My father, a man with a submariner’s oddly twinned attributes of a well-attuned social etiquette with a mild misanthropy, has- in his old age- become something of a liability behind the wheel.
Shielded, he believes, from the necessity of polite interaction with his fellow man he can let rip and vent his state-of-the-country spleen at the extra-vehicular world, with impunity.
Imagine his surprise, then, when pootling to Waitrose with my mother in the passenger seat, he was upbraided by a large be-spectacled woman for allowing his car to straddle the pedestrian crossing leading to its entrance.
For, it seems, that inclement South Coastal weather begging for ventilation of one’s transport via the means of open windows, his retort of ‘Oh, get out of the way, you big fat thing’, did not go unheard.
‘Who’s calling who fat?’ bellowed the large sailing ship, presumably discombobulated by the tracing of the offensive verbal abuse to my septuagenarian parents in their pressed Marks & Spencers apparel.
‘Well, I’m nothing like as large as you,’ persisted my Father, somewhat unchivalrously.
Whereupon my disgraced relatives revved the Audi to 5 miles per hour and parked in their regular disabled space, my mother lithely liberating the badge she earned for a bad back donkey’s years ago and smugly planting it on the dashboard.
I like this story so far for its silver-haired-hoodie-by-the-sea flavour but what’s best is next.
Instead of clutching her handbag close and making tutting signs at her uncouth husband my mother sighed and said, ‘Well, I hope we don’t end up on her ward next time we’re in Worthing hospital’. (My parents take mini breaks there about 15 times a year.)
‘What ward?’ asked my father, newly concerned.
‘She was wearing a matron’s uniform,’ replied Columbo-Mum.
‘Oh,’ offered my father inadequately, dense regret and dread creeping into his tone. ‘I thought it was an overall.’
And so the grocery shop passed in muted humour, the car windows firmly closed on the journey home and a slightly off taste to the daily mince pie luncheon treat.