Sunday, 8 May 2011


      After my ramblings on neighbourly tolerance (or lack of it), today there has been a sequel.  I'm afraid it wasn't my finest hourr.
     I was strapping my smallest son into his car seat when a bearded man with a pot-belly and a camera around his neck materialised behind me.  It gave me quite a shock.
     'I wondered if I could have a word...?'
     'Of course,' I said, pasting on a polite smile, thinking, as you would, about the sand mountain outside our house. Or perhaps he wanted to complain about the skip that is making everyone brake to 2 miles an hour while they negotiate gingerly around it. (Get some spatial awareness, people!)  (See, I'm learning the grumbling way...)
     But no, it turned out his problem was something else.
     'When you park  here, if you could go forwards a bit, it'll leave room for my car behind.  At the moment, you see, you're taking up two car parking spaces.'
     Of course, all the appropriate responses fled my mind. I forgot that I'd pulled up right behind another car the night before.  I forgot that he doesn't own the road, nor the spaces on it, anyway.
          'I've only lived here since 1960...' he continued, with a chuckle, following me to the other side of the car as I strapped in the older two.  (Does that give him squatters' rights over a patch of road, I wonder?)
     Being the fool I am, instead of defending myself, I made placatory noises about being a bad woman driver who can't always tell where I am when I'm reversing. What nonsense! I'm a perfectly able driver, and I'm even pretty good with reverse parking.  However, to prove my self-deprecating lie, I went on to share with him the tale of how the dent in the rear bumper happened;  the only time I've ever bumped anything in twelve years of driving.  I ignored the sane, little voice in my head that told me to shut up.    I couldn't stop my mouth from blurting out rubbish.  If someone was going to criticise, there was a traitorous part of me that was going to join in the fun, and prove what a good sport I was.
      I even thanked him for pointing out that he'd like me to park so my rear bumper is just over the grid -  that one there, that we both had to lean down to spot under the car.  As we peered, another car had to slow to 2 miles an hour to navigate around our backsides.
     I think he could see the strain in my smile;  he made some inane comment about having not realised I had three children.  I interpreted this as a clumsy attempt at a compliment, but he didn't really carry it off.  Perhaps a little voice in his head was shouting, shut up too.   He said he hoped he hadn't caused offence, and I gave a bright laugh and assured him that no, I appreciated him speaking to me about it... Really I was thinking, was it he who called the council about the sand and grit? And since I'd complained about the underhanded tell-tale tactics of whoever did, I told myself I had no right to be annoyed about him accosting me in person over his parking issues.
     As I drove away, I was in a bit of a huff. It was very illogical, and most unreasonable, given that he had been good enough to talk to me; and given that it was inconsiderate of me to be taking up two car-parking spaces.  (Oh, wait a minute, someone else was parked, and I pulled up behind them. Right, I keep forgetting that). It seems that my natural reaction when someone is assertive is to feel guilty, to want to confess to anything if it appeases them, and then to feel quite defensive and angry.
     I can see how neighbourhood feuds spring up. 
     By the time we'd wandered around the local garden centre I'd cooled down, and was counting my blessings.  Here was the perfect opportunity for me to hone my grumbling skills - a neighbour I could complain vociferously about!
      Imagine my surprise then, when the doorbell rang at tea time.  There he was on the doorstep, minus the camera but with his wife hovering in his shadow.  By the time I realised they hadn't come to strike up some new complaint, they had thrust half-price vouchers for a circus into my hand, provided rave reviews of the show (which, apparently, also offers free camel rides - now, there's a bargain) and strolled home calling out friendly goodbyes.
     I'm stumped.  Just when you're ready for a good complain, people turn out to be kind at heart.  How am I meant to build up a head of annoyed steam when that happens?
     As for my ridiculous behaviour,  perhaps there is a place for an apology when you're not really in the wrong, if it builds a bridge between people.  Probably not, but let's say so for my sake.  But there can't be an excuse for shooting yourself in the foot.  While I'm practising complaining, I think my assertiveness skills need brushing up, too.

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