It used to be gypsy women with "lucky white heather". You'd be walking innocently along the pavement minding your own business when they'd suddenly appear, pink anorak on top of grey cardigan, unkempt frazzled hair flapping in the wind. And then they'd spot you and their steely gaze would fix on yours, and you knew you were doomed. They'd edge towards you like a heat-seeking missile, waving some dead-looking white branch in your face and baring their grinning brown teeth. "Lucky white heather, sir?" You'd never stop to ask why a small sprig of heather might be expected to bring you good luck when clearly it had done nothing for theirs. Instead you'd brush past with nonchalant diffidence, or maybe a well-chosen swearword, trying hard not to engage in further conversation. And you'd never once turn round to look back, partly to get away from their pleading gaze but also out of an irrational fear that these street-walking witches might curse you for your lack of charity. That's how it used to be.
Now it's earnest young hustlers with small plastic cards. These human flyposters find some key location like a busy street corner or the exit from a tube station, preferably anywhere that movement is restricted, and stand ready to pounce. As you approach they move inexorably to block your path, deftly grasping yet another small card from a bottomless pocket. And then they thrust out their hand, like a referee wielding a red card or a policeman stopping the traffic. On their face is a strained expression which urges "take" - pleads "take!" - demands "take!!!". It's as if somehow they're doing you a favour, as if the small advert in their fist will undoubtedly change your life for the better. But you walk on, ignoring their urgency, striding past and on down the street.
Cast an eye to the pavement and you'll see several identical plastic cards scattered in a trail along the kerbside, resting randomly where they fell. You squint down as you pass by, trying to read the strapline, just to check that you've not missed out on the offer of a lifetime. And you haven't. It's probably an advert for reduced foreign telephony charges, or a promotion for an obscure mobile tariff, or some restaurant round the corner offering a cheap Chinese buffet. Nothing important. It's just another ill-judged marketing campaign employing an unnecessary scattergun approach, literally throwing money into the gutter.
But you needn't feel sorry for the stooge handing out the tickets, because they didn't really care about their product. They just wanted to distribute their cards to everyone, anyone, so that they could toddle off back to their superiors and claim a day's wages. Tomorrow they'll be out with something different, maybe a special offer on gym membership, perhaps a free smoothie with every sandwich, it really doesn't matter so long as they get paid. And they'll still be thrusting it right in your face whether you want it or not. Which you won't. I think I preferred the lucky white heather.