times table is quite tricky, and you’re too distracted by the shopping and the time, and the relentless cheery disposition of said volunteer to argue very much. Somehow they extract email addresses, credit card details and national insurance numbers, and for the rest of your life you’re bombarded with emails showing you pictures of your rescue elephant in a birthday hat, and a small but significant direct debit that you always feel too guilty to cancel.

Never again, you think, and henceforth avoid making vague eye contact with anybody stood still in the street.

I’d been unprepared for the level of hostility I would meet on the crowded streets of Cambridge. I chose my targets carefully, didn’t approach anyone who looked stressed or harassed, or with children, or shopping. Generally it was crowds of pimple-ridden boys, clutching skateboards with hats on backwards, toting under-developed facial hair and mis-spelled clothing. There were LOTS, and all perfected that unnerving pretend-she-isn’t-there stare, which after a while had me patting myself down, and ensuring I hadn’t actually drifted off the plane of reality. I checked my reflection in my phone (no embarrassing biro marks on my face or spinach in my teeth), and constantly rotated my position so that I had full view of both TK Maxx and Superdrug (I had chosen my spot wisely), and wasn’t about to be mown down by an errant cyclist.

To no avail. After a little while, and with a hefty clutch of leaflets still in my paw, I decided to multi-task and did a little window shopping (Ok, actual shopping), and was then rescued by the welcome sight of my husband bearing aloft a paper cup of coffee and a sticky bun. But even he walked right past, feigning interest in the receipt until I tapped him smartly on the shoulder.

“Oh it’s you,” he said, visibly relieved. “I thought it was someone wanting to sell me something.”

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