Giving to beggars is one of the dirty delights of wealth. That pinprick of feeling as their eyes meet yours, as they greet your generosity with benediction, a bowed head, a simple smile. For a moment you feel that you have glimpsed another soul through the impersonal veil of city life. You may indulge in the voluptuous empathy of being them, rubbed raw by poverty and need, living every day at the whim of passing strangers, illuminated by hope in a maze of despair. You fall, inevitably, for the narcissism of benefaction, even though you know that looking grateful is their job, that the pleasure you extract from giving them a coin that means nothing to you and something to them (though perhaps only a can of extra-strength beer) is no different from the pleasure a client receives from a prostitute, or any other paid exchange of emotion. And still, because that pleasure required nothing from them but a look into their pure, defenceless face, no flattery or pretence of interest in your life, you walk away with a sense that something real just happened, something tiny, futile and real.
And those sleek young people hired by charities to accost commuters with clipboards and smiles, demanding not coins but bank account details, standing orders of donation — they scowl in disbelief as you shake off their charm and dodge through the turnstiles of the London underground.