The other day I was nearly in a fight with a ten-year-old boy. I am not proud of myself.
I was walking on the pavement with my wife when a young tyke cycled up behind us, nearly clipping her heels. Rather than apologising, he swore at her and called her an idiot. Even though my wife had seen and heard nothing, I needed to defend her impugned honour. I told the young scoundrel that he shouldn’t be cycling there and it was our right of way.
Part of me expected him to blush with shame and thank me for my wisdom, but that part would be disappointed. ‘FLICK OFF’ is almost exactly what he said, before describing me as what sounded like a ‘fat count’, even though it was clear from my casual clothing that I was not even a minor member of the aristocracy. And also I am not fat.
I admit for a few seconds I was blind-sided by his cockiness. He wasn’t scared of me, perhaps reasoning that a 46-year-old man could not punch a ten-year-old in the face.
I should have laughed and said: ‘You’re quite the tough guy, but I’d be a bit more impressed if you were brave enough to cycle on the road.’ Instead, I called his bluff and stood my ground, blocking his path. Was that a flicker of fear on his face? No. He just reiterated that I was a fat count. I wasn’t backing down, though. To show him how much trouble he was in, I gently pushed his bike’s handlebar.
For an instant I’d forgotten that I wasn’t also ten. What would I do if he got off his bike and kicked me? Fight him back? I’d wanted to teach the boy some manners but instead was teaching him that you can still be a prick when you’re 46.
He swore at me again and I swore back at him.
My wife, mainly oblivious to all of this, seemed disappointed to turn and see me trading curses with a cycling foetus. I was disappointed in myself too. How had I allowed myself to lose control?
‘I’m going to tell my dad about you and he’ll come and funk you up,’ was approximately what he said next. I wish I’d replied: ‘Well I’m going to tell my dad about you and he’ll probably tut quite loudly. He’s a retired headmaster called Keith and he wouldn’t appreciate this kind of behaviour!’ But instead I said: ‘Good, I’d love to have a chat with him.’
I doubted that the boy would send his dad to funk me up – how would he find me? Unless I was stupid enough to write about the incident in a national newspaper.
But I was still unnerved by the threat. I had taken on a ten-year-old child and had lost. I’d lost my cool, I’d lost the argument and I left the contretemps slightly more intimidated than he was.
Some might use this incident as proof that today’s young people are morally delinquent. But this is very much an isolated incident. You wouldn’t judge any other minority by the actions of one individual, so is it OK to condemn all kids because one has treated you impolitely?
The majority of young people are more mature and thoughtful than I was at their age (and let’s face it, than I am now). It was me who had turned a moment of thoughtless petulance into a potential mismatched boxing match.
Send your dad round, son. I deserve to be funked up, like the motherflicking count I clearly am.