What makes people English
I was walking towards the rugby clubhouse along a narrow paved path which ran through a perpetually sodden, at least in winter, area of our grounds. The only time it wasn’t soaked was when it was frozen.
Coming towards me, presumably headed for the car park, was a chap I didn’t know, probably from the away team that had just narrowly beaten us. He could see the mud as the path was well lit, but he was looking down at the paving, concerned, no doubt, about slipping.
The path was wide enough for just one person. We were headed towards a difficult situation. However, I felt no fear.
As the distance between us narrowed the chap looked up briefly and then, a couple of seconds later, he took a step to his right into the mud. However, at precisely the same moment I took stepped to my right.
There was no signal, although I realised that we must have fallen in step otherwise the movement could not have been in unison.
We passed one another, he walking in the mud his side of the path and me walking in my particular mud. We got eye contact and we both said good evening. When I was just a pace past him I stepped onto the path and so did he.
What was spooky was that it didn’t feel spooky. It felt natural, to the extent that I probably would not have mentioned it had not a group of three friends of mine, who had been watching the little dance from the clubhouse, congratulate me on being stupid while I was brushing the mud from my trainers.
A little miffed, probably brought on by the unfortunate loss against a side that wasn’t very good so we should have beaten them, I asked the three what they would have done in similar circumstances. Two admitted they too would have stepped into the mud. The third, was a little less firm in his opinion. He asked us all:
“What would you have done if the other chap had stayed on the path?”
Replies varied between giving him a severe look, but only once he’d passed, to fiercely ignoring him. A long conversation ensued where the fact that I am deaf in one ear and have problems understanding conversation when two people are talking – it being just as well I wasn’t a woman according to my wife, but hopefully not only for reasons of general chit chat – meant I had difficulty keeping up.
I asked them if they would mind talking individually and then all three said “Of course not” in unison. It was a lot funnier when you were there of course.
I said: “It’s a bit cruel. I mean, would you take the [mickey] out of a blind club member?”
The senior chap in the group replied: “No we wouldn’t. But I might trip him up if he hadn’t paid for his round.” Without smiles the other two nodded.
I seemed to me to be a very English situation. I couldn’t imagine any other nationality where the choreography of the dance I’d had with a stranger would have been so precise, nor the conversation. It seemed the epitome of Englishness, and perhaps Britishness, given that I’m half Irish and one of the three is Welsh.
We wondered what made me behave that way? I’ve never been told to do it, I’d not seen my father, or anyone else I admired, do something similar, and I feel fairly confident the stranger hadn’t either. I doubt he even knew my father.
It was considered to be a considerate act from both of us. If he’d stepped to one side earlier then if I’d then stepped to the other side it would have looked churlish and a rejection of his generosity. I would have had to continue along the path, keeping my shoes dry. It would have put me under some form of obligations to him.
Then the question came as to what I would have done if someone considerably younger than me had been been the other person. We agreed that if it had been one of our players, with the possible exception of the second row who’d had a good game, then we’d have pushed them into the mud for not playing well. Other than that it got me confused. And the others and they were unable to say.
We were British so we just hoped we would not be placed in such a difficult situation.