Wednesday, 11 April 2012

You Toucha my car...

During the late 1970s I was living in a flat (third block up from Gareth Malone) and teaching in South Oxhey. I always used to have a bath on Sunday evenings. Now I am aware that this sentence exposes me to jokes of the Pears soap variety , but I offer it merely to set the scene for a profound cultural experience I had there (in the bath):  the first radio broadcasts of Douglas Adams' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe". For the uninitiated Click Here to a Youtube video with a (frankly rather feeble) visualisation BUT which features the original (unsurpassed) Voice of the Book, Peter Jones, narrating the tale of the Total Perspective Vortex. True believers may listen and enjoy , for the irritably impatient click here. For a sense of its meaning examine the picture below.


I was, today, delivering a carfull of my mother's belongings to a charity shop. She has recently left her flat for a care home and her tenancy ends this weekend. My sister and I have been clearing her belongings. As can be imagined, this is not a simple matter: sifting the significant - love letters from my father, old school reports, certificates from the Humane Society for my grandfather (for rescuing two boys from the Surrey Canal in 1928) - from the insignificant - half-used rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, cheap costume jewellery, broken tools - and, most difficult of all, the semi-significant. Now, I'm not asking for sympathy here - just empathy. There has been a lot of laughter and reminiscing as well as some near-tears experiences but all calculated to leave one feeling just a touch thin-skinned.
I pulled up outside the shop's rear entrance, next to a white car whose owners appeared to be fussing over a roll of carpet they had probably cleared out during a wet bank holiday weekend. My back door, when opened, was fairly close to the side of theirs. The owner scurried round saying "I'll hold your door for you." While I was preventing one of the over-full binbags from falling out onto the ground my door opened a little further and TOUCHED HIS CAR...
"There! Look! Your door is Touching my Paintwork. Look! There! Couldn't you have waited?" he cried, bending to examine his car for damage (there was none). I was sorely tempted to respond in a similar vein but contented myself with an, only very mildly ironic, "Oh, I do apologise".
I carried the bags and boxes inside while he continued to fuss around. I suspect he was reluctant to reverse past me through a gateway for fear of damage, though there was, in fact, ample space. The kind woman in the shop gave me a sympathetic word when I explained what we were doing, and I left, climbed into my car, studiously ignored my neighbour, and reversed through the gateway with a slightly unnecessary elan.
Only over dinner did the Total Perspective Vortex parallel occur to me and I thought perhaps I'd like to have shoved Whitecarman in for a dose. But it also struck me that he may well have just had a miserable weekend and/or a flaming row with his wife. So in hindsight I was pleased to recall that I had made a reasonably convincing display of that most "British" of "virtues" - reticence. Sometimes, it's probably the only civilised response.