Friday, 1 February 2013

The Enemy Within

Times are tough, life is stressful, and sometimes the only thing that can make you feel better is to develop an irrational hatred of an everyday passing acquaintance, so that when you're having a hard time you can displace every last fibre of your helpless, impotent rage squarely on to them, like a living breathing voodoo doll just made to hold and embody all you despise and fear in the world around you.

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.


  1. Man this tickled me.

    Not so much your conflict with the bus driver...that seems to have had a heavier element to it.

    This business with your husband and the fella from the hardware store...they can't ever actually duke it out. That would be a bonding experience and they'd probably come out the other side as "mates." A good grudge is too precious to risk.

    1. Tickled me too. Thanks Kolley Kibber.
      And resonates today because I am feeling the Big Bitter Mean Anger. Not sure why. Age? Hormones? Just because?
      However there is something in the 'instant hatred' stuff - and how it makes twats of us all. Irrational and sudden and surprising. And all the better cos our law-abiding custard-yellow hearts wouldn't ever let us.
      Yes, e.f. I am stalking your blog-followings.
      Kolley - this is one of the good ones!

    2. Ah, thanks Y.S.S - and welcome. It's always good to know I'm not the only one!

  2. I definitely think there is a deep mutual fear that they'd have more in common than either would care to know. Hence, they are doomed to remain locked in their dance of disdain.

    The bus driver, however, was genuinely creepy.

  3. Brilliant writing as ever and, oh, you've really tapped into something here! It's so strange how we can build up these negative 'relationships' with people we really don't know at all. And what a horrible sounding bus driver to be sure.

    I have a similar sort of story but with a different outcome - the day after we moved in our new next door neighbours started renovating theirs. They didn't live there, just came down at weekends to work on it but had builders in during the weekdays. All day long, every day, knock knock knock bang crack thud scrape thud bang etc etc. It got to the point where Mr SDS started to take every noise, every vibration, every tap on the wall personally. He seethed and ranted every time their van turned up outside. It became like an obsession, and he was convinced that they knew just how much it was annoying us but that they persisted out of spite. He hated them. Contact was limited to frosty "hello"s and what he perceived as glares. I said to him one day, "you know, we're probably not even in their consciousness, I bet we don't even feature in their thoughts one way or the other".
    Well... long story shorter... we're now good friends with them! It WAS all in Mr SDS' mind. Their hellos were never frosty, just distracted. They never glared, they were just preoccupied. (It WAS shit at the time though, and when the new people who bought the cottage the other side of us renovated that one too, it was the same all over again...)

  4. Living in terraces can be hard - we had a particularly rough period when two professional opera singers moved in next door. Just a thin layer of Victorian brick separated us from her piercing soprano shrieks. And she would practice for hours, literally hours.

    It actually DID get 'personal' towards the end....glad your story had a happier outcome, C.

  5. We've all got our local hate figures.

    Mine is the woman in the Pret down the road from work. She's really loud, calls everyone 'darlin'' and pretends to be interested in their weekend, etc. She tried it with me and I made it plain I was not to be engaged. She's glowered at me since, but that's the way I like it.

  6. I don't have any personal grudges that I know of.

    I do spend an inordinate amount of time and energy goading Martha into flipping me off...which really tickles me more than it probably should.

    I get one a month at least.

  7. I know a man who shares your hobby, EF...

  8. "A sour putty-faced individual with urine-coloured hair" Brilliant.

    Mine's a woman who works in a chip shop I used to frequent until I found a better one. She once asked if I wanted salt and vinegar on my chips to which I replied "No, thanks". She was so busy talking to her colleague that she put salt and vinegar on regardless. I stopped her and said, politely, that I didn't want salt and vinegar, to which she replied "But these'll do yeah?" (she annoyingly says "yeah?" at the end of every sentence, the old witch). I told her "no", so she chucked that portion of chips behind the counter and angrily started getting me some more. She was less than polite every time I went in there again. Anyway, I found a nicer chip shop with better chips and have gone there for over a year now (Fish King on Hawton Road, if you're interested). That was until just after New Year when the fish and chips itch needed scratching. Horror of horrors, Fish King was closed until January 8th, so I had to go and confront witch again. And it always ends up with her serving me. Bah! Her name's Diane, by the way.

    1. Hah, lovely. She stands there, cold-eyed and unflinching as she shovels your chips into the paper, thinking "Oh, I'm good enough for you NOW, aren't I Milord, now your fancy Fish King has let you down.."

      And then she fantasises about murdering you with a saveloy and eating the weapon.

  9. I'll see her off with a neatly-aimed chicken and mushroom pie.

  10. Bus drivers. Hmm... do they get special training in this stuff?

    Read this if you want a laugh!

    My daughter did try when next the guy who called her a criminal was driving, she got on and showed her ticket and said "Thanks"... He glared at her. Now like you she'll avoid the bus if he is driving if possible, if not she just gets on shows her pass and sits down as quick as she can.

    Now it gets better - another friend of hers has had a similar recent experience. This time the council issued plastic card with her photo embedded in it was taken by a driver saying it was a fraud.

    My conclusion - bus drivers get some thing out of exerting power over young women. Make of that what you will...

  11. I was almost punching the air when you got to the bit when you saw the driver outside his protective bus. That's bullying, not grumpiness.

    Someone once told me that when he lived in Sweden the man in the flat below came up and asked him to stop pissing directly into the water in the bowl and to do it against the sides instead, as he could hear it downstairs.

    1. Actually, and I hope I can say this with the requisite delicacy, living on a street where some of my neighbours are Muslims, it pisses me off no end that the niqab'd women refuse point blank to say good morning to me. I do it deliberately now to annoy them. Come on love, it won't harm you or turn you atheist.

  12. Extract from the blog of Mrs Nasreem Mahmoud: "Coming back from the shops I passed that tosser from Number 24 who keeps trying to get me to say hello to him. Blanked him again. He hated it. I was laughing like a drain. Hah!"

    Extract from the blog of Mr Nils Gunnarsson:"6am, awakened once again by his confounded tinkling. I don't care how bloody dark it is, he knows the shape of the damn bowl. Is seems it is my destiny to be captive to this dolt's bladder. How I hate my life. "