Monday, 18 April 2016

Weirdness on an English walk

Not quite the follow-up to my last post that I was intending, but I'm still on the subject of fear in the fields of England....

‘Would it kill you to say hello on a country walk?’ is the question asked in this article today and I found it quite apt.

What do you do?  Generally I say a quiet “hello” or at least smile.  Seems  to me that if you’re on an empty path with no-one around apart from one other person heading your way, who then passes within touching distance,  it’d actually be quite odd not to openly acknowledge their existence.   Even if only with a cursory nod of the head – it doesn’t have to be some big, bold fanfare of a greeting, just a subtle signal that communicates, ”I’m human and so are you”.  At the same time, I know that when walking alone it’s often to be exactly that – alone - so a lengthy chat about the weather isn’t on everyone’s agenda.    But a smile will do.  A smile and a “hello” if it feels right, and then on your way.

Yesterday I went out for some fresh air and took a familiar route, part of which is up the long drive to a manor house, open to the public.  You can park along it too;  people often leave their cars on the verge and then walk their dogs across the adjacent fields. 

As I made my way down it I passed a lone parked car and was faintly aware of a grey-haired woman behind its open boot –  some yards away to my right.  Bearing in mind what I said above, I turned my head briefly in her direction and smiled.  It was one of those vague expressions you cast out when you’re not really sure… not close enough to speak but not far enough away to pretend you can’t see the other person.   It was little more than a glance really.  I couldn’t even see her response as she was obscured by the raised boot of her hatchback but I wasn’t bothered, the point was I’d just acknowledged her presence with a quick friendly gesture as I went by.

I was still walking away when I became aware of her voice.  I thought she must have had a child in the car, or perhaps a dog – I couldn’t tell.  She sounded cross, though.  Oh dear, maybe it was a hen-pecked husband?!  But she was also getting louder, as if to compensate for the increasing distance between us – as if for some reason she wanted to keep me within earshot.  Then I started to tune in to what she was actually saying…

“…Oh yes, that’s it, laugh at me.  You just laugh, why don’t you?  Oh, because my boot doesn’t work and I’m having to hold it up with my hands, oh yes, that’s very funny, isn’t it, and you think you’re so clever and you….” etc. etc. etc.

She got louder….. this was sounding very aggressive now…  really shouting.  As I got further away it was developing into quite an indecipherable tirade and all I could make out was

you…. (something or other)” 

“(something or other) you

“(something) YOU (something)”

and it suddenly dawned on me who this “you” was:

Me !

I know, I know, I should have just kept walking away but two things were bugging me – one was that  I still couldn’t really understand if she was talking to me and if so I wanted to know - why? what?  The other thought flashing through my brain was that, while I’d walked merrily past, was she actually struggling with her car and thus perceiving my benign smile as rude (in the way that you would if you dropped your bag of shopping all over the street and someone went by with a grin without stopping to help you pick it up)?  I know, I over-think these things.   But perhaps I could make up for this misunderstanding by helping her now; maybe she was in trouble, and frustrated?   So, anyway, I stopped.  I walked slowly back towards her and I said – very gently – “I’m sorry, but were you speaking to me…?”

Studiously avoiding looking in my direction, she yelled angrily, “NOT PARTICULARLY!”  (Weird).  She was short and stout, probably in her early‘70s, apparently sober, very well-spoken, neatly dressed and unbelievably stressed.  By now I could see there was definitely no-one else in the car (no hen-pecked husband.  At least not here).

I  wanted to be conciliatory, calming.  “I'd only smiled to say hello,” I ventured, not moving any closer “I didn’t know if you wanted some help…”  but she drowned me out, almost hysterically  – 

“Go away

Go away!    

GO!   

AWAY!”

I don’t know if I can impart here quite how weird it was.  I'm sure it just sounds daft, but it was so bizarre.  I think it felt particularly surreal because I was simply taking a tranquil country walk in a public place, minding my own business, at peace with the world and with myself, when I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of this abuse and misplaced aggression, and from someone whose external appearance seemed at odds with her behaviour, if you know what I mean.   She spoke to (I mean, shouted at) me as if I was somebody else, someone who wasn’t me.  I’m a fairly small, non-threatening, middle-aged female… and here’s an older woman bawling at me to “Go away!”  like I was some kind of thug.  That’s what got to me, I suppose.

I muttered “Okay, bye” (no idea why!)  turned back around and walked briskly home, but was surprised to find after a few minutes my legs started to feel wobbly and my eyes began watering.  Silly, I know, but I guess it was just a bit of a shock.

I also wondered what was behind it all, what else she may do or had already done, and if she will get the psychiatric help she needs.  Something's clearly wrong.

Plus I’ll be more careful about smiling at people in the future.  And I've kind of gone off the idea of walking up that route again.  Shame.

18 comments:

  1. My Mum now lives in a block of flats for the over 55's though obviously most of the residents are in their 70's,80's,90's and one of the first signs of dementia in some people seems to be misplaced aggression, it's very difficult when it's directed at you but it's best not to take it personally, (let's hope she gives up driving that car soon.....)

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    1. Thanks for that CA - I think you could well be right. It makes sense now, especially analysing it after the event - but coming out of the blue and in such unlikely circumstances really took me off guard at the time, although I realised she wasn't 'quite right'! Given that she was an older lady too, dementia now seems most feasible. How very sad. (Neither do I feel too happy about her driving around!)

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  2. I'm not surpassed you were shaken. It's so sad, but dementia was my first thought too, what else could you have done though? Please don't let it put you off your usual route, and definitely don't stop smiling at people. You didn't do anything wrong, and unfortunately neither did she, she is just "not herself" or perhaps "herself" is someone who has a lot of mental issues, either way, I very much doubt your smile and friendly greeting is actually what set her off.

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    1. Yes I think you and CA must be spot on. I know it wasn't personal, and that she wasn't acting normally, but it's funny how it still felt like an attack, being so unexpected and over-the-top... so it has sort of tainted my feelings about that lovely walk for the time-being. I'll have to go up there again at a different time of day and get it back to feeling positive!
      Thanks for your comment about not stopping smiling - I know I won't really - but I couldn't help wishing at that moment that I'd just ignored her completely. Mind you, who's to say that wouldn't have elicited just another kind of rant?!

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  3. Brilliantly written post C. Over here in Spain I always, if I pass someone I will smile or nod. It is all very normal and when walking dogs you have this common bond anyway. Funny enough there was this guy who passed and always just kept his head down.I was not bothered and continues to give a greet whenever I passed him. Yesterday his dog was of his leach and came and barked at one of my dogs. The guy came up and I said hi, no harm done and smiled. He glared said nothing, gathered his dog and went. As you said 'weird'. Can't wait to seen him again. I will say hello with a big smile. s

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    1. Thanks Old Pa. I know what you mean - it's the normal way of things in this area too and so seems more unusual when people don't. (You can often tell who the tourists are that way!) I read the comments in the article I linked to, and was quite surprised at the varied attitudes. But when you've actually had an interaction like you had with the dogs, and you were nice about it too, it seems really impolite not to at least give a response - yep, weird!

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  4. without a doubt - weird. I had one on the train the other night. She sat next to me when the adjacent seat became empty sometime into the journey. She had a phone in her hand and held it to her ear. She then spoke quietly almost in a whisper. I just assumed a private call - fair enough. However we soon entered one of the longest tunnels on the Southern network - there is no way any phone works in there. She kept talking - so now I start to listen. "He's sat there now not willing to help me. How can I get out of this predicament?" - did she mean me? In what way was I to help her? What predicament? Then we exited the tunnel and she jumped up to exit at the next station. She was possibly 60s maybe 70s...

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    1. Ooh, that is very weird! There's nothing quite like being talked about by a stranger when they're sitting right next to you!

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  5. Very strange and quite clearly a little alarming. I can well understand your urge to find out exactly why she was shouting at you; I think I would have done the same. She was quite probably in the midst of some kind of crisis but you offered your help and it was rejected, so not much more you could do. It's really not what you expect to encounter on a quiet walk. Around these parts, people nearly always say 'Hello', or 'Hiya' or some such greeting if they pass in the street or on a footpath or on a crumbly hillside. Often, they will strike up a random conversation, too. It's a general gregariousness that I found highly surprising when I first came to live here and am still sometimes reluctant to engage with in my distant Anglo-Saxon manner. It's very nice, though.

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    1. Glad you understand too - I just felt an urge to try and address it peacefully, but I don't know what I was expecting - didn't think that far ahead and just couldn't believe it. I half expected to read the local news today about a woman found trying to garotte a sheep in the field there or driving her car into a tree.... goodness knows what state her mind was really in. Dementia seems to me a very likely explanation, sadly.
      Otherwise though, yes, I like it when people stop for a quick chat - it's generally pretty heartwarming, isn't it?

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  6. Your opening sentence in reply to Old Pa's comment echo my own experiences since we moved out here. The one thing that I have found, as I know I've mentioned before, is that 99.9% of the people I encounter while out & about are walking their dogs and I sense that I make the odd person ever so slightly uncomfortable, me being a hefty geezer out in the middle of nowhere on his own. I'm probably being ridiculously over sensitive though.
    As for your uncomfortable encounter, it certainly sounds as though the lady may have some issues and one can only hope that her own walk served to calm her disposition before she got back behind the wheel of her car.

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    1. I do know what you mean - I know a local man who loves walking on his own but has always worried that because he's a well-built middle-aged man he might look suspicious - what a shame really that we should even think like that (I'm sure the true dangerous characters are a lot less visible!) In the absence of a dog, I've often considered taking out a plimsoll on a string like the young Ozzy Osbourne apparently did. Hmmm. Maybe that wouldn't exactly help...

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  7. In my experience it's often the most respectable-looking ones that you've really got to look out for. Perhaps maintaining their veneer is just too stressful.

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  8. Of course, the dementia idea is the more benign and humane one. Trust me to leap to the cynical conclusion. Either way, definitely her issues, - not yours.

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    1. Hi Hugh - well I think you're right about the respectable looking ones even though I'm now concluding the dementia theory in this particular case, probably for the sake of my own sanity as much as anything else!

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  9. This is interesting. I go for walks sometimes by myself up along the cliff face of Exmouth and I stand near the edge and just take in the view over the sea. You can see for miles from up there. The full canopy of the sky and the vastness of the sea below. Sometimes, however, when people walk past on the footpath behind, I feel self-conscious. As if they might be thinking: oh, look at that man - he's going to jump! And I'm thinking: It's okay! It's fine! I'm just taking in the view!
    I'd point out, no-one ever approaches me and tries to lure me back away from the edge and talk me into not jumping. They just walk on by.
    People have actually jumped from the same spot in the past and so I wonder when people see me there standing all alone, do they think: Oh well, there goes another one.
    I suspect this is the reason why a lot of people have dogs, so they can go out walking at night or they can walk along a cliff edge without feeling conspicuous.
    But I don't want a dog. And I quite enjoy walking along the cliff edge by myself, taking in the view. So I'm going to continue doing it. I think it's important. And I think it's important that you too, C, continue to feel that it's okay to go on walks by yourself. It's important that everyone feels it's okay to go out walking by themselves without having to worry what other people might do or think when they see them.

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    1. Thanks John, I appreciate this. Love your description of the possible speculation of those who see you alone on the cliff edge. I can't say that the thought wouldn't go through my mind either, and what would I do? Would I stop to ask if you're ok? Maybe it depends on your body language... maybe it shows quite naturally in your posture that you're just enjoying the view rather than contemplating The End!

      You're right... it is important that we feel ok about walking by ourselves... but still I do sometimes have those two negative thoughts: a) am I safe and b) do I look like I'm acting suspiciously?! I try not to, though... and keep on walking!

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