In her smart clothes bought in some city boutique, she barrelled towards me down the narrow pavement and I could tell another mini-battle was about to ensue. This had happened earlier, on an even narrower section of pavement as a couple barged in my direction and I squeezed against the shops, pulling my crutch close to my side.
Once, years before, as I entered a public loo under a railway bridge in central London, seeing me with crutches, a tough skinhead with a scarred face stepped aside, “Come, let me ‘help ya wi’ the door.” I allowed him to and sent out a smile to match his beaming face.
She was now less than a metre from me and not slowing and her eyes were set on mine, defying me and so, as I always do, I stepped aside. But even then her should struck mine quite hard, considering this was a woman in her sixties. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of my good days and my wonky joints didn’t react quickly enough and I slipped and stumbled off the kerb and in to the tarred road, my crutch cutting about to find ground and my sore legs doing the same.
The rude woman saw what had happened, indeed, I caught her glancing at me, but she strode on without apology. Five paces behind her was a wiry man with a crew cut, tattoos on his arms, the sort you’d be wary of on a dark night. He ran, jumped off the pavement and steadied me, saying, “There, there. You OK mate?”
Unable to find my voice in time, I muttered something in a tone of appreciation as he slapped my shoulder in companionship. My smile, wonky from the incident, tried to say what I seemed unable to and the guy winked, “S’alright mate.” He gave me a play thump and walked on, tutting, I presume, at the woman ahead.
It felt strange. All my life it’s been me who’s helped others, who’s rushed between muggers and their victims, who’s dived in to burning cars to extract passengers…. and more and there I was being the one who needed help. The smart woman was far down the street and the man was chasing after, calling out something, no doubt telling her off.
My day had had a caustic start with our neighbour saying to his wife, “Nobody likes the neighbours.” I’d been in the courtyard and wondered what they meant but decided, even though they’ve caused us huge problems and cost us well over £3,500 in fees, it wasn’t my problem. Why load your shoulders with the angst of others. I did the same that moment as I watched the woman stride away quickly, and hoped the rough man didn’t get himself in to trouble for harassment.
Years ago, when intercepting a mugger on London’s Oxford Street he’d bellowed, blaming me for attacking him. The policeman who’d rushed over gave me a warning as the mugger walked causally away, even as the woman thanking me was ignored by the officious copper.
Any event seen from another vantage can appear very different. What, I wondered, had the woman been thinking? I know what our neighbours are thinking, they publicly posted it on the open Planning page - saying we’ve gone back on what we’d agreed to, which, in reality, is what they had wanted us to agree to but which we hadn’t wished to. How we distort reality to suit our own ends.
My day ended with a film about colonial Kenya which made me angry, me who hasn’t felt anger for yonks! It was:- a child being slashed by the cane bringing back painful memories; the entitled treatment of indigenous people reminding me of Jolly White Kenya; a poisoned, debauched society made up of arrogant, twisted aristocrats who scorned my intelligent, cultivated mother for divorcing her violent ignoramus of a husband who they loved for his money and ancestry.
Ah, the past, oh the present, they are what they are and all we can do is try to be honest with ourselves as we live with as much empathy and truth as possible. And of course, find joy in this strange mid-winter season they have over-commercialised. Blimey, I'd best write some cards....