Friday, 21 September 2007

Knight or nightmare?

So enough of the crying at the sad movies more of the possible nightmare on Elm Street or rather Fen Drove. There I am yesterday morning driving across the fens on the quiet back roads. Crisp early morning sunshine, favourite CD on, my own private little bubble wending its way through the countryside and then out of a side road pops Mr BMW. Fine Mr shiny silver series umpty umpty BMW, overtake whenever you like, nothing coming , happy to let you zoom your way into the horizon. But no he sits on my back bumper, positively sucking on my exhaust. I slow, he slows; I speed up, he speeds up. I examine his face in the rear view mirror. Bland, he could be any man between forty and fifty, expressionless no outward indication of psychopathy. I take some very obscure back roads, short cuts, lonely droves. He is still on my tail. I refuse to get paranoid and become merely annoyed. I was enjoying my quiet all to myself fen and there is this man in his car intruding into my personal driving space. I decide to pull in and let him overtake but he pulls up behind me. Now paranoia is kicking in, he is pointing towards the back of my car. Is this a ruse, does he want me to get out and then I will be dead meat? Every gory urban legend I have ever heard kick in. Severed heads on the roof of cars, mad axe men, serial rapists.

Stupid woman I say to myself , I’m over six foot and know how to look after myself, I get out to look at what he is pointing at, careful never to turn my back on him, he sits in his car and watches. This of course involves me a certain crab like approach to the boot which must make me appear rather odd. The strap of my lap top bag is sticking out of my boot. I open it put it back inside and close the boot. I mouth a thanks, he nods, still same bland expression on his face and drives off.

I return to my car and suddenly I think what the hell was I doing saying thank you to a man who has followed on my tail end for 9 miles without indicating why he is doing so, not even a gesture. I have to presume he thought he was doing me a favour, he probably even went miles out of his way to follow me to do me this favour. BMW man may have felt he didn’t want to panic me by making signals about the strap whilst I was driving or flash his lights.

Dear reader am I being stupid here, the strap was sticking out but the boot was closed. He may not have known that, perhaps he feared that my boot would fly open at any minute and disaster would strike? Perhaps actually when I got out of the car I wasn’t the sort of victim he was after, should I feel affronted that I wasn’t deemed suitable; too old, too fat, too tall, too badly dressed, too odd with my crablike way of walking. I have worked through all the permutations that may have been running through his head and still I keep coming up with the idea that what he did was definitely a little weird but then it may be that I am being an overly harsh and judgemental woman.

Male friends tell me that gestures of chivalry can be so easily mistaken, leaving men open to being accused of all sorts of inappropriate conduct. Never stop and ask a woman the way, never follow a woman too closely on a night street, never inadvertently make a comment in front of any female work colleagues that could be interpreted as a double entendre. A lone woman, a dark night, an empty building, an isolated area are recipes for a nightmare for the man who wishes to be gallant but at the same time totally safe from any false accusation or misinterpretation. Genuine acts of good will can never be misinterpreted, not so unfortunately. Those knights in shining armour have to think twice now before offering help; it could be safer just to walk on by. I think of all those men in the past couple of years who have stopped to help me change a tyre on a dark wet night on a lonely road, another man who chased me down an empty midnight street to hand me back the purse I had dropped, the man who followed me down a dark back street to tell me I’d left my car lights on. Were they wrong? Of course not. Was I worried about them following me or approaching? Not really but then I am a woman of a certain size who can knee my weight if needs be. I was thankful that they had helped me and I am sad for them and for other men that may have had to think twice before a spontaneous act of human kindness. I have no answers to this conundrum, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Apathy can be the least slippery path to follow, how sad. So should I be complaining about Mr BMW’s act of kindness perhaps not but it still felt weird at the time but I may have an over active imagination that's something I hold my hands up to in fact I've fostered it, most writers do.

1 comment:

Anne said...

His behaviour sounds weird. But how could he have gestured that your laptop strap was sticking out of the boot, without seeming obscene? I too have had the experience of being followed, nay flashed, for miles up the A1 in the dark, and finally into a layby, only to be told that my rear lights were out. "I've been shadowing you all this way to protect you", he said. I was much younger in those days, and/but I believed him. He seemed much relieved at having discharged a social duty, and sped off. He clearly felt awkward, seeing I was a lone female. Feeling like a criminal, but with no practical alternative, I put my rear foglights on to continue my journey home.

Men are warned never to stop for lone women; urban legends abound about how they can be stitched up. Beemer man was probably staying close to his webcam.

It's easier for women. I always stop for hitchhikers, and people walking by the road absolutely miles from anywhere, unless they look, you know, weird. It is sad if we can no longer trust strangers - though I think we still do, quite remarkably, and rewardingly, every day. We buy bread; we give way in traffic; in the pub, we say "Can you mind this while I go to the loo?" But please don't trust survivor evidence. Gut instinct is best.