This may seem like a rather precise and personal irritation but, stick with me, there is a wider, more generic, irritation that can be drawn from it.
I donate quite a lot of stuff to charity shops. Books and Oxfam to be specific. Now, don’t go getting the idea that I am an especially charitable person. I am not. It’s just that I have a small house, acquire lots of excess books, and my local Oxfam shop is closer than the town dump.
The manager of my local Oxfam shop is someone who could be euphemistically described as a woman of a certain age. She has steel-grey hair, melded into a tight helmet, and an iron-dour expression to match. I have never once heard the words “thank you” pass her perma-pursed lips.
Now there are two potential places where it is possible to deposit donated books at my local Oxfam shop: at the counter, or outside the door of the storeroom at the rear of the shop.
I deposit my books at the counter: “What are you doing leaving books there? I’ll only have to carry them. Leave them by the storeroom.”
I deposit my books by the storeroom: “What are you doing leaving books there? It’s a trip hazard. Leave them by the counter.”
I can’t do right for doing wrong. Wherever I leave my books––wasn’t that the title of a Paul Young song? (You know it wasn’t. Ed.)––I lay myself exposed as the object of reprimand.
Still with me.
The iron-maiden manager of my local Oxfam shop is merely a physical representation of a wider phenomenon.
Yesterday’s jobsworth is today’s career bureaucrat. Petty-mindedness is no longer an irritating character trait but is now a valuable vocational transferable skill.
So, what can I do?
I might have to switch my charitable allegiance. Forsake Oxfam in favour of the British Heart Foundation. After all, it’s only another ten yards to walk.
© Simon Turner-Tree
Simon Turner-Tree believes charity begins close to home.