Give and Thou Shalt Create Havoc: A Man Hands out Gold Coins, Another Throws around Yen Bills. Giving Things Away Has Become the Ultimate Act of Subversion, Argues Matt Salusbury

By Salusbury, Matt | New Statesman (1996), December 13, 2004 | Go to article overview

Give and Thou Shalt Create Havoc: A Man Hands out Gold Coins, Another Throws around Yen Bills. Giving Things Away Has Become the Ultimate Act of Subversion, Argues Matt Salusbury


Salusbury, Matt, New Statesman (1996)


Fundraisers used to rattle a tin; today, we are more likely to encounter organised gangs of "charity muggers" intent on signing us up for tax-deductible direct debit giving. Old-style, spur-of-the-moment donations are no longer considered effective enough, and in August the Economist reported that Westminster Council denounces charities that "support chaotic lifestyles" by giving away soup to the homeless.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Yet giving, far from becoming better organised, may be taking even more instinctive and bizarre forms. Reports continue of strangers handing out money in the street randomly to passers-by. The most spectacular mystery benefactor last Christmas was the unidentified man who--on 23 December--tossed [yen]1m ([pounds sterling]5,273) in banknotes from the top of the Nippon TV Tower in Nagoya, Japan, saying: "I have too much money. I don't need it! I wanted to give some back to the world."

Closer to home was the smartly dressed man who surprised shoppers in Keighley, Yorkshire, in October 2002 by offering them [pounds sterling]5 notes as "a present from Jesus". It is estimated that he handed out [pounds sterling]1,000. Then there was the woman seen posting envelopes through the letter boxes of houses in Ramsgate in April 2001. Residents told the London Evening Standard that the envelopes contained up to [pounds sterling]600 in [pounds sterling]20 notes--along with notes saying "A gift to you". Kent police said that no crime had been committed, and that "recipients of the windfall should just enjoy it".

The police do not always show such a relaxed attitude, regarding mystery benefactors as mentally ill, and their actions as a "breach of the peace". The Hampshire police investigation into the big daddy of UK random philanthropists--the mysterious elderly man in a suit and trilby known as "Goldfinger"--went all the way up to the chief constable and the county's legal department.

Goldfinger was spotted in September 1991 scattering coins in gardens and garages in the North End neighbourhood of Portsmouth. Gold and silver coins with a total value of roughly [pounds sterling]18,000 were handed in at the local police station.

Irene Collins, a local resident, found [pounds sterling]10,000 worth of gold sovereigns in her garden, enough to pay off a second mortgage and buy a new kitchen. She told Portsmouth's The News: "I thought the fairies had come."

At first, Detective Sergeant Keith Davis of Fratton CID said: "If [Goldfinger] is an eccentric who has given the money away, then he will have the money returned. …

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