Throwing a strop
I was reminded this evening by a very funny throw-away comment on twitter about an incident I'd thought was long forgotten.
I don't lose my temper very often. I get irritated. I have been known to shout occasionally. Sometimes. OK, often. Especially when attempting to get children into the shower in the morning.
But I don't really lose my temper.
When I was 18 I went to university in Bristol. For three days. Then I caught the bus home.
It wasn't university that I hated. It was Bristol. And it wasn't Bristol the place per se. It was the fact it was a city.
I had been brought up in rural Hertfordshire and then North Devon. Bristol didn't have trees. Or fields. Or cows. Or sheep. It wasn't home. And I was horribly homesick. So I caught the bus home and arrived much to my father's displeasure and my mother's relief.
I therefore had to find a job and indeed did so within a month, doing the same land management course as a trainee surveyor as I would have been doing at university. Which explains why, three years later, I found myself managing an estate agency office in a small town in Wiltshire.
At the age of 22 I was in charge of a team of five middle aged ladies. All part time, but with hours that at some point overlapped with one another at various points in the week.
I can't remember now what caused them to fall out with one another. But they did. Horribly. Three in particular took against the fourth, while the fifth lady decided she would have nothing to do with the whole silly situation.
Matters came to a head one Summer afternoon, when the two ladies who were working that day gave me an ultimatum. Either I fired the lady they had taken against, or they would walk and leave me running the office on my own.
The argument that ensued became, bitter, shrill and unpleasant. And that was just me. The ladies were not to be assuaged. Their position appeared to me to be unreasonable, devoid of logic, based upon no evidence whatsoever and driven by prejudice.
Unable to get through to them with my clearly reasoned, lucid and entirely reasonable argument, I felt anger bubble up inside of me. How dare they behave like this. How dare they present me with a situation that I was unable to control. How dare they force me to have a conversation for which I was unskilled, unprepared and unwilling.
I decided it was best to leave. In those days I wasn't so sure I was gay. I think the strop I subsequently threw probably told those watching all they needed to know.
"I've F*ing had enough!" I shouted and stormed out of the office. Some might say it was more of a flounce than a storm. I prefer to hold on to the memory of it being a storm.
Anyway, I found myself out on the pavement in the High Street, fully intending to get in my car and drive away in a welter of squealing tyres and steaming brakes.
Except my keys were still in the office. On my desk. Now what to do? I could storm off down the road. But to where? There weren't that many shops to go to, no cafe I could go and sulk in. I was far too shy to walk into one of the numerous pubs dotted along the town's main street.
I decided the best option was to heighten the tension by returning to the office.
Storming back in again. The ladies stopped their very obvious post-mortem conversation to watch as I stalked across the office.
"You made me so cross I forgot my keys!" Was the best I could manage.
Picking them up from the desk, I stormed back to my car. Started it. Released the clutch. Stalled. Started it again. Drove away far more sedately than I would have liked.
So, you see, I'm not that good at throwing a jolly good strop.
It's only really happened once with the children. Not long ago actually.
We're back at that point in the morning when I am trying to get them calmly out of the door to school and play school in an orderly manner.
This particular morning had been less than orderly. Less than calm one.
So, when our seven year old son declared, loudly, that he was unable to fit into his shoes. That they were too small. That I was a bad parent for failing to notice his feet had outgrown his shoes. This did little to decrease my blood pressure.
Now, I should explain, our son has form for this. He's a typical boy. The conversation we have every time he puts on a pair of shoes involves me berating him for pushing down the heel of the shoe, not pulling up the lip, not undoing the laces before he puts them on.
Sometimes I sound so much like my mother. At those moments, my son is me.
Our son had put his feet in the shoes and been unable to get his toes all the way in, not because the shoes were too small. It was because he hadn't bothered to keep the lip on the upper side of his foot. It had bent over and was now inhibiting his putting his foot all the way into the shoe.
Looking more closely, I realised this to be the case.
We were already late.
I wasn't happy.
Indeed, so unhappy was I that I lost it. "The shoes are not too small! You can't get them on because you haven't bothered to PULL THE LIP OUT!"
I was incensed. I felt the anger bubble up inside me. I tried to count to ten. I got to three.
I began to hop. I began to rant. I picked up the shoes and began to throw them at my son's feet, who danced out of the way as if being shot at by the saloon gunslinger in a spaghetti western.
I stomped up and down for what seemed like a few minutes, but was in fact only a few seconds, delivering an angry, incoherent soliloquy about the iniquity of my son's disdainful treatment of his school shoes.
Eventually I stopped.
There was silence as I stood panting.
Our children stood looking at me. Slightly terrified. Slightly amused. Slightly bemused.
"i'll put my shoes on then," our son said, calmly. Pulling the lip out and putting them on.
"Thank you." I said. "Shall we get in the car?"
"Yes. Let's." Said our son, taking our daughter by the hand and going to get in the car. Now full of dignity. Now secure on the high ground of morality his unusually calm, measured, manner afforded him.
Calmly, silently, we drove to school.
Now all I have to say is 'shoes' to our children and raise my eyebrows. Suddenly they get ready quickly. Very quickly.
Does that work? Yes. Am I proud of it. Umm, honestly, no.
But we do now also look back at the moment Daddy lost it and laugh.