This evening I almost got in a fight with a 10 year old boy. My wife and I were heading out for a Christmas party. But as we traversed the streets of Shepherd's Bush a kid cycling across the road on his bike, mounted the kerb to continue his journey on the pavement and nearly hit my wife. Rather than apologising he swore at her and called her an idiot. My wife was totally unaware that anything had happened, but I advised the young scoundrel that he shouldn't really be riding on the pavement and that if he was going to do that then clearly the pedestrians had the right of way. But he did not respond to my public spiritied announcement in good faith and then started swearing at me.
I admit for a few seconds I was somewhat blind-sided by his cockiness and sense of entitlement. He was not in the least bit scared of me, perhaps ascertaining that a 46 year old man was unlikely to punch a 10 year old in the face, and was clearly not going to apologise. I should have walked away and laughed at the pip-squeak. After all he might have the attitude of a tough guy, but he was riding his bike on the pavement. Maybe a simple "I'd be a bit more scared of you if you were brave enough to drive your bike on the road" might have done. But stung by his arrogance and his rudeness to my wife I decided to call his bluff and face off to him. I stopped and chastised him for his rudeness, standing in his way (as if to emphasise that I had the right of way) and then touching the handle bars of his bike when it looked like he might ride into me anyway. I think that maybe for 5 seconds I had forgotten that I was not also 10. What was I going to do if he got off his bike and punched me? Fight him back? I don't think many passersby or the police would look kindly upon me, even if I claimed he had thrown the first punch. I wanted to try and teach the boy some manners, but instead was teaching him that you can still be a prick when you're 46.
It annoys me though that we are all so impotent in the face of other's anti-social behaviour. On the train back from Liverpool a table of football fans had been making a lot of noise and playing stuff to each other at top volume on their phones, knowing that no one would complain. They knew their noise was a challenge to others - want to complain about the noise we're making? You know we'll start a fight with you if we do. A man near me had earlier asked a nerdy man with noise spilling from his headphones to turn his music down, but he was not going to say anything to the football fans. I hate being held to ransom in this way.
In this case though I knew I had little to fear from a child and maybe some ridiculous part of me thought that I could teach him something about being civilised. But he was soon calling me a fat cunt (unaware that had he seen me yesterday I would have been 0.1kg heavier) and I was swearing back at him. My wife, whose honour I was trying to protect, seemed disappointed that I was swearing at a 10 year old. And then I was disappointed in myself too. How had I allowed myself to lose even this small amount of control? What was I doing?
The boy tried to pass us again and I kept my eye on him lest he drive his bike into the back of my legs. "What are you looking at you fat cunt?" he asked. I couldn't say too much in response I had lost the moral highground and I now just laughed at the situation. "I am going to tell my dad about you and he'll come and fuck you up," he warned. I wish I said, "Well I'm going to tell my dad about you and he'll probably tut quite loudly", but instead I said, "Good, send him along. I'd love to have a chat with him about you."
I doubted that the boy would send his dad to fuck me up - how would he find me? Would he be prepared to hang around in the general area hoping to spot me again? - but then again there was a chance that he might. For the rest of the walk to the tube I was thinking about how his dad might fuck me up and how I would explain that I had sworn at his son. The child had successfully intimidated me. I had taken on a 10 year old child and had lost in every sense. I'd lost my cool, I'd lost the argument and I left the contretemps slightly more scared than he was.
I don't think the kid will tell his dad about it. My guess is that he has the kind of dad who would be just as likely to take it out on his son than on the stranger. I don't think a 10 year old would be this wild and rude without some external impetus and if I had to take a punt I'd say he might have a tough home life. And if that is true it only makes my reaction all the more pathetic.
I tried to defend myself by being affronted and arguing that children should show respect to adults, but I knew that was bullshit. I knew I hated that kind of adult when I was 10 and suspected that they were deficient. I was right. Whilst kids shouldn't necessarily swear at strangers when they themselves are at fault, if an adult responds to a child in this way it is the adult who is the prick. I was less scared of the kid's dad than I was of the horrible possibility that in that moment of anger I might have pushed him off his bike and then found myself being correctly arrested.
As it is I reckon if we see each other again we'll probably both apologise and become firm friends and spend our days cycling around on the pavements of Shepherd's Bush together. We are of the same level of maturity so should get on well. Until his dad finds out that his son is hanging around with a fat 46 year old man, in which case he will almost certainly fuck me up.