Saturday, 21 April 2012

I Just Fell Off My Bike

Taking the family on a Dickens walk today (no, really), we were accosted on Newman Street - not far from the reprieved Cleveland Street Workhouse, and Charles Dickens' teenage home, opposite the former Middlesex Hospital - by a Victorian gentleman, albeit in modern guise.

His manner was polite and fairly engaging. He spoke unhurriedly but with a mildly pained expression.

'Excuse me,' he said, 'I'm sorry to trouble you, but I've just fallen off my bike, and I need to get to the A&E at Homerton Hospital. Look ...'

He rolled up the sleeve of his jackets- with remarkable ease, it must be said - and grimaced at the bloodied forearm beneath.

At least, it was certainly the colour and texture of dried blood; and one did not wish to enquire too closely.

A kinder soul might have offered to help; they might have rung 999, or if he was too proud to call an ambulance, they might have given him the money for the bus or taxi that would, plainly, be required.

At least, that was the idea.

For my part, I briskly directed him to the A&E of University College Hospital, a brisk five minutes' walk from the spot, rather than distant Homerton (some four or five miles distant, where, as it happens, my infant phenomenon was born). If I was made of sterner stuff, I might have added a few choice words. For I knew this gentleman, not in person, but from the works of Henry Mayhew, c.1861:

First, then, as to those having real or pretended sores. As I have said, there are few beggars of this class left. When the officers of the Mendicity Society first directed their attention to the suppression of this form of mendicancy, it was found that the great majority of those who exhibit sores were unmitigated impostors. In nearly all the cases investigated the sores did not proceed from natural causes, but were either wilfully produced or simulated. A few had lacerated their flesh in reality; but the majority had resorted to the less painful operation known as the "Scaldrum Dodge." This consists in covering a portion of the leg or arm with soap to the thickness of a plaister, and then saturating the whole with vinegar. The vinegar causes the soap to blister and assume a festering appearance, and thus the passer-by is led to believe that the beggar is suffering from a real sore. So well does this simple device simulate a sore that the deception is not to be detected even by close inspection. The "Scaldrum Dodge" is a trick of very recent introduction among the London beggars. It is a concomitant of the advance of science and the progress of the art of adulteration. It came in with penny postage, daguerreotypes, and other modern innovations of a like description. 

The clues, of course, were in the question. Why would someone want to go several miles across London to Homerton, if they had just fallen off their bike? Fine, perhaps they lived in Hackney, like myself. But why would a recently bloodied wound be concealed by a pristine (and quite smart) jacket? And why on the upper part of the forearm - easily displayed to the general public - with no injury to the head or face? I'm no expert, but it didn't look like an injury from falling off a bike.

Yet, of course, some doubt remained. It smacked of the scaldrum dodge, yet would anyone really go to that trouble, in this day and age, just to scam a bus fare?

Naturally, the internet provides the answer ... apparently the scaldrum dodger has moved from his habitual pitch of Bethnal Green. [click here for details]

Has he been moving round London these last few years?

Does he lacerate his arm, or is the 'blood' merely an artful concoction of his own making?

I now feel I really should have given him his 'bus fare', if only for recreating a Victorian experience in the heart of the metropolis. On the other hand, it is something of a cruel hoax, calculated to deplete one's trust in one's fellow man; so perhaps not.

I wonder, does anyone actually know this man?

If you have met the scaldrum dodger, I should like to hear from you.

30 comments:

  1. My favourite of this type happened in Russell Sq a few years ago. A gentleman came up to me stating that he was a painter and decorator, employed by the council to decorate an old lady's flat but he'd run out if paint and needed to get a bus to buy more paint and could I spare the bus fare? Quite how he was intending to buy the paint when he arrived I don't know...

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  2. I've encountered this fellow in Shoreditch, too. About 3 months ago. Perhaps he's just really unlucky and keeps falling off his bike.

    The most implausible story I ever heard was by a well-dressed chap in Mayfair who claimed to have been mugged, and needed to "borrow" a pound so he could get the train back to Scotland from Victoria. Where do you begin?

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    1. Aha! A mutual acquaintance.

      At least Homerton Hospital makes more sense in Bethnal Green/Shoreditch. Not quite so convincing in Fitzrovia. :-)

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  3. Yes - he has worked the city before now...

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  4. This, and the attatched article about beggars, cracked me up no end. I met the gypsy ladies in Paris on my trip there in 2007, and it made me nostalgic.

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  5. I've encountered him many times over the past few years mostly on or around Shoreditch High St - the first time he accosted my friend and I we promptly gave him a fiver each (it must have been the shock) - the next few times I saw him I called the police and then subsequently I just ignored him. I haven't seen him for a while so I guess that must be his new patch.

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    1. Just saw him today
      same place!

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  6. He may have "family" I was accosted by a clean if rather dishevelled man by Alexandra Palace. He asked me for money to get a train back to Berkhamstead, as he was a psychiatrist who had been mugged by one of his clients.

    I did like the psychiatrist touch, looked like he needed one!

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  7. The Scaldrum Dodger scored again last night - a dark haired, clean shaven, medium build, white male in (I guess) his 30's, about 5ft. 8 ins or so, neatly dressed in dark clothing with a middle class London accent accosted myself and my partner about 11.40 p.m. He emerged from a gaggle of several dozen people who were walking past the bus stop, either departing for home or heading for nightspots while we were waiting for a No. 55 bus stop on the North side of Old Street, immediately to the south of Hoxton Square.

    Walking past us in the direction of Old Street roundabout, he turned and asked me for some money for a taxi. I demurred but before I could get beyond no he rolled back the right hand sleeve of jacket and revealed a bloodied arm and produced three pound coins from his pocket, saying he needed a bit more to get a taxi to Homerton hospital. There was no blood dripping from his arm but it looked as though it had been badly scraped and needed treatment, at least meriting an antii-tetanus jab and a dressing. I had no change and gave him a £20 note and he swiftly walked away in the direction of Old Street roundabout and began waving for a taxi. There were plenty of cabs in the road, heading for Hackney but although he waved his arm as if to flag one down, when he did not climb into one it dawned on me that we'd been scammed - or should that be scaldrummed?

    Within a few minutes I shared my doubts about the nature of the man's injury with my partner. She, being a very kind soul, thought the injury may have been self-inflicted but had we not been dining well and a wee bit unwisely earlier during the evening, I'd have reasoned more immediately that £3 would have been enough to get him to hospital by bus - or to have offered to take him there in a taxi ourselves, since it was more or less in the direction we were going home. Reading your account exorcised any lingering doubts about the fellow ...


    Fraternally,

    Guffski

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    1. Your charity does you credit - I'm far too suspicious of everyone, regardless!

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  8. Seen August 2013 in several places near Old Street, and last night again. "Lacerated" left arm under a jacket with an elasticated cuff -- would have hurt horrible just rolling it up, and anybody with a real injury like that wouldn't begin with "Excuse me mate, excuse me miss ..."; surely they'd just say "Can you help me?"

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  9. my mate and i were approached my the same scam in tottenham court road today

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  10. I remember seeing this guy about 10 years ago on Bethnal Green road. Seen him twice since on hackney road or thereabouts.

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  11. Just encountered this guy on Goodge Street this evening. He fell off his bike again (oh, dear).. had a large gash down his arm and wanted money for a cab to get to Homerton Hospital. I ask him why Homerton when there's a closer one nearby at the top of TCR. He tells the tale that his family are there waiting for him. He offers to give me his phone number (which is no good use to me, really).
    Had I not been wise to the scams that occur in Central London, I would probably have been horrified at his "injuries" and given him SOMETHING.

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  12. Saw him today on Shoreditch high street. Only gave him £2 but I'm looking forward to seeing him again to get it back. He's lucky it was 5:30am and I was still half asleep as shortly after I realised his story didn't add up.

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  13. Seen today today on Boundrary Street, Shoreditch.

    Didn't give him any money - felt like a scam from the off.
    Glad to see this online though to confirm it is one! Had started to feel guilty.

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  14. I gave two pounds to such a man this morning in spitalfields. Poor chap.

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  15. I met this enterprising chap just off Shoreditch High Street today (November 2015) . Felt something was truly suspect, but 'just in case' gave him a fiver. It will match the mouthful of profanities he'll get if I see him again.

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    1. I guess we shouldn't be too hard on him, obviously has some issues, to be doing this in the first place; but it is difficult!

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  16. Mad Inebriate in Edinburgh, 2012: 'I've been in the hospital. I need a pound! I was stabbed in the back and in the front and one of them was a wee lassie!'

    2013, I am in Edinburgh again, and so is my brother. During our morning coffee at the museum he says 'Last night this drunk man asked me for a pound! He said "I've just got out of hospital. I was stabbed in the back and in the front, and one of them was a wee lassie!"'

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  17. Met the guy today right outside Aldgate East station. Similar look, the same story, even got what seems to be a damaged bike. Got suspicious and claimed I was cashless. Good choice it seems :)

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  18. Used to see this chap on City Road 5 or 6 years ago when I worked in London... saw him again today doing the same scam in Shoreditch, except this time he had a bike... mostly approaching females on their own.

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  19. I bumped in to him in the city near Moorgate about 5 years ago. Same story, and looked convincing, but glad to say he got no money from me

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  20. Happened just now near Old Street roundabout. Same guy, same story.

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  21. And again, just now, off Shoreditch High Street. Fell for it - but fortunately only had £2 to give him. The scar looks so raised as to be bulbous - he just be cutting hinself in the same place over and over! Desperate but seemingly worth it to have kept up the ruse for a decade!

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  22. Don't know if it's the same guy, but I got "ulcerated leg" today in Kings X. Youngish dark-haired man on crutches, insisted on showing me the bloody bandage, very new blue camouflage trousers. I gave him £1.

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    1. He was young-ish and dark-haired, but that covers quite a few people, I guess!

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  23. Yes, this guy is clearly still in operation as, whilst walking my teenage cousins from Australia around the Brick Lane area today, he approached us to ask for money to get to Homerton Hospital as he'd fallen off his bike. Clearly, given this post started in 2012, his gammy arm is likely to be some Halloween special, as no doubt he would have died of septicaemia by now. I wouldn't usually give anyone asking for money in that way a look in, but it's different when you have visitors with you who haven't had their good intentions exploited 100 times before. What is being done to stop these dishonest people I wonder...???

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  24. He is still around. Just gave him a bit of cash today and put him in a cab. An elaborate ruse. A pretty convincing hole and fake blood. I guess I just paid for the spectacle

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