I’ve mentioned here before that while the street Terry and I live in is as pleasant and suburban as it gets, some of the areas around us… aren’t. Well, they don’t call our part of town “Bandit Country” for nothing, put it that way.
Just yesterday, for instance, I met a group of the local Bandits while I was out walking Rubin. The Bandits in question were mostly in their late teens/early twenties, and they were sitting in a little huddle outside the Ghetto Superstore, drinking. You’d think it would be too much of a cliché for me to say they were drinking Buckfast, wouldn’t you?
People, they were drinking Buckfast.
You’d also think it was too much of a cliché for me to say they had a pit bull terrier with them, no?
As soon as the pit bull laid eyes on Rubin, of course, it went crazy. In fact, before I knew what had happened, it was over beside us “worrying” at Rubin. Now, I should say here that it wasn’t barking or growling, or anything like that. For all I know, this might’ve been the friendliest pit bull in all the land, but I didn’t really want to take the chance on that, and because Rubin likes to think he’s a wolf (he completely ignores small dogs, but will often bark ferociously at larger ones, because… well, because he was born without a brain, obviously), I was frightened enough by the dog’s attentions that when it still hadn’t left us alone a few minutes later, I snatched Rubin into my arms and… ran off like a girl.
Only at this point did the Youth of Today dispatch a Junior Bandito (about 8 years old, I’d say) to call off the hound.
So, that’s the kind of thing we’re dealing with.
Because I never learn, though, I decided to take Rubin on the exact same walk today. In my defence, it’s pretty much the only place I CAN walk him without having to get in the car and drive somewhere, and I rarely have time for that, so Bandit Country it is. I was about ten minutes into the walk, Rubin almost hysterical with joy by my side, when I became aware of the sound of a bicycle, directly behind me.
I was on a footpath at this point, and there were no actual roads nearby, but people often cycle on the footpaths round here, so I thought nothing of this, and moved to the side of the (wide) footpath to let it pass.
The bike moved with me.
I moved even closer to the side, until my arm was brushing the branches of the trees which grow along the pathway.
The bike moved too.
At this point it struck me that this bicycle was moving very, very slowly, given that it was able to stay behind me, at my slow walking pace. It could also have passed me at any time: the path is a wide one, and I hadn’t exactly been filling it up even before I moved.
Clearly, then, it was following me. Great.
I glanced over my shoulder, and sure enough, there he was: another Junior Bandito (not the Pitt Bull handler, this time), grinning unpleasantly as the front tyre of his bike almost brushed my heels. I’m no good at estimating people’s ages, but I’d say he was probably 10 or 11. Young, but old enough to know better than to harass people in the street, I’d say.
I decided the best thing to do here would be to ignore him, so I looked away and continued walking.
“HEY! UGLY!” the bandit called.
At this point all I can say is that something snapped in my head. Because, honestly, I’ve HAD IT with people thinking it’s perfectly OK to insult and harass each other. ENOUGH.
So I stopped dead in my tracks (he almost ran into me) and turned round to face him.
“Did you say something? ” I asked pleasantly.
Well, the bandit almost fell off his bike. The look that crossed his face was almost comical as his brain struggled to register the fact that the worm had apparently turned.
“No,” he said, his voice shaking slightly. “I didn’t say a thing.”
“That’s strange,” I said, still calm. “I’m sure I heard you say something to me. What was it?”
The kid quaked. He clearly had no idea how to deal with this, so he decided to go with denial. Nope, he’d said nothing, not him. Why, he was just riding along on his bike, minding his own business!
“Well, there’s no one else here,” I said, “So I’m pretty sure it was you. What did you say?”
“I just said hello,” blurted the bandit. “That was it.”
“Really?” I said, puzzled. “That’s funny: you just told me you didn’t say anything. So now you’re telling me you DID say something: is that right?”
Silence. Pinned into a corner by his lies (I should totally be a crime writer, right?), the bandit had no choice but to get on his hoss bike and get out of town. Unfortunately for me, he managed to do the first bit OK, but, once on his bike (he’d jumped off for our “chat”) he decided to go back to following me, albeit at a slightly further distance this time.
“GINGER!” he shouted this time.
So I turned round and karate chopped him. No, OK, I didn’t. But I did turn round, and, once again, the kid almost fell off his bike in fright. You’d think he’d have learned the first time, no?
“Ah, so you DO have something to say to me!” I beamed. “I thought so! But I didn’t quite hear you. Tell you what, why don’t you come and say it to my face, rather than waiting until my back’s turned? That would be the brave thing to do, don’t you think?”
No, I have no idea why I was talking like this to a child. I mean, clearly it wasn’t exactly my finest hour, and equally clearly, I wouldn’t have been nearly so brave had he been just a little bit older. Of if he’d had The Friendliest Pit Bull in All The Land with him. But, like I said, I’m absolutely sick of not being able to walk my dog close to my own home without being taunted and harassed by idiot kids. This has happened several times now, the worst time being when I was held at branch-point in the woods, and had to phone the police. And although this was a young ‘un, I still think he was old enough to learn that following strange women in the street and calling them names is not a pleasant thing to do. And that sometimes, when you choose to do this, you just might get yourself in trouble.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the words themselves that bother me. I am not so insecure that a child calling me “ugly” will make me feel I actually AM ugly (Sorry, blog commenters who say more or less the same thing!), and the “ginger” thing is just stupid. It’s the fact that people today apparently think it’s OK to taunt strangers in the street IN ANY WAY that makes my blood boil. To follow people, and call them names, and to then try to deny it is stupid and cowardly in the extreme, and I don’t care if you’re eleven or eleventy-one: if you behave like that towards someone, you should expect to get called on it.
I know lots of people would give the old, “Ah, but they’re only kids!” argument, here, but that one won’t wash with me, sorry. If they’re old enough to be out in public unsupervised, then they’re old enough to be taught that it’s not nice to follow people and be rude to them. If your kid ISN’T old enough to understand that message, then you keep him under supervision until he is: simple. Quite apart from anything else, it’s pretty damn dangerous for kids to do this kind of thing, because while the worst thing I’d ever do would be to tell them off, if they pick on someone a little more aggressive, they could end up in some serious trouble.
So I told the bandito all of this. At length. And … he turned and ran away. “Leave me alone!” he sobbed, jumping off his bike a few metres down the path.
“I don’t really see why I should,” I said, reasonably. “I mean, you haven’t been leaving ME alone, have you? You’ve been following me and calling me names, so maybe I’ll just follow YOU now, and call you some names, how would you like that?”
He wouldn’t, was the answer. And he agreed to stop following me if I just stopped talking. So I did. And you know, that little Bandit was as good as his word. I like to think he will grow up to be a better Bandit now: a Bandit with a basic understanding of how to behave in public, and why it’s Not Nice to follow people and shout names at them. And thus, a new era of peace will be forged between the Banditos and the ordinary people of Bandit Country, all thanks to me.
Actually, I know I’ll just be lucky if my windows don’t get broken next time I’m out. Such is life.
(ETA : not that it particularly matters, but in the interests of accuracy, this all actually happened on Saturday -I wrote the post then, but then totally forgot to publish it. Ooops.)