Watching the supermarket wildlife

18:35, Nov 02 2012

It's claimed by Phineas T Barnum, the circus promoter, that "every crowd has a silver lining".

A Saturday morning spent collecting for the blind outside a major supermarket was proof of that and quite an eye opener.

It reminded me of those days long ago when as a political candidate I would knock on doors of electors in the Manawatu, asking for their support. One just hoped that the first door didn't produce an aggressive german shepherd or, worse, an even more aggressive socialist.

A lovely elderly satisfied supporter was a good start to the day; a man who asked me "what has four legs and an arm?" Answer: "A political candidate when my dog catches him!" was considered a bad omen.

Being positioned by the door to the supermarket meant that I could make eye contact with most approaching shoppers. Many were people I knew and made easy picking, although some were quietly rude as I suggested they be a bit more generous. Some found the shopping trolley parking area and the ATM very interesting and resisted my probing gaze. On the whole most gave gladly. It was interesting that those who, on the surface, could not afford much gave more. Mums with their kids in tow insisted that each child put in 20 cents or so, instilling into these youngsters that helping others less well off than themselves is good.

Each donor was given a sticker, and I was very careful where I stuck it; chests OK, breasts a definite no-no. Although one old friend suggested that I live dangerously with her sticker, I resisted the temptation. I had been similarly tried once before, during those political vote-searching days. I knocked on the door and it was immediately opened by a very well-endowed young woman in a dressing gown. I explained why I was there and she smiled and threw open her dressing gown, which was the only garment cladding her. "Would you vote for dem two puppies?" she asked with a laugh and slammed the door! I felt my mouth hanging open; her laughter at my expense, behind the door, was outrageous.


There were also all the old excuses like "I haven't any change - sorry" or "I'll give you some on the way out"- yeah right! I witnessed two collisions as cars backed out of their parks into the other's blind spots; each insisting it was the other's fault with much waving of arms but no major damage done.

And then, when I thought I'd avoided most of the unpleasantness that used to accompany my political door-knocking, along comes a broadside from left field.

"Are you Mr Cox?" the ageing man asked in such a manner that I knew he was fully aware that I was. When someone calls me mister I'm immediately on guard. I vaguely remembered a previous outburst from the same angry chap, on the street or was it at a Grey Power meeting I'd attended?

"I hate your columns in the Waikato Times; you should be locked up so that we readers can be put out of our misery by having to read such unadulterated garbage," he spat out. I have the spittle marks on my pullover to prove it.

I've had some practice in handling such verbal hate attacks, first rule being to drop the volume of one's response.

"You don't have to read them, it's not compulsory you know," I quietly informed my attacker. That logic didn't seem to settle him; he continued in front of a growing crowd. "People like you and John Key should be banned from the streets." He moved away muttering oaths. I offered him my collector's box and a sticker; he declined.

Some think that politicians develop a tough hide and can cope with such belligerent attacks. Not true. They are as upsetting to me as they would be to any other collector or person in the public arena. I'm sure my spitting and aggressive confronter will take some heart from that, presuming of course that he reads this column.

I recalled a comment made by Harold Wilson, former British prime minister, when he was verbally attacked by his old adversary Tony Benn. He simply said, "He immatures with age". I thought the same could apply to my Saturday morning attacker.

All in all it was a good way to spend a morning. There was $134.70 plus an Isle of Man £2 coin in my collection box. Well done those people who chose to help the blind, you were indeed "a crowd with a silver lining".

Waikato Times