Into the last mile of an early hour’s run last Saturday, I passed through a wicket onto fenced common land. The field is about a mile in perimeter and mainly used by dog-walkers plus a few other runners. I found the gate unfastened (there is a rather pointless leather strap that can be used to hold it in position) and I left it so, as it is more often than not.
Fifty metres further on I heard a bellowing accusation, directed at me – ‘You might have shut the gate…’ I pointed out that I’d left it as I’d found it. There followed a torrent of abuse, extraordinarily loud for 06.35 in the morning. Amongst it all was the instruction, whatever the circumstances, to fasten the gate shut out of ‘respect for the public’. (That’s a subject I can claim to know a little about, but this feller wasn’t to know that. In that context, he provided a tidy example of anti-social behaviour in the public realm).
He stomped off, telling me to fuck off. Bemused, I congratulated him on being sufficiently grown up to be able to swear at people.
There are two other gates to the field, neither of which has a fastening. It’s possible he feared a marauding horde of fierce peasants from the estates of the nearby town, I really don’t know. But the self-evident folly of his attitude seemed to illustrate perfectly the arrogant, superior middle-class middle-England conviction that it is the right of the Haves to tell others how to behave, whatever the context. It was like a local echo of the Westminster approach to Scotland.
I often puzzle over whether this is a universal phenomenon across time and geography. My experience from time spent in other countries suggests it is: but in England, with our centuries of pretend (and pretentious) imperial dominance, people do it better – with more emphasis, more conviction, more individual presumption of their own superiority. It seems such a shame.