It’s Sunday morning, and the sun is shining in my corner of quiet, middle-class suburbia. The car needs washing; and as a lazy middle-aged, middle-class suburban man, I take the car to go and get someone else to do it.
Well, I’m not going to touch it. It’s filthy! I’d feel guilty about paying someone else to clean it, except that they’re going to charge me twenty quid – and that kind of expenditure does wonders for quashing feelings of guilt.
On the way, I stop at Co-Op because that’s the closest cashpoint and I need to buy a bottle of wine anyway. Yep: purchasing wine too. I’m ticking-off all the middle-class activities today, aren’t I? If I pressure-wash the decking later I’ll have done the full set.
An elderly gentleman reaches the cashpoint before me, so I enter the shop and buy the wine first. But even after I’ve left the shop, he’s still there. I wait a few minutes, before I cough politely and ask him if he needs any help.
“Bloody machine won’t accept my card!” he grumbles. “And I can’t read the damn screen in this sun.”
I look over his shoulder. “I think that’s a Nectar card.”
He removes the card and inspects it through his bifocals. “Daft old bugger.” he mutters to himself, then swaps it for another in his wallet and tries that instead. It works.
“Still can’t see the bloody screen. Can’t see for shit these days. Damn cataracts. ”
I’ve decided I like him. He’s old, grumpy, swears a lot, has breakfast all over his jumper and clearly doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about that. I offer to help him. I read the screen for him, point out which buttons to press. He continues on his way … after he spends a few minutes trying to remember where he left his cane. He’d propped it against a downpipe right in front of him, but couldn’t see it.
I use the machine, whilst he shuffles up the few steps that will lead to the carpark and then back on the street. He’s really not moving very fast at all. I wait at the bottom of the steps as he wheezes his way up them, because I don’t want to embarrass him by rushing him or pushing past. It’s Sunday morning after all, and I’m in no hurry.
And then I watch him – a frail, doddery, blind old man – reach the top of the stairs, totter precariously around the closest car, sliding his hand along it for balance … and then get in it and drive away.
And I’m suddenly very scared to be on the road this morning.