Anyone who has spent a small amount of time in the more populated areas of the British Isles will be aware of the phenomenon of the clipboard. The 'clipboarder' - or 'chugger', as in 'charity mugger' - is one who stands in the street and approaches innocent members of the public, forcing them to listen to pleas for your direct debit1 details, an endless series of irrelevant questions preceded by the phrase 'it'll only take a few minutes,' or even loading you up with leaflets you neither understand nor care about, and will only end up in the next bin2.
In the last few years there has been a terrifying increase in the number of attacks on individuals' personal space by people waving clipboards around at them. At first glance, these people seem harmless enough, and if trained to the highest level they may even have acquired the skill of looking just like an ordinary member of the public until they whip their clipboard out and it's all too late... These people are bred especially for the purpose of taking up people's time and asking them for money. They are trained from birth and are only released onto the streets when they have attained high enough 'grades' in areas such as tactical attack and confusing conversational skills.
These clipboarders usually hunt in packs - next time you go into a town or city shopping area, take a look around. It is almost certain that if you look hard enough you will see a scary number of people casually holding clipboards, and you will also notice that they are spread out over the shopping area, each in his or her own tactical position.
Part 1: Reconnaissance
How to spot a clipboarder
'Ha!' you cry, 'That's easy: They're the ones with the clipboards!' Yes, you are correct. The rookie clipboarder will be easy to spot, as he (or she) will have his (or her) clipboard in plain view. But what if, in the case of more experienced clipboarders, they have their clipboard somehow hidden? Under a coat, behind a lamppost, or behind their back - how do you spot one then? Here's a list of tell-tale signs that you have a clipboarder in your midst:
Are they wearing a sash or a vest with a logo on it? Clipboarders are usually proud of their sponsors and employers and show them off proudly on a brightly-coloured sash or vest.
Do they seem to be gravitationally attracted to anyone that comes within a few feet of them? Clipboarders will advance towards any poor soul who has unwittingly wandered too close.
Are there any little old ladies lying dead on the floor near to your suspected clipboard? Clipboarders are ruthless and will talk to people until they hand over their direct debit details or die of confusion and boredom. Little old ladies seem to be particularly susceptible to this, as most of them don't know what direct debit is and they are very easily confused.
Do they look like they have a coathanger stuffed in their face? Part of a clipboarder's training includes a large amount of facial exercise in order to affect a perpetual smile - which is supposed to make you feel more comfortable, but strangely only succeeds in making them look like they have wind. As a result, clipboarders are the species with the strongest facial muscles on the planet. Never try to smile back - they will win.
Part 2: How to avoid a clipboarder
Once you have identified a clipboarder and their groupmates, it is important to avoid them at all costs. People have been known to survive a direct clipboard attack, but it is inadvisable to tempt fate. There are clipboard defence classes available at some locations throughout the country if you are interested.
There are a number of ways to avoid a clipboarder, depending on your situation:
Take an alternative route
Make them think twice
Implement a Corby
Combine two or more of these tactics
This is the easiest and is simply effected by performing a simple 180 degree turn and walking in the opposite direction. This is not useful, however, if you were actually trying to get somewhere.
This manoeuvre involves taking a route around the outside of the affected area. This removes all danger from the observed group of clipboarders, but opens you to the possibility of running into a different group on your revised route.
A Clipboarder is less likely to approach you if he or she feels they may either put themselves in danger by doing so, or else just not get any sense out of you. Techniques such as muttering or singing to yourself, talking to someone who isn't there or swatting at invisible flies may achieve the desired result, but with the more experienced clipboarder more imaginative techniques must be implemented.
This is the most difficult of avoidance techniques and is of most use when your intended destination is within the affected area. 'Corby' is the name given to a route that follows the rules as outlined in the next section.
Sure to fox even the most dedicated clipboarder, a combination of any number of the tactics listed here is an excellent way to ensure safe passage, particularly the Corby combined with muttering or talking to yourself: this has the added bonus of occupying your mind enough for you to not succumb to the temptation of making eye contact.
The route is at all times equidistant from the closest two members of any pack of clipboarders. As anyone who has done up to GCSE geography or mathematics will know, a route which is equidistant from two given points is a straight line. When considering more than two points, only the two closest to you at any given moment should be considered. As a route brings you closer to an additional clipboarder, this person replaces one of the other 'points' and the process is repeated.
The reason for staying equidistant from the two closest clipboarders is simple: Each clipboarder has a certain 'dragnet' area which extends out to his or her nearest partner, and only one clipboarder will attack any one person as it is inefficient to do otherwise. If you are equidistant between the two, then you are on the border of both of their 'dragnets' and the resultant confusion will give you time to pass through to safety. If, however, you make the unfortunate mistake of making eye contact with one of the clipboarders, this will upset the balance and you will probably be caught by the dragnet and reeled in.
Part 3: Counterattack
What to do if you are caught by a clipboarder
Being caught by a clipboarder is most people's worst nightmare, but if the worst comes to the worst there are a number of things you can do to escape:
Ignore their pleas and smiles and walk straight past as if you never noticed them. This is surprisingly difficult and can usually only be achieved after months, sometimes even years of brutal training.
Bring up a subject which even more boring than the one you are supposed to be parting with your money/soul for. This is possibly even more difficult than the previous tip, unless you are a politician.
Pretend that you don't speak English. Pretending to be a foreigner will almost always reward the interviewee. Only the most hardened clipboard-wielder will attempt the foreigner intervention.
There are two methods in the 'feigning a foreigner' counterattack:
Learn 'I don't speak English' in a foreign language and shout it loudly at the clipboard-wielder. This is generally effective, but can backfire if the clipboard-wielder is over-enthusiastic and/or speaks the foreign language in question
Be an 'interested foreigner.' This involves beating them at their own game. Speak very slowly in heavily-accented English (think about the time when you went on a school trip to Germany and needed to ask where the bathroom was, but couldn't remember the word for toilet). Ask lots of questions, particularly ones unrelated to the subject of the clipboard
The most fun that can be derived from method two is when the clipboard-wielder actually backs off. This may be due to a Latvian demanding that Scottish Power hook up their shack in deepest darkest Latvia with a gas supply cheaper than that of British Gas.
Armed with the knowledge you've just been given, it should now be possible to conduct your business without fear of a clipboard-based attack. Whether you're going to work or on a shopping trip, either a native of the British Isles or a visitor on holiday, be prepared - the clipboarder is a resourceful and intelligent foe. They are constantly developing new techniques of harassment, and any counterattacks we might use may in turn be countered themselves. Be ever vigilant, be resourceful. Mix and match the methods used above, and in time you may even produce your own.
Most of all, be safe and enjoy hassle-free shopping and commuting.