Hilary Fannin: He banged aggressively on my window and told me I was a b*tch

We get nicer as we get older? After my supermarket run-in, you could have fooled me

He was  the kind of man who, as you grew up, would sidle over to warn you not to give him  lip.  Photograph: iStock

He was the kind of man who, as you grew up, would sidle over to warn you not to give him lip. Photograph: iStock

 

According to some unsought wellness advice I recently received, the older we get, the nicer and more socially adaptable we become, increasingly adept, as we age, at balancing our own expectations with societal demands.

This optimistic way of thinking briefly flashed through my mind the other day in the supermarket car park, when a man who looked to be in his 70s banged aggressively on the window of my new secondhand car with a tin of sardines and told me I was a b*tch.

“Open that window now!” he roared, his face beetrooting with rage.

I actually would’ve rolled down the window if I could’ve rolled down the window. I wanted to ask him exactly what had moved him so ferociously that he felt obliged to hurl not just his spittle-stained invective against the glass but also his tin of bony little fishes in brine.

I looked around. I wasn’t sporting any stickers on the rear window. I hadn’t ignored a pedestrian crossing or parked in a disabled space or across two bays. I was entirely mystified.

“Window! Down! Now!” he bawled.

This was the kind of man who would stalk childhood games with a rolled-up newspaper and give a child a good smack on the back of the knees for looking crooked at him

I’m not really used to my not-entirely-new motor yet, and there are an awful lot of buttons on the door pertaining to the electric windows. One button, sporting an interesting visual clue, a squiggle that looked a bit like jailhouse bars, seemed promising. As I struggled to decipher the meaning behind the hieroglyphic, however, the outraged man stalked off, and by the time I figured out how to unlock the window, he and his armful of shopping (he had no bag) had disappeared into the busy Easter weekend car park. 

I’m still none the wiser as to what fanned the flames of his outrage, but the encounter, and the pleasure he seemed to derive from using the word “b*tch”, did remind me of a certain kind of man who used to bewilder and scare me. This was the kind of man who would stalk childhood games with a rolled-up newspaper and give a child a good smack on the back of the knees for looking crooked at him.

Some of these men were authority figures; others were the parents of your friends, men who came home tight-lipped at 6pm on the dot and swung their gaze around their suburban kitchens like a lighthouse seeking out trouble in preternaturally calm waters. They were the kind of men who, as you grew up, would sidle over to warn you not to give them lip. Jaws twitching, they would use phrases to petrify their innocent daughters, such as: “Just you wait – you, young lady, have another think coming.” 

Maybe when my belligerent sardine-wielder at the supermarket has become an octogenarian, he’ll have mellowed and will be singing love songs by the trolley bay or juggling mandarin oranges next to the bottle bank

I was lucky enough never to have lived with such men, and maybe I thought, naively, that they’d faded away, along with the Proclamation posters and the burning sacred hearts on the nation’s kitchen walls.

“B*tch.” 

The word resonated. Who was this man? Was he ill? Demented? Confused?

Driving home, I thought about the vagaries of ageing and reflected on the unsought wellness advice I was given recently by a vocal acquaintance in a queue outside the pharmacy. 

“Things don’t stay the same!” she told me through her hand-tailored mask. “All this will pass. Nothing in the universe is static.”

“Absolutely.” I nodded – sagely, I hoped. I’d only joined the queue to buy something to cover my crinkly grey roots.

“We’re none of us the same people we were 20 years ago,” my acquaintance added. “Our personalities remain entirely fluid until the day we die. But we become nicer people, take it from me, much nicer people.” 

She went into the store to buy her powdered turmeric root. 

Maybe she’s right, I thought, stopping at the lights to let two pug-nosed dogs pull their weary owner across the road. Maybe when my belligerent sardine-wielder at the supermarket has become an octogenarian, he’ll have mellowed and will be singing love songs by the trolley bay or juggling mandarin oranges next to the bottle bank. 

Or maybe he’d already experienced a personality transformation and was banging on my window to tell me urgently that, having stared down the barrel of his future, he’d decided not to be an angry septuagenarian but instead either be a stand-up comedian or devote his remaining days to fermenting Kombucha in Knocknagashel. (Not that I’m suggesting the two are in any way comparable.)

I parked outside my house, took the shopping from the back seat: pears, good for roughage, and a packet of frozen vegan sausages that look like amputated fingers. Sardines I can do without.

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