Some things shouldn’t be hard. Opening a bottle of milk shouldn’t be hard. In fact, for the most part, it isn’t. Not any more. Now that we have far fewer of those old cardboard cartons with the pull back flaps and the push forward spouts. Convenient to produce and deliver to customers they may well have been, they certainly spread the milk about. I really shouldn’t rant about things of the past.
Right now the bane of my life is finding a builder to do a few jobs around the house. We are phone-phobic people who would far rather send an email or a tweet, requesting a quote, so we are ignored time and again by a whole host of phone-loving tradespeople. I cannot count the number of emails and contact forms we have made use of, just to try and have a conversation with someone about the possibility of finding out how much it will cost to knock down a couple of walls, and add in a couple of windows. And rebuild a porch. And build a loft hatch. And mend some holes in the floorboards. As you can see, we’re getting desperate: our house is falling down. By the time any / all of the work gets done, the colour and furnishing choices we’ve made will look terribly old-fashioned. Probably.
Walking down the street is also something which should not be hard, but it really is. I walk quickly and I walk with purpose. This seems to be contrary to the cultural norm. Everybody I encounter is walking slowly, and meandering. If they were lost in a reverie, or enjoying the view, I may forgive them; but they’re not: they’re walking slowly down the street. They’re almost shuffling. I run past.
They block my path at my every turn, and seem to be utterly oblivious to the fact that they’re doing anything which any other person may find the least bit difficult to navigate. I understand that one day I will – so long as I remain lucky- be a doddery old bastard, but I hope that I will be so without getting right on the nerves of the young upstarts who have the misfortune to walk behind me.
Even so, I would find it abhorrent to barge past them or to tut. This would be an unacceptable intrusion on their day, and would probably make them feel more harassed and frustrated than I had in the first place. Instead I have a long rant about it on the internet, and hope that someone somewhere reads it and agrees. I even have to step on to the road to avoid them sometimes.
I don’t engage in conversations with strangers, so I will not be saying “Excuse me”. Rather, I silently walk around people. This is a perfectly natural attitude to take about walking. The problem arises when the person you are walking around objects to you walking around them, and tells you about it.
Please allow me to recount an example: One fine day, several years ago I was attempting to walk along a long urban street. Ahead of me were two young women, each with a double pushchair, making their way in the same direction as me. I walked at my normal speed, until I caught up with them. The ideal scenario here would be for them to notice me and to let me past. Most people let me past. This two did not do that. They carried on, occupying the vast majority of the rather wide pavement, talking and not noticing me. I did not want to disturb them, so I crossed the road. One of them, offended by this shouted at me: “You could have said ‘Excuse me’”. I was lost for words and only managed to apologise and garble some gibberish at them, before pretending I needed to be on this side of the street. Something which involved me walking around the block until they were gone.
People walking two- or three-abreast down the street is the epitome of evil as far as I am concerned, but only when people doing so continue to do so, when there are other people hoping to walk in the same area which they are inhabiting. When my little family group are out and about we like to walk three-abreast, our daughter holding one of our hands each, in order to get a jump or a swing out of us at some point. As soon as we see someone else needing to be near us, or walk by, we disengage and start walking single file. This is respect; this is consideration; this is simple, basic, common human decency. Why does that feel like such a rare commodity in the competitive field of walking?
Am I the only person who looks over his shoulder when walking from one side of the footpath to the other, in order to ensure that I am not about to cause someone some form of pedestrian distress? I cannot be. Am I also the only person who looks around me before I stop dead still in the middle of a supermarket aisle? Given the number of ingrates, morons and downright congenital idiots who stop walking right in front of me, I know that I am most certainly in quite the minority in this regard.
I saw some teenage boys yesterday, walking down our street. I nearly wept with the horror of it. Picture the scene: I live in a leafy terraced street by the seaside. The pavements are wide and there is enough space on the roadway for cars to park either side. There are very few drives, so cars are always parked on both sides of the street. We are a quiet and clean community, except for our porch, so there is very rarely any litter about. We live near the local light railway station, so there is a constant footfall in both directions. The majority of people manage to make the short trip down our anonymous street with ease. Until a set of teenage boys shattered the peace of our leafy idyll.
Rather than walking down one of the paths – two to choose from, both wide, both litter free, both equally accessible – they chose to walk down the middle of the road. Who in their right minds would ever, in the history of this blip we call humanity choose to walk down the middle of the road, rather than the lovely paths either side of it? It’s not like any of them were riding bikes; I could have forgiven them if they’d been riding bikes. They weren’t: they were walking, and it ruined my day.