A Nation In Need Of Anger Management

(Judith Woods) – HERE’S A SALUTARY LITTLE ANECDOTE, give or take a few expletives, about just how broken Britain has become. A white van pulls up outside my house and the driver starts beeping his horn furiously – so loudly that he all but drowns the gentle tinkle of the Chopin études that I play on a loop, in the hope that my daughter might one day prefer them to Hannah Montana.

The driver is not broadcasting his irritation at the piano virtuoso, he is outraged because his path has been blocked by a stationary ambulance. Paramedics are attending an elderly, housebound neighbour whose husband recently died.

I hasten outdoors to explain the situation and suggest to the driver he might reverse down our one-way road and continue his journey via a parallel street.

“Why should I?” he yells, flecks of his spittle landing on me.

“Erm, because if you look across there,”
I say, “you’ll see a terrified old lady being carried out of her home on a stretcher, with an oxygen mask over her mouth, possibly dying. Do you really want the last sound she hears on this earth to be your horn?”

He glances over, then holds my gaze as he presses the heel of his palm hard on the horn again. “Look, that could be your mother, your sister, your wife,” I say, struggling to keep my temper.

“But it’s not is it? I am entitled to drive on this road. It’s My Right.”

I saw red, hoisted aloft the cricket bat I happened to be carrying and smashed his windscreen to smithereens. Well actually, I didn’t, but don’t you wish I had?

Instead, I withdrew, nonplussed. After a minor eternity, White Van Man concluded that there was, in fact, room for him to pass the ambulance, and, revving his engine to denote his rage, drove away.

Here’s where I’m supposed to suggest how we might heal our fractured nation. But in truth, I remain nonplussed.

How should I constructively respond to the death of Sikh shop owner Gurmail Sigh, 63, from the village of Cowcliffe near Huddersfield, stabbed when he tried to defend his property from teenage robbers in search of cigarettes and sweets?

What good – what actual, tangible good – comes of my knee-jerk horror at the tragedy of Albert and Kath Adams, both 77, who challenged a gang of intimidating teenagers near their sheltered housing in Rugby and died after arsonists set their mobility scooter alight and the flames spread?

As Labour and Conservatives argue the toss over crime figures and the Tories in particular are blasted for “ramping up public panic”, I would venture that panic is a perfectly understandable reaction to the rise in anti-social behaviour and violent attacks committed by strangers.

I’m as annoyed-yet-cowed as the next law-abiding citizen when I see a group of swaggering lads in their half-mast jeans with their brindle Staffies congregating on the corner of the high street, forcing mothers with pushchairs on to the road and grown men to avert their eyes.

But I am infuriated too, by my own helplessness. Faced with the aggressive posturing of semi-feral youths, my passivity is interpreted as submission – worse, affirmation – and that really rankles. More bobbies – far more – on the beat sounds so lame, but it would be a good start.

As for the rest of us, isn’t it time we stopped hand-wringing and stepped up to the crease, metaphorical cricket bats in hand? Shouldn’t we at least try to reclaim our streets and re-establish a consensus of what constitutes decent behaviour?

And perhaps if we did, the next time White Van Man blares his horn impatiently at the sick and the dying, every front door on the road will open, and every neighbour will step outside to explain, to remonstrate and to make it clear that the silent majority has had enough.

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