Sunday 4 July 2010

My London cocktail: Love, fun and fear, shaken and stirred!

The driver of the shuttle bus that runs between Luton Airport and the car rental centre smiles at me and says “How’re ya doing?”
The bloke behind the Hertz car rental desk also smiles and wishes me a good weekend as I walk away.

‘Blimey!’ I think to myself. ‘Maybe I’ve been too hasty in the past to condemn England. Maybe it isn’t that violent place I’ve so often written about.’

Hurtling down the M1, I turn off at Edgware and head towards my Mum’s place. Just before you drive through Stanmore there’s a crossroads with traffic lights, and as I slide into the left-hand lane, the car on my right suddenly moves across to change lanes. He’s coming straight for me, so I slam on the brakes, and thinking he hasn’t seen my car, I give a short ‘pip’ on the car’s horn to let him know I’m there.

As the old Renault moves into the space in front of me I can see its driver looking at me in his rear view mirror. His neck is as thick as mine, his hair cropped short and both he and his missis are resting their arms on the car’s open window sills, flicking fag ash.

He knows that I know he’s looking at me in his rear view mirror, so I shrug my shoulders in an attempt to say ‘Sorry, I just rented this car and didn’t want to prang it!’

He shrugs his shoulders too, but stays staring at me in his rear view mirror, his hand still agitatedly flicking fag ash, even though there is no ash on his fag to flick.

I try to ignore him, and look out of the window, but I can see him in front of me, mimicking my every move. I scratch an itch on the back of my neck, and he does the same. I gesture with my hands towards my windscreen, trying to let him know that I got it, ha ha, now grow up and leave me be.

He gestures towards his windscreen just as I did, and I can no longer pretend that this is an amicable routine. He’s winding me up, or at least he’s trying to, but I have a really busy schedule, and being beaten up before I get to my Mum’s isn’t really on my agenda.

I don’t need this. I don’t bloody need this right now, not from him, not from anybody. I’m starting to feel a little bit scared. The traffic lights turn green, but as all the cars move off, he rolls his towards the light at a snail’s pace and then stops, right in front of the green light, with me stuck behind him. 

Oh shit. Oh fuck. He’s looking for trouble, and I’m starting to feel real fear. While the alpha male in me wants to get out and tell him to grow up, I know I’m a lover not a fighter. What kind of pathetic sad character is he? What pale imitation of a life must he have if his idea of fun is to pick a fight with an absolute stranger because somebody pipped a car horn in his direction?

His missis has not moved an inch. She sits slumped in her chair, relaxed and evidently well used to this type of behaviour.

As the rest of the cars go past us he sits staring at me, challenging me, wanting me to do something that’ll let him vent his fury. 

Maybe he can’t get it up. 
Maybe he’s had a terrible childhood and cannot be held responsible for his actions. 
Yeh, and maybe I couldn’t give a bleeding heart liberal damn about him and his pathetic existence. 

Slowly my fear is turning to anger. My England buds are awaking, losing their veneer of Galway chilldom, and starting to pump with adrenaline. He’s a big bloke, and clearly no stranger to fighting. If you go around behaving like this, you don’t only know how to fight, you enjoy it too.

Resisting the strong desire that is rising within me to sink to his level, to get out of my car and face him and beat four shades of crap out of him, I sit instead calmly and wait for him to drive off. We sit in our cars and watch another full traffic light cycle, during which time I restrain myself, somehow managing not to give him the finger or any other reason he might grab to get out of his car and have a go at me. 

Then he sloooowly drives away, with me behind him keeping a good distance, in case he slams on his brakes and causes me to rear end his car.

Five minutes later I’m at my mum’s, and back in the green and pleasant land of my birth. There is tea in bone china cups, Wimbers on the tele and a great weekend ahead of me. 

But despite an hour earlier wondering whether I’d been unfair to write all those features about the latent violence inherent in English society, I now feel justified. Shaken and stirred, happy and sad, excited and fearful, the cocktail of emotion that runs through me every time I return to London is as powerful as ever. 


Paz said...

the pity is that there are idiots like that bloke here too, I see them everyday in my line of work,

Charlie Adley said...

Very sad to hear that, Paz. Guess I've just been lucky. Very lucky. Maybe it's something to do with being native. Maybe I notice it in England because I know the signals there, as you do here.

Mind you, stubbornly, I do feel the English store their latent violence a lot nearer the surface than the Irish.

And then there's the way the Americans perceive the Irish as 'The Fighting Irish', as in Notre Dame college and the clichéd Simpsons portrayal.

Dunno, but I feel so safe here in da Wesht, compared many other places I've lived.

Ian said...

When visiting the UK I often hire a car to drive Up North and various other parts of the country, sometimes getting through a thousand miles on one trip. I never fail to be impressed by the polite, considerate and laid-back driving style of most English motorists. This impression is invariably confirmed on the 30-minute journey home from Hamburg airport - drivers with raised middle fingers, cutting each other up, honking and flashing if you don't spin your wheels within 0.01 secs of the traffic light turning green.

I guess it's all relative, but I'm certainly looking forward to driving in Ireland if it really is such a friendly place to drive in.

May be seeing you in October. Not clear yet. Hope so! Cheers.

Charlie Adley said...

It is indeed all relative, as you say mate. Life in this country feels a lot less violent than England, but its roads are also full of road rage and macho nonsense in hatchbacks.

Mind you, when I lived in rural Co. Mayo, it was the slow driving that sent me bananas. Auld fellas going at 22 mph. Stuck behind them for hours.

No pleasing me, eh?

You're welcome anytime Mac. Just let me know and there's a room in the house for ye.

Paz said...

Agree with Ian, the few times I have driven to London I was amazed on the motorway the way cars give way and motorists let you out onto a lane to overtake.
And unlike here they move back into the correct lane after overtaking

Charlie Adley said...

Yes, compared to many other places around the world, the standard of driving and level of courtesy available on the roads in England is excellent, but I was more troubled by the level of latent violence, and the fact that yer man had nothing better to do than pick a fight with a total stranger. This was not road rage. that I encountered. It ran deeper and darker than that. This was Ingerlish behaviour at its worst.

But yes Paz, the lane discipline is excellent, and also, generally there's more than two lanes on an English motorway, unlike over here!

Mind you, when I lived in California, there were 5 lanes, with no discipline at all, no concept of a fast or slow lane, traffic passing on the inside, traffic passing on the outside and all of it very scary indeed.