This encounter happened a couple of days ago, while waiting outside for a pair of bookcases to be delivered to the flat next door where we have just moved to. We were stood on the pavement, up against the edge so that there was enough place for a person to get past if they came back. I do admit that my stubbornness may have played a part in this; I don’t like to back down. But I am nothing if not polite, I think manners are very important and everybody should abide by the unwritten laws they set down.
A woman came down the street with a child at her side. She was the type of woman I’m sure everyone has had an experience of. Stepped right off the council estate, caked in cheap make-up, smelling like cigarettes mixed with so much perfume it has started to congeal, and ready to start a fight with any person who looks at her wrong. A rough slapper basically, only distinguished from the other ‘popular’ clones by the angry bull-like expression on her face. She was clearly not going to back down and walk in front of her child, or behind her child. She wanted the pavement to herself and we were a problem. I doubt that I would have been able to get far enough out of the way anyway but she was so determined not to move I got stubborn and neither of us moved.
When she reached me her pace didn’t slow, she thwacked me round the arm with her handbag, which was nearly larger than the child who looked on wide-eyed. I made the normal noise I make when somebody of her calibre bangs into me, a very English tutting noise of disapproval, to which I received a reply:
“Well you should have fucking moved then.”
Blip said something about being common back at her but she was too busy storming down her pavement to continue the discourse and my laughing would have obscured it anyway.
As I said, I accept my part in this incident. I will do anything to force a person to ask me to move, even if both me and them know that I know they’re there. I see it as my way of enforcing manners to the people older than me in the world who appear to have lost them, but it is perhaps not the most mature form of action I could take.
However, this is an important example of what I talk about when I talk about the kind of mother that I hate. The ‘I own the world’ type. When I was a child if there were other people on the pavement, then I would have been told to move and form a single file line in order to get past, while my parents gave a polite nod and smile to the person that was being passed. The stranger on the pavement would often smile back and then give a smile to me as I stared at them and tried to work out why they hadn’t moved for me. Thus I learnt manners. A lot of the problem while walking around is that there is a large group of women who believe that the very moment they have a child, they become part of an elite group of people for whom everyone else should part like the red sea. They will push into legs with prams, allow their children to scream and shout in pubs, coffee shops, supermarkets and so on, and will use their child as an all-exclusive pass to use of the pavement.
Proper manners dictate that when two people on a pavement meet two other people, each group form a single file line. The fact that this woman hit me with her handbag while still walking two abreast with her child is a good indication of the pavement ownership ratio in this case. She had enough space for nearly two people and this shouldn’t have occurred because her and her child should have reduced their space. But being a mother, she seemed to believe that the childless woman and the man on the pavement were lesser and therefore should dive over the fence so that she didn’t have to alter her course by even a tiny degree.
Not only was this woman incredibly rude towards us, but I was horrified by the language that she used in front of her child. I have spoken before about how I believe that all language is worthy and that still stands, but the reason that we don’t expose children to this as a society is because they aren’t normally mature enough to understand the power that swearwords have. This leads to bad-mouthed adults using the words wrongly, or using them when they aren’t appropriate to the sentence. To hear somebody shout swearwords at another person in the street in front of their child took me aback for a second, and I added one ‘bad parent mark’ to her sheet in my head. But what worried me as I did so was that, with the lack of manners that we have in our society, I don’t think that the majority of people would have seen a problem with her acting in such a way. They would probably see something wrong with her shouting swearwords in front of a child but they would care about this more than the bad manners she is teaching at the same time.
I have experienced more bad manners from old people than young people in my life, only young people ever seem to say thankyou to their bus drivers for example. If this mother is the average woman with a child, then what hope do even young people have when it comes to manners? And if all mothers are saints, as we are expected to believe while watching ‘P and G’ adverts or while listening to the prime minister, then the standard of saints seems to have dropped.
Maybe I just have high standards for these women and their future criminals, or maybe my quiet scorning should be joined by the scorning of everyone else and by using joint disapproval, we can turn them into the decent people that they have the potential to be.
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