Monday lunchtime. Somewhat after the precise contractual point at which Monday lunchtime becomes Monday afternoon, but hey everyone takes marginally elongated lunch-breaks from time to time. I have just completed my weekly pilgrimage to the gymnasium in order to pay off an obscure karmic debt to last night's pizza by spending 30 minutes on an exercise bike.
A combination of parked car, badly positioned skip and encroaching building site leaves little space on the pavement for me to walk on. I turn sideways to facilitate the movement of both myself and my sports bag through the gap.
I am struck, painlessly, but with sufficient force to make me go "Wha..!" by the front wheel of an oncoming bicycle. Said bicycle being simultaneously occupied by two small-to-medium sized boys; one, precariously attached to the handlebars, while the other deals with the actual peddling, tandems being presumably both unavailable and unfashionable.
After the moment of contact, the cycle continues to move, trying to force its way past me through the increasingly narrow gap.I am annoyed by their carelessness and ill-manners and say:
"On planet earth, we drive our bikes on the road and walk on the pavement."
I wait for the youths to cower before by superior wit and intellect.
They look at me in awe and wonder. Can this lumbering overweight adult pedestrian thing truly be capable of articulate speech?
"What you say?"
"I said, bikes are for pavements, I mean, roads, bikes are for roads and pavements are for people."
Hmm. Lost points there. But hopefully they won't notice.
"Oh for gods sake just let me past."
"Or you'll what?" The older one, (the one on the saddle), is obviously the brains of the outfit.
"Or I'll ask you very politely to drive your bike on the road in future,and let me past."
His friend dismounts, the handlebars apparently having become uncomfortable. As I attempt to walk on, he sidesteps into my path.
I side-step to avoid him. Mutual shuffling ensues.
"Just try it mate," he says "Just try it, I'll take you, I'm a black belt I am".
He does not specify in what, but in order re-enforce the point, assumes a combat stance. I, 6 ft 4, twice his weight, three times his age, attempt an ironic smile.
He feigns a lunge.
I flinch, and look tiresomely annoyed.
He does it again.
I flinch again.
I suddenly realise that I am attempting to face down, or being faced down, by a 10 year old, that I am reluctant to loose face and that I'm rather enjoying it and hoping that he'll escalate things to the next stage.
Male of species in confrontation with young upstart. I am male. I am fit. I just worked out in the gym. I stood in the shower with other men and felt only mild embarrassment. If I back down, I will loose control of the tribe.
I call him to heel by saying "Why don't you just get out of my fucking way."
"What you going to do about it?" he replies
And indeed as they say on Thought for the Day, this is a very good question and one that we should all ask ourselves from time to time. In a very real sense, what am I going to do about it? Getting out my mobile phone and calling the police might be a little extreme. Given our relative age and background the time-honoured "I know your father and he shall hear of this misbehaviour" gambit may not carry 100% conviction. But just forcing my way past is going to involve some sort of physical contact, and I can't help feeling that being named and shamed by the News of the World would spoil my whole Sunday.
In 1977 when the world was still young Andy Hills apprehended me outside the school gym and punched me in the mouth because I had allegedly got him into trouble with our stereotypically psychopathic PE teacher and I walked away partly because son you don't have to fight to be a man and partly because I was a coward (even though I was technically bigger than he was) and Mr George praised me in front of the whole school for my moral fortitude and make him apologise which hurt me much more than the split lip had done...
A third party enters the fray. A balding, middle aged gentleman with a black umbrella also desires passage of the disputed pavement.
"Come on lads, what's this, don't be stupid, let this fellow through."
Eye contact is broken. The moment passes. We go our separate ways.
Brains turns the bike around and cycles off. Blackbelt jogs after him before reattaching himself to the handlebars. I proceed towards my place of work, slightly later than usual.
And the bald man; the Bald Man rides off into the place where the sunset would be if it wasn't lunchtime, tall and proud and confident, strength in his voice, wrinkled lip and eye of cold command. He made them stop just by telling them to... How do people do things like that? What a guy.
I bet he never ran away from his Andy Hills.
Voices in my head are already whispering . "Bloody young whippersnappers, why shouldn't you give them a clip round the ear" and "I bet their parents read the Sun."
I may have failed the test of manhood outside the gym all those years ago, but today I have resoundingly completed a rite of passage, crossed a threshold and taken my first, irrevocable steps towards becoming an old fogey.