When I’m at work or in public and someone makes a particularly cutting or unnecessary comment, I never know what to say. More often than not I think of a hilarious reply whilst walking home later, but by then it’s too late. There’s a name for this scenario but I don’t know what it’s called, could be ‘Frenchmans Perogative’, or something like that.
Years ago I pulled into a petrol station in Colchester, it’s the one just down the hill from Hyderabad barracks on Mersea Road. I needed some petrol and a slow puncture meant that I had to pump the front nearside tyre up every day or so.
As I approached the counter a thin tall man in his forties looked away in disgust, his general demeanour giving a distinct air of superiority. During the transaction there was no dialog, I had to look at the till to know exactly how much I was paying for, which I thought was a little odd.
On remembering that I needed 20p for the tyre compressor I was forced into speech. “You haven’t got a 20p coin for the tyre machine have you?” I said, trying to sound as friendly as possible.
“Are you asking me, or telling me?” He still doesn’t look at me.
“What?” I replied.
“Are you asking me if I have 20p, or telling me that you need 20p?” Now he’s growing impatient.
“It doesn’t matter, you know what’s required either way you look at it.” I replied.
“That’s the trouble with your generation, you don’t know how to speak properly.” He actually said this, the feeling of loathing on his part was overwhelming.
“Okay, and you do?”
“Yes, I think I do.” He replied, half smiling with a waggle of the head, still looking away.
“And this is where it’s got you, dishing up Richmonds, grotty mags and cheap pasties to pissed squaddies. Great, well done mate, your children must be soo proud. So the way that I speak may not be perfect, but whilst you’re stuck in this grubby shithole I’ll be out to dinner with my Girlfriend. There she is out there, checking her make up in my K reg Toyota that I pur-chased from new, from a dealership. ”
I didn’t get my 20p, but I drove away a proud man.
At least I would have been If that’s exactly what had happened. In reality I didn’t say any of the above apart from, “What?” Before walking out, shaking with embarrassment. To make matters worse as I was driving away he was smiling to himself, although still not looking at me.
Strange the things that stick in the mind.