Sunday, September 17, 2006

today : I discover that sorry is the hardest word to hear.

I went shopping yesterday. On the way out of my house I watched someone park a car across the street. Now, my street is extremely narrow with terraced houses on each side. We have to park half way onto the pavement for the roadway to be accessible and there are never enough spaces for everyone who lives here to park on their own street. By dint of politics we are also the only street in our area not to have residents only permit parking. We are close to some shops and the shop owners want it. I imagine they lobby the council.

It can be annoying that people park outside my door and that sometimes I cannot even park on my own street. Given my disability means that walking hurts, it is especially difficult for me to accept (I have an neighbour who is a wheelchair user - she has a great big parking bay painted on the road outside her house with the word DISABLED written across it, but people just ignore it and park there anyway) What is really annoying is the fact that people often don't really park. They abandon their cars somewhere near the edge of the road. There is one car in particular - A Saab. Whomever drives it parks it outside my house almost daily. It seems that if I go out at all, when I arrive back this ugly black SAAB is parked outside my door. And this person is one of those drivers who neatly parks their car, but they make sure it is exactly in the middle of a gap large enough for two, or even three cars. I watched her do just this - carefully moving her Saab forward and reverse a few times in order to place it exactly in the middle of a space large enough for a couple of Cadillacs, and intervened.

"Excuse me," I said politely. "I know the person who lives there is due back in a few minutes. Would you mind just moving your car a up a little closer, then they can park when they arrive?"

The woman stared at me as if I was speaking Venusian. Her look was strange. It wasn't as if she was giving me a 'fuck off I don't care, who the hell are you? look" - the type you might get if you point out to a teenager that vomiting sickly smelling alcopops at the bus stop isn't necessarily an act laden with decorum. No, her look was one of total incomprehension, as if I was actually speaking Venusian. Yet it was also deliberate. My friend Badgeman tells me that people, when they feel challenged and know they are in the wrong, will often just pretend you aren't there. This woman did not ignore me. But neither did she speak.

"Am I speaking Venusian?" I said to her as she walked away to her office.

On my way out, I stopped at the local supermarket to get some cash. Unusually in Englandshire, I drive an automatic car. In supermarket car-parks and other places where it is wise to go slow this is an advantage. I can travel around at 3 MPH without even touching the throttle.

Turning carefully round a 90-degree curve in the road, suddenly I heard a shout. 'Use your fucking indicator for fuck's sake!'. I turned to look out of the open window and there was a housewife type lady with a tartan shopping trolley. As I caught her eye she said. "Why don't you learn to drive you dickhead!"

"What happened?" I asked, genuinely bemused at her anger and insistence that I should have used my indicator whilst turning around a junctionless L-shaped corner on a one-way road.

"You didn't bother to indicate. You nearly fucking killed me."

Ignoring the fact that she had come from behind me, and was about 8 yards away from the car, as well as apparently thinking that walking out into a road was a safe and sensible thing to do, I apologised. She seemed so upset and I didn't like to think that I'd caused it, however tangentially.

"If I did anything wrong I'm sorry," I said, literally holding my hands up (on reflection I had done nothing wrong, but as elderly relatives told me endlessly when I was but a young scamp, an apology costs nothing).

The woman approached the window of the car.
"Sorry isn't fucking good enough," she snarled. I was momentarily stunned. Whatever I did or did not do was hardly worth describing as a mistake, yet her response was akin to me being a mass murderer.

Which leads to my point. What can you do if an apology isn't good enough - even for the most minor infraction? What can you do when people are so viciously angry that there is no way you can settle a misunderstanding, or convince them of either your innocence or your remorse?

I'm thinking I might write to the Pope to ask his advice.

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