Friday, 1 February 2013
The Enemy Within
My husband is a fairly benign soul who has never had a physical fight in his life (though he takes it on himself to ask strangers on trains to turn down their iPods, so I'm fairly sure he's on borrowed time there), and who moves through the world in a generally peaceable manner. However, he has a sworn Enemy in the man who runs our local DIY shop, and should the simmering cauldron of tension and mutual loathing that has been bubbling away between them for fifteen years ever erupt into physical life, the resulting explosion will be felt as far away as Krakatoa (East of Java).
It all began when we bought our house, which needed an enormous amount of work. Feeling it was only right to support small local businesses where possible, and pleased to be living in an area that still has a full parade of active, occupied small shops selling proper things that people need like apples, chops and rawl plugs, he headed down to the hardware shop in his overalls, clutching his exciting blokey shopping list and hoping to return laden with goodies like caulk, white spirit and several grades of sandpaper. He came back furious.
"Have you seen that twat in the DIY shop? I mean, have you SEEN him?"
I had seen him; a man slightly older than ourselves with a leather jacket and a "40 but still trying"Peter Perrett hairdo, into which he had invested a great deal of work (still does.). He would often stand outside the shop smoking snouts which he put together on one of those little rolling contraptions, and always held between forefinger and thumb like Private Walker at the start of Dad's Army. I thought he looked a bit of a poseur but that's hardly unusual down here, and anyway he'd been alright to me when I went in for a mop and some clothes pegs.
Apparently though, this is merely evidence of my failure to identify the Antichrist when confronted with one of his mortal forms. Not only is the man evil incarnate, he's a steaming great hypocrite and prat. What kind of man, for example, toadies round "the real DIY men, the bristle-headed builders with their Three Lions tattoos and their plaster-encusted radios, laughing too loudly at all their stupid "jokes" and talking too loudly about football, saying "mate" every two seconds despite being quite well-spoken himself, and is then sneery and snide to the bloke who's been waiting behind them all for ten minutes just because he perceives this bloke to be a weekend DIY-er who probably does something bourgie and capitalist in an office five days a bloody week and come the Glorious Day will be one of the first up against the wall after being made to eat his own stash of gold and diamonds? What sort of man differentiates between his customers that way? And for good measure charges at least 30% more than B&Q? My husband went out wanting to support the Small Man, and came home wanting the Small Man's head on a pole.
And so it has gone on for fifteen years; hubby glowering in through the window of the hardware shop each time he passes, making sure that his Enemy is still there doing his phoney Man of the People act behind the counter, with his hair (now dyed a stubborn and unflattering jet black) like a dead crow tacked to his stupid boney head, and nodding along to The Damned which he plays non-stop because Brian James once went in and bought a bath plug off him and he lives in hope that he'll drop by again so he can make out they're mates.
The last time we passed, I looked behind me a few yards along the road. "He's just come out of the shop and he's flicking V's at your back," I told hubby, just to see what might happen. "Oh - he's run back in again. Do you think you need to have a word?" Sadly he didn't fall for it, though I think the arrangement they've evolved actually suits them both perfectly well. If they ever went head-to-head, it'd ruin a good vendetta. Much better to keep glaring at one another through a sheet of plate glass. It probably keeps their blood pressure down and makes them much more amenable in the home.
I think I performed a similar function for a singularly unpleasant bus driver for a few years, and am glad to have been of service. A sour putty-faced individual with urine-coloured hair, this man took against me the very first time I got on his bus and made the mistake of saying 'hello' before asking for my ticket. "Where you going?" he barked, before I'd had time to ask, "Ain't got all day to chat, love."After that it was open warfare; he once threw a 20p piece - my change - on the floor for me to fumble over (I showed him, by walking off and leaving it), and when I once proffered a ten pound note for a four pound fifty fare, it was simply the gift he'd been waiting for since we first had met. I was bawled out in front of a bus full of other passengers, whose initial schadenfreude faces turned gradually to masks of pained embarrassment and finally concern, as he tore into me at top volume about my laziness and inconsiderate, selfish behaviour.
Occasionally his bus would drive past me as I walked along the seafront, and somehow he would always spot me from behind the wheel and I him, so that our eyes would lock in an instant of shared hatred. I swear I could see him deciding whether or not to just turn the wheel hard right, and splatter me against the railings. Our relationship hadn't started off like that for me, of course, but I came to loathe him just as much, perhaps because I had a fairly good idea of what he was thinking (I'm trained in this stuff, folks!). I obviously embodied something for him that was quite intolerable - middle class blonde bitch with her trendy Scandinavian work bag and knotted scarf from a holiday in France, never had a hard moment in her pampered life and then thinking she's Lady bloody Bountiful by saying 'hello' to the mug who drives the bloody bus from one end of the sodding Sussex coast to the other and hates every minute of it, what does she think, a 'hello' from her's going to make his bloody day? I mean, who does she think she is?
After a while I just stopped getting on the bus if I saw he was driving it; I would step away and wait for the next one. Then I saw him in the street at the terminal where the drivers changed shift, and though I quite expected him to try and push me into the oncoming traffic, his response to me was one of instant, shocked embarrassment. He looked shiftily all around him, a brown blush spreading up his pasty face, and though I stared as hard as Paddington Bear at him, he couldn't look me in the face. Without his special cab and big steering wheel to protect him, he simply couldn't pull it off. On the street, we were finally equal.
No wonder the DIY man won't come out from behind that counter when my husband's around.