Tuesday, 2 December 2014

"Can I Help You?"

Lovely reconstructed Norman door at Barton Bendish

Our party had already encountered an irate man in his dressing gown and pyjamas as we explored west Norfolk, so perhaps it was destined to be, 'one of those days'. Still, the encounter that followed our exploration of the delightful church at Barton Bendish will linger in my memory for at least a day or two (which is quite good for me nowadays!). 

We had got back into our motor vehicle and were pondering our next move when a fearsome looking woman wearing a body warmer, blonde set-perm and driving a range rover pulled up with seething deliberation next to us. She wound down her window and with the kind eyes of Margaret Thatcher, proceeded to stare in our direction. Eventually, and with some trepidation, our driver wound her window down. After a short and deliberately lingering pause, Body-warmer Woman spoke...

"Can I help you?"

Four little words: can... I... help... you? If I hadn't heard her myself I would never have believed that such a seemingly benign combination of words could be delivered with such stony intent. Later, I speculated that the tone of voice could only have been the result of many generations of squiarchical power and entitlement. The tone? Hmm... disdain... condescension... contempt... and still I struggle to evoke the sheer stony distance that Body-warmer Woman conveyed. 

So what had we done to earn such a response. Well, you see, we had transgressed in the most heinous manner. We had partially pulled up onto a roadside green outside the church, having inadvertently failed to notice that the church has a (badly signed!) carpark. 

Although we were polite and apologetic and moved off without any fuss, subsequently, I have had a little fun imagining various responses to her enquiry: 

"Can I help you?"

"Actually, yes you can. We were just having a discussion about the definition of passive-aggressive behaviour. Thank you for clarifying this matter."

"Can I help you?"

"Thank you for taking the time to show concern for our welfare. We had begun to think that the folk in these parts were - let us say - a tadge unfriendly. However, it is clear to us now that we were wrong in making such an assumption and for that we apologise."

"Can I help you?"

"Possibly you can. Referring to the inappropriate conduct of his father-in-law, Arthur Miller once described stupidity as, 'want of empathic power.' Would you agree with this?"

"Can I help you?"

"If you have some toilet roll and some wet wipes, yes. He might look angelic sitting there smiling in the passenger seat with his bobble-hat on, but poor Jonny's gone and buried a necessary!"

"Can I help you?"

"Yes. A gentleman just told us that the west door to this church was described by Pevsner as the finest in England. Is that really the case?"

"Can I help you?"

"Oh thank you! I'll get the cloth and bucket. Start with the windscreen will you..."

"Can I help you?"

"Yes. Can you help us get a sense of perspective please?"

~ Munro Tweeder-Harris Esq. ~

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