This evening. I’m walking through the grass-lined war memorial outside the bus station that will provide me with transport home. It’s late, I’ve been kept back at my office two hours longer than need be and I’m exhausted. I didn’t sleep well the previous evening and am generally in a foul mood.
The memorial, at this time of night, is home to every cider-head, smack-rat, emo, goth, chav, homeless, skater-kid and radge-packet in the city. Basically they are representative of all the various tribes of humanity I despise and I just want to negotiate it in one piece without losing my temper and getting into a situation I will doubtless not come out the better of. I really don’t have the build for it.
I’m near the pillared-entrance to the small shopping centre at the back of the memorial that leads to my bus station when I notice an elderly man in ragged clothes and a bobble hat taking a circuitous route around the pillars, staring intently at the ground.
I come to the conclusion that he is either a) mental or b) homeless and is searching for money or viable cigarette-ends or c) most likely both. I alter my path to avoid contact with him. I can’t help him, it’s late and – do you know what – he’s not my problem.
Almost simultaneously a small group of radgies clock him as well. They’re the very worst sort. With an average age of fourteen years by the look of them, they are clad head-to-toe in either Bench or Kangol, dripping in Elizabeth Duke and have obviously been wagging-off school all day and stink of Lambert & Butlers.
And they’re girls. Which is so much worse. Empowered by the effect of their new-found hips, tits and arses they know they have a terrible influence over men that they do not yet fully understand, but still they know it’s there. And they also know that no man will strike either a child or a woman on the street. Being a strange mixture of both, they are fucking untouchable and they know it. They’re terrifying.
One of their number detaches herself from the radge-hive and starts heading toward the elderly mental homeless guy. Her shoulders are squared, her stride argumentative and she is reeking of fake tan, hormones, aggression and whatever they use to fix hair-extensions with.
Radge-Packet: [At Elderly Homeless Mental] You! Aye. You. What ye dein’ like?
I slow my pace and turn around. It’s none of my business. And I may not have been prepared to do anything for the man, but I’m not going to stand by and watch him be tormented by an ASBO kid. Christ. All I wanted was to get home.
R.P: [Shouting] Aye. Yeah. Ye, like. Ah’m talkin’ to yuh.
It never happens often, but in situations like this I never know WHAT I’m going to do. I just know I’ll do something.
R.P: [Now squaring-up to Elderly Homeless Mental in the most confrontational manner possible] Looking for pennies are yu? Eh? I said- are you looking for coins?
My jaw is clenched. I start to walk over.
Elderly Homeless Mental: [Confused, frightened] Oh, er, yes ….
R.P: Reet. Well have this. [Proffers a small coin] It’s only ten pence but it’s all I’ve got. [With undiminished aggression] One of my stupid mates hoyed five pence ower there [gestures] so yu can probly find that too an’ aaal. Reet?
E.H.M: Oh bless you. You’re an angel.
R.P: Aye well.
She heads back to her cohorts and I trail behind as she’s on the way to where I need to be.
One of her companions asks her what the guy said. She replies with the same borderline-furious tone I now realise she has used all her life, and that her mother and father have probably used all their lives before her.
R.P: Aye he said I was an angel, like.
I look at my watch. I’ve still time for not only my bus, but also a brief re-evaluation of humanity. I shall try and remember this. But not too often.