Between Brexit chaos and a black hole the size of three million planet Earths you’d think some people would have enough to worry about. But it’s often the small things that cause the biggest reactions.
This occurred to me this week as a man who appeared to be on the brink of spontaneous combustion screamed at me through his car window: “You’re an ignorant cow of hell!”
Three times he said it.
The triple declaration gave me time to ponder the semantics of the insult. Fair play, it was a corker. And I’m not entirely unused to the rantings of male strangers. As a female who expresses an opinion on Twitter, it comes with the territory.
But this one was even better than: “You’re a pathetic Prosecco Princess who is destined to be single until the end of time!”
(I didn’t even consider that an insult. Bubbly and freedom for eternity? What could be better? And certainly an option the poor wife of my relentlessly misogynistic Twitter troll might find attractive.)
Yet though I found the phrasing of the “ignorant cow of hell” epithet quite amusing, the face-to-face fury of its delivery was rather more disturbing. So what had I done to unleash such anger? I’d parked outside the house next door to his.
So not his house. In front of the house of a lady who I’d known since childhood and who doesn’t actually own a car. But he’d been driving behind me as I pulled into the last space in that stretch of the street and was now in full-on parking rage.
As beeping cars backed up behind him the conditions for a reasoned conversation weren’t exactly ideal. He shouted that the spaces in front of those particular houses were reserved for residents. They aren’t. And I told him so.
I was visiting my Dad on the street where I grew up and in which my family had lived in the same house since 1960. I try to park as near to it as possible to save my 86-year-old father a trek to the car. He has difficulty walking more than a short distance. But even if I’d never been in this street before I had as much right to park there as anyone else. I pointed this out, too. It didn’t go down well. Red-faced man didn’t care if we’d “lived there since 1860”. Well at least we would have a bit more room to park our horse and traps then.
When he failed to find any legitimate reasons why I couldn’t leave my Peugeot on the public highway the insults started flying. For “ignorant cow of hell” read weary middle-aged woman who won’t put up with sh*t from aggressive blokes any more. Especially those who only pick fights with females. He’d given my brother’s girlfriend a similar rant recently while leaving the two male van drivers who were taking up four spaces between them curiously unscathed. I gave him the side-eye and walked away.
Parking rage seems so petty yet it remains one of the biggest sources of anger of our age. Clashes over precious spaces have led to violence and even murder. In 2014, Alison Morrison, a 45-year-old journalist and mother, was stabbed to death by her neighbour after an ongoing dispute over the shared driveway of their London homes.
This may be the most extreme example but everyday incidents of conflict, expletives and unpleasantness abound. From Welsh suburbia to the celebrity streets of Manhattan, bumper to bumper bust-ups are commonplace. Actor Alec Baldwin – who doubles as Donald Trump in the satirical Saturday Night Live skits – was sentenced to an anger-management programme after pleading guilty to harassment charges over a parking-spot scuffle near his New York home last year.
Baldwin, who admitted shoving a man who took a space on his street, told police officers: “He’s an a**hole. He stole my spot.”
The case captured so much attention Stateside, a street artist poked fun at the notoriously hot-headed actor’s parking spot saga this week by stencilling “Reserved Alec Baldwin” on the road outside his apartment building.
Responding to the cheeky paintwork on Instagram, Baldwin captioned a photo of it with the words: “Not funny. It IS funny, but not funny. You catch me?”
We catch you Alec. The territorialism of parking is rarely a laughing matter for those who defend the a few square metres of space outside their houses with the fanatical zeal medieval warlords once applied to moats and drawbridges.
The instinct may go further back. Parking speaks to our most primeval instincts, according to psychologist Dr J Ryan Fuller. We pounce on our spaces in hunter mode, he reckons, not allowing anyone else to go in for the kill. “You may think, ‘That’s my spot, so there’s no way I’m letting anyone else get it’,” he explains.
There’s even a recognised acronym for those who over-protect their parking spots – NIMPS, as in “not in my parking space”.
Many of us have the My Space mentality even though by law motorists can usually park wherever they like on the public road – even outside someone’s front door or window, though not blocking their driveway – unless restrictions like yellow lines or safety issues apply. Despite this, a recent survey revealed two thirds of adults believe it is a “basic right” to park outside their own home. Tactics to ensure this mythical privilege include the placing of fake roadwork cones and wheelie bins.
The research that put Cardiff eighth in the top 15 parking rage cities in the UK – Newcastle was the worst – also found that more than three million Britons admit to spying on their neighbours in case they park in “their” space. Six per cent have even let the offending cars’ tyres down.
Another survey showed that 75% of UK drivers have argued about parking with a neighbour, with men three times more likely than women to start a row. Tell me about it.
Since my little fracas, several friends have told me about their experiences of parking rage. On picking her grand-daughter up from school one friend was told by a nearby resident that if she parked her car outside his house again he would tow it away. Another pal had been trapped by the passive-aggressive bumper to bumper park. And there were multiple tales of the classic under the windscreen wiper warning note.
Social media has enshrined parking rage in popular culture. Whole days can be whiled away on YouTube watching videos of motorists going ballistic with each other while Twitter and Facebook shaming ensures poor parking goes viral.
And, of course, there are times when it is difficult to resist the motorists’ red mist. Those trawls of car-parks where you’ve waited patiently for a driver to exit a spot only for another to whip round the corner and zoom in before you. Or that moment when you think you’ve spotted a space but there’s actually a pesky Fiat 500 in it. Or seeing the massive SUV straddling the lines. And don’t get me started on the abuse of disabled spaces.
My own street, meanwhile, is renowned for its parking challenges and only a complex system of neighbourly etiquette which involves everyone on the right side parking parallel and everyone on the left parking on the wonk prevents all-out warfare. Even this doesn’t preclude the total eclipse of my living room that ensues when the owner of a white van as big as a coach plonks this leviathan in front of my bay window.
But is it really worth a rant? Can we ever have righteous anger when legally we’re wrong to imagine that a space is really ours? Frustration yes. That’s understandable. Even a bit of inward seething and swearing behind the twitching curtains. But all-out scary eye-popping fury? That’s not going to achieve anything.
So Mr Red-Face if you had a beef with my parking calling me an “ignorant cow of hell” wasn’t the best tactic. After all, if you’d asked me nicely I would have moved. Or even moooo-ved…