27 March 2007

Giving money to beggars

When I say that I could never draw social security however hard up I was, because I had been left without any usable qualifications, I mean not merely hard up relative to the cost of remaining physically alive, but hard up relative to the cost of providing myself with the equivalent of a residential college (hotel) environment and the secretarial and other facilities that might have been provided by the sort of academic career which I should have been having, as well as a Professorial salary.

I felt very hard up indeed, and saved money very hard out of my miserable pittance of a salary at the Society for Psychical Research, although it looked as though it would take thousands of years to reach a level of capital at which I could provide myself with the circumstances I needed to have; unless something completely improbable and unpredictable happened in my favour.
I certainly found it very grim to be in such a situation; I could never have believed that anything so terrible could happen to me, nor that if it did, there would be absolutely nobody who would give me any help in remedying my position. Nevertheless I went on giving money to beggars, in order to remember the higher level perspective and not feel totally shut in to an ostensibly hopeless imprisonment in the ‘normal’ world.

I remember one time when Sir George was visiting me in Oxford where I was doing a post-graduate degree which I hoped would provide me with a way of re-accessing an academic career. In the event it did not, because there was nobody who did not want me to be kept down and out, including my own supervisor, Professor Price, who was under the influence of two sources of hostility against me, the Principal of Somerville and Rosalind Heywood at the SPR.
However, while doing this thesis I was in lodgings near Somerville and Sir George and two other Somervillians were in the room with me. A beggar knocked at the door and asked for money. I got everyone to turn out their loose cash and see what they felt able to contribute. Sir George produced a note, but rather disapprovingly. Admittedly he was having to survive on a totally inadequate pension, so he might just have said he was needing it too badly himself, but what he said was, ‘You shouldn’t give him so much. He will only get drunk on it.’

‘That is entirely beside the point,’ I said. I might have added, but didn’t, ‘Money is what he asked for, so that is what he shall have, and what he does with it is nobody’s business but his own.’

Then I went back to the front door to give him the collection.