Neither of these learning experiences tend to be fun, I find. I’ve written here previously about the misogyny endemic in Irish society, and how so many chauvinists still get away with unacceptable behaviour. And then I got a little lesson from life.
Driving a small vehicle along an extremely narrow and very winding country road one summer’s morning, I went slowly, hugging the ditch and sounding the horn as I approached bad corners.
Out of nowhere, a huge lorry came thundering around a bend. Unlike me, creeping along, staying into the left and beeping at bends, the truck simply roared around the corner, taking up most of the road, and then slammed on the brakes as it tried to pass, grinding to a screeching halt next to me and leaving the breadth of a small-finger between the two vehicles. It was so tight neither of us could open our door.
When he realised that hanging out his window and furiously shouting and gesticulating failed to achieve his desired result – that I would basically just get the hell out of his way – the truck driver somehow wriggled out of the cab, inched along the side of his truck and yelled in my open window at me. When this failed to galvanise me, he sprang to the ground in front of my car and roared a string of orders at me; how to turn my wheels and the steering wheel.
Next he spotted some scratches on the front bumper which had been caused a few days earlier by another member of the family reversing the car out of a tight space and scraping against a low wall. Once he saw them, he was free to inform me what a lousy driver I was, how I didn’t know anything about driving and the proof was in all those scratches there on my front bumper. He gesticulated to the cars queuing up behind him. Nobody intervened or tried to help as the driver, continued to side-step any suggestion that he himself could try to navigate his way out of the impasse he had created.
Eventually, I told him that I wasn’t the problem here. I asked if this was the way he had treated all women, whether he thought this was an appropriate way to behave to another adult. I added that, FYI, someone else had scratched my car and if he didn’t cop himself on I’d call the gardaí, though as we both knew, we were a long way away from a Garda station.
Eventually, between us, both vehicles moving inch by inch, we escaped from each other.
As I passed the indifferent faces looking out the windows of the waiting cars, which now had started to honk their horns, I thought, thanks a lot. Isn’t this God’s own country in which to be female?
Today, I carry an urgent message from Cork city’s elderly people to the management of our wonderful and very well-run shopping centres.
Now that the government is starting to open things up and restrictions are easing, would shopping centres please re-install a few benches in and around their premises?
Ideally, seating should be provided outdoor and indoor, so that people, particularly elderly people walking on walkers or sticks, can take a breather on their way into the centre from the main car parks.
Meanwhile, a generous scattering of benches and chairs around the indoor walkways outside the main retail outlets would also be very much appreciated.
It’s a problem that my mother-in-law and her friends, now all in their late 70s and early 80s, are encountering. They’re being encouraged to get out and about again by Dr Tony Holohan, but as they’re discovering – and one Echo reader in her early 80s wrote to me to emphasise this - when they venture into the shopping centres “there isn’t a bench or a chair in sight”.
The writer, who shall be known as Betty, says she’d love to visit her favourite shopping centres – she mentions Douglas Court - but reveals that she finds it’s a long way now from the centre entrance to her favourite part, with “the lovely shops at the back.”
“A friend of mine went to Wilton the other day and couldn’t stay because there was not a seat in sight. People were standing at tables drinking coffee. Crazy.
“They’ll all wear masks and they will be careful, she pledges, but she urges shopping centres all over Cork to please provide a few seats and benches.
Another point of course, being, although Betty is far too polite and self-effacing to mention it – these elderly people are shoppers with time and money and it might be a good idea to start making the environment a bit more comfortable for them to browse.Wouldn’t you think?