Yesterday, I went to see the Old Dears. As you know Mum has had a stroke and Dad has a kind of dementia. These last few weeks he has had very limited mobility and been close to incontinent. We have newly brought in 24 hour live in care.
As you can imagine my parents’ situation takes a lot of my mental air time right now … it seems I’m a long way into innerspace. What is interesting is how that has changed my perception of the world around me or perhaps, my ability to read it.
Check this, this is my Fitbit readout from yesterday.
As you can see, my Fitbit is ADAMANT that I went up 157 floors. What I actually did was walk the usual 5 miles or thereabouts, probably, go up the stairs maybe 10 or 12 times? And do a 280 mile round trip in my car. For some reason, the way the steering feeds back to my hands convinces my Fitbit that I am walking. On the way home I put it on the seat beside me, at least then it only thought I’d walked half a mile (rather than the 3 miles it thought I’d done on the way down).
While I think I was a bit lardy yesterday, sitting around in a bucket seat listening to music for most of the time. My Fitbit thinks I was a physical dynamo doing 107 minutes of elevated heart rate activity. That figure was more like er hem … zero.
So, it just goes to show that two separate views of the same series of events can throw up completely different results depending on the presence, or absence, of one or two vital pieces of knowledge. You know I wasn’t an exercise dynamo yesterday because I’ve told you my Fitbit measures the bumps in the road as steps. Someone else without this critical piece of information might look at those stats and wonder, from all the stairs, whether I climbed the Empire State Building, or if I’m a triathlete.
Yesterday, this lesson was highlighted to me through the familiar medium of my making a complete tit of myself: I failed to understand the differences between the way someone else was seeing my actions and the spirit in which I knew they were made. In all things, it seems, communication and sensible clarity of thought are key. Pity I’m so crap at them, as this massive, completely unnecessary row I’m about to relate will demonstrate …
It’s a bright sunny Wednesday morning and after dropping McMini at school I walk back home via the market, pick up the car and set out for Sussex. I have about a quarter of a tank of petrol so I need to fill up.
Because it’s on the way and one of the three cheapest, I go to Tesco’s. Now, Sainsburys, you have to pay at the Kiosk, Asda, you can only pay at the pump and Tesco’s you have a choice of both. Tesco’s has 3 or four rows of two pumps just far enough apart for you to get through and park if the two first ones are in use but one of the far ones is free. Unsurprisingly, with petrol prices rising by approximately one pence every day, it’s rammed. I pick my side and wait. Next to me are two builders’ lorries with a white Honda civic at the first pump and very quickly there is nothing at the second. The other side of me was a big lorry, blocking the way through. No-one was queuing there and a woman parked at the pump in front of the lorry was filling her car.
As you know, my Mum has had a stroke, so I am kind of feeling that I want to get to her and Dad quickly. I am therefore delighted when the woman parked at the pump in front of the lorry holsters the petrol nozzle.
Brilliant. I’ll nip through and reverse into her spot when she’s gone.
Except, Unfortunately, like most Tesco’s customers, she clearly finds it more convenient to fill up her car and queue for 5 minutes to pay in the kiosk rather than using the very much swifter pay at the pump option. I, on the other hand, prefer to wait 10 seconds for my credit card to be authorised at the pump, spend two minutes filling up my tank and then go. So I watch her go in to pay, note the queue is 7 or 8 deep so she’ll be some time, and wait.
We all sit there and I listen to the song, ‘Help’ by the Beatles in its entirety. Neither builder’s lorry drives through to the empty pump at the front of their line. Neither of the cars in front of me move – they are still filling up – and the lady whose car is still parked in front of the lorry is still queuing in the kiosk. Some time during the next song on my stereo, Mr White Honda finishes filling his car and sticks the nozzle back in the holster.
I feel pity for the builders when, like the lady in front of the lorry, Mr White Honda turns out to be a true Tesco’s petrol customer who, like the lady, spurns the faster, easier pay at pump option. Into the kiosk he goes to queue.
As I sit looking at the empty pump, with nobody using it, it occurs to me that I could have filled my car to the brim and departed a couple of times over. Tine is ticking on and I’m getting twitchy. I wonder, if I go to the empty pump, swipe my credit card, fill up and go before the driver of the white Honda returns to his vehicle, would that be queue barging? Surely if I am not holding anyone up or inconveniencing anyone it isn’t? I’m not pushing in, or holding anyone up, I’m just using something no-one is using while it’s free. Even better the folks behind me don’t have to wait for me. Yes, win-win. My brain, filled with, 24 hour care requirements, sick parents, etc agrees. The builders are clearly waiting for the white car so if I’m quick it’ll be fine. So I drive through and park up. As I get out of my car a man runs up to me shouting,
‘Excuse me! Excuse me!’ he yells, managing to imbue words ‘excuse me’ with an aggression and menace I never knew they held (I doubt he did either) ‘Can’t you see there’s a queue?’
His shouty vehemence puts my back up at once.
‘Yes I can but it’s not moving.’
He gets up to me a bit and raises his voice louder.
‘You’re jumping the queue.’
‘No I’m not, nobody’s using this pump.’
Two can do shouty, my friend. I am surprised at the volume of my voice as I bellow my answer back at him.
‘That’s because he’s bigger than I am,’ he makes a sweeping gesture at one of the lorries, ‘and he can’t get through, we’re waiting until this car goes and then we can both drive up together.’
This, delivered as if I’m a complete idiot for not knowing the bleedin’ obvious.
Ah note to self, there’s a hidden builder’s lorry etiquette to the art of buying petrol which must not be interfered with by mere mortals at any cost. I didn’t know that.
‘So? I’ll be gone before that happens.’
He looks more annoyed, indeed, as he reiterates that I’m jumping the queue and … yada … the blue touch paper catches and off he goes into space. I’m fully expecting him to start poking me in the chest with one finger such are his levels of vehemence. I feel bullied and at that mere thought, something in me unravels, the red mist descends. I tell him my mother is ill and I am in a hurry. He tells me that he’s sorry about my mother but that’s not his problem.
Obviously the precious 90 seconds I will delay him are far more important than the well-being of a vulnerable, ill old lady
(yes, I actually think this madness as he rants at me) and so it is, that I, too, completely blow my top, for only the fifth time in my entire life, and join him in orbit.
More arguing ensues. I would write it down if I could, but to be honest I haven’t a fucking clue what I said, although I’m pretty sure I managed not to swear, which was a minor personal victory and probably the only positive I have to take away from this experience.
All the while as we harangue one another I am aware of three things:
- He doesn’t seem to be understanding anything I’m telling him.
- But this is unsurprising because my arguments are getting less and less cogent.
- There is something important I have missed that would defuse this.
I know that this whole situation is based on false impressions and wrong information. I know that I can stop his aggression in its tracks, stop him shouting at me and make him leave me alone. His angry bullying is totally unreasonable and inexplicable and this simple thing will allow him to understand that, but I am too angry and hurt to remember what the thing I need to remember is. I can’t speak or think coherently, I can only shout back at him. I want to step away from him. I want to ignore him. I want to take the fuel cap off, stick my credit card into the slot in the pump and fill up. I want to prove that I’ll be gone well before Mr White Honda gets back, well beyond the point when either lorry can can move, anyway. But I am afraid he will snatch the fuel cap from me and throw it into the hedge or try to physically restrain me. And then the police will be called, and I will never get to my parents.
Then I see that the woman who was filling her car at the far pump, in the row the other side of me, the one which is blocked by the lorry, has gone. The driver of the lorry is still filling it up, still blocking her pump from anyone else. ‘Alright, I’ll go over there, and I’ll still be gone before you get to fill up.’ I shout storming into my car and making a massive hash of parking it over by said pump.
And I would have been, of course, had I not been so apoplectic with rage by that time that I had to go and have another go. First I accosted the wrong bloke by mistake,
‘Oh bless you, sorry love,’ I tell him with a pat on the arm and then go to deliver a bitterly sarcastic apology to Mr Shouty for his totally unreasonable anger at me for not understanding builder’s etiquette, which, obviously, was very criminal of a non-builder and obviously I should have understood. But it’s his friend filling up the tank – who is clearly a decent bloke and gives me a genuine smile. Except I am too angry at being subjected to such a stream of unreasonable ire that I am unable to say the word etiquette and we both laugh as I stutteringly explain the cause. Obviously Mr Shouty has to come back then and protect his friend from what he probably sees as Angry Entiled Woman and has another go at me. I am still fully lit and so, channelling my inner fishwife I give just as good as I get. Telling him that I hope he’ll be treated with equal sympathy one day if his mother gets ill and he is trying to get to her – which is true but totally pointless,not a reasoned or rational argument and therefore pretty much redundant.
And all the while, Sensible M T is standing beside me, in a slightly out-of-body-tastic kind of way, watching in horror as I Basil Fawlty my way around the forecourt saying,
‘What are you doing?’
At last I listen to it. I have to, because I am, literally, spluttering with rage. Can’t get any coherent words out. Not at all. I go back to my car. Angry with myself for giving in to what I interpret as bullying from an aggressive male playing dog in a manger.
It takes approximately 90 seconds to authorise my card and top up the tank with 24 litres of petrol – oooooh and another 4 or 5 seconds to get a receipt. One of the cars I’d been queuing behind slows down, opens his window and calls out to me,
‘He was wrong and you were in the right,’ he said. I thank him. Perhaps he’d paid at the pump too.
It was only about 10 hours later that I realised what went wrong. I never told Mr Shouty I was paying at the pump. He and the other builder in front of him were in commercials. They probably use fuel cards or cash or some other means which entails dooming them to pay at the Kiosk forever, whether they want to or not. Pay at the pump was probably as dead a concept to Mr Shouty as it is to nearly every other Tesco’s petrol customer. It would never have crossed his mind that I was going to pay at the pump, bypass the kiosk completely, and be gone in under three minutes any more than it crossed my mind that I was not. He must have thought I was going to cut in and then stand in the kiosk waiting to pay for ages after Mr White Honda had gone. So then he’d have to wait for the other builder bloke to fill up and stand in the kiosk for ages, too, before he could get near a pump. And a commercial takes a lot longer to fill – he was probably putting a hundred odd litres in, not 24. In addition, we judge things by the parameters we’re used to, so he may well be thinking of my fill up would take about the same amount of time: ie much longer than it does.
Yeh, Mr Shouty probably believed he was looking at a delay of at least 20 minutes. No wonder he got in a strop. I think I might have been just as shouty, myself, if I was in his position and and I was reading what I saw that way.
So what can I learn from this? Apart from the fact that I get even more like Basil Fawlty when I get angry than I thought and must, therefore, keep my cool at absolutely all costs.
If I wasn’t already aware that stress and worry switch some important parts of my brain off, then, after trying to have that argument, I am now. Presumably that’s also why I drove up to the school in a thunder stom just now to collect my boy, only to remember that a friend’s mum is picking him up from school tonight, taking him round theirs for tea and dropping him off here! Bonus points there M T.
Communication and calmness are essential. Perhaps, this is the most important lesson; that communication is the name of the game, that calmness, even calm rage, is a better bet if you need to have a reasoned discussion but most of all that two different people can read polar opposites from the same information.
If I’d managed to stay calm and explained what I was doing properly, I doubt the slanging match would have happened. But if he hadn’t come up to me all shouty aggression, I might have managed that.
Assumptions … in any situation we and the other people round us make snap judgements and assumptions based on what we see. Sometimes they’re shite.
Would Mr Shouty have listened to my explanation? I don’t know. I do know that if it happens again, I’ll bet the angry person a tenner that I can fill my tank and be gone – without the kiosk and without any inconvenience to them – in under 3 minutes. I won’t collect though, because the odds are stacked against them to the point where it’s almost a scam.
Sigh. I’m such a plank. Never mind. At least I can laugh at myself.