Walking through the centre of Edinburgh last week I was struck by a large crowd gathered on the pavement. As I approached I noticed that the crowd, made up mostly of tourists, were gawping at a rather large, impressive owl that was perched on its keeper’s arm.
The crowd pointed, smiled, laughed and took a vast amount of photographs with their mobile phones and state-of-the-art digital cameras. It was all very pleasing to the owl’s keeper who must have been licking his lips at the prospect of a bumper pay day should even a fraction of those gathered be brave enough to get up close and personal with the beautiful feathered creature and let it sit on their arm.
And as I got closer to the scene I noticed that there was something else sitting in the corner, propped up against the wall of one of the buildings. It sat just to the left of the man holding the owl. It was nothing remarkable; at least it was unremarkable in the sense that the crowd didn’t seem particularly bothered by it. It just sat there, motionless. That ‘it’ was a beggar.
I was amazed at how helpless this man looked set against this excited and comparatively wealthy crowd of people straining to catch a glimpse of an owl. He sought and drew no attention whatsoever and he may as well have been invisible for all the owl mob cared. But for my own respect for the gentleman beggar I would have been tempted to take a photograph of the scene to highlight just how preposterous it all looked.
It's a sad day when an owl is deemed more interesting, more important and more deserving than a poor, helpless human being stuck in the gutter.