Harriet Walker: 'It was as if they were still in primary school'


Click to follow
The Independent Online

I don't want to sound like someone with a victim complex, but as one (to all intents and purposes) becomes a responsible and respected adult, one hopes to shake off the ways in which one was treated as a child. One hopes that people will be a bit nicer to one, like.

When I look back on my childhood, my main sense is of being pushed around. I was a dithery kid – a bit fey, a bit away with the fairies, a bit "Harry will you put that DOWN, I've been calling you to come and get your tea for 10 MINUTES" – and I spent a lot of time just mooning about and humming to myself. Understandably, this annoyed my peers, who were inclined to jostle me out of the way, push me into bushes and sometimes hit me on the head with non-life-threatening items from around the schoolroom and playground.

But I thought all this had passed. I thought that when people grew up, they stopped being hit on the head. Actually, I was once walking down the street with my sister when a rogue loon turned round and bopped her on the napper with one of his crutches. But this, hilarious as it was, struck us as out of the ordinary.

I have, however, just endured the pushiest, shoviest weekend, which has convinced me that many people out there still behave as they did in primary school.

First off, I went to a wedding fair – not for myself (before you start reading banns and getting excited) but for my friend, whose twinkling eyes contrasted nicely with my bloodshot ones as we wandered around the many thousands of booths offering everything from choral scholars to Moroccan tents. There was even a fancy light-up dancefloor that I was very keen on, but it was deemed frivolous considering we hadn't even found The Dress yet.

As we wandered and wondered at the infinite tut that people getting married seem to need, we became aware also of how incredibly pushy everyone was. My hungover logic was that surely once you get engaged you can stop being pushy, because you've basically won life. But not these ladies: we were pushed as we tried out the photobooth machine (fun, too ubiquitous), pushed as we sampled the champagne bar (pricey, completely necessary during a day out like this), and pushed as we watched the bridal catwalk (naff, almost terrifying when the little girls from The Shining appeared dressed as bridesmaids).

Afterwards, I escaped the crush to meet another friend for her birthday party. After a summer watching box-sets of medieval fantasy series off the telly (it rained a lot), she had settled (fixated) on going to a "medieval banquet" hosted in a basement in London's characterfully corporate Docklands area. To say that we were excited would be an understatement – we were as ravening as the early-modern crowds that gathered at Tyburn for public executions.

As was everyone else, it transpired. How, I ask you, are you supposed to select your medieval garb (costume hire comes with the ticket) when everyone around you is shoving you face-first into a mocked-up tableau of polystyrene armour? By the time I resurfaced, all the fancy hennins had gone; all the lace-front wenchfits had been taken. I was left with a black, crushed-velvet kaftan that looked more Demis Roussos than Anne Boleyn. Again, I was aghast at how the code of conduct seemed to have been lifted straight out of key stage one.

After the banquet (where the food was so authentically salty it made both me and the cut on my thumb weep on contact) I went to a house party. Here, at least, I was convinced the pushing would end. After all, what happens at house parties but awkward standing around in the kitchen (the hard phase), followed by some late-night settling on to the sofas (the soft phase)?

But as I walked through the door, I was pushed out of the way by someone rushing to the loo to be sick. This much was fair enough, I thought – I'd push people in order to ensure I wasn't sick on or in front of them. It's a push with real community spirit. But as I crossed the dancefloor (the area of sitting-room more usually occupied by a coffee table), a girl actually pushed me out of her way by pressing her hand into my face. I'll say it again: someone pushed me in the face. Is this sort of behaviour really deemed acceptable these days?

So I retaliated by doing what I used to do at school when people trampled on me or knocked me down the stairs. I did what I did when Anthony Parker stole my can of Silly String and sprayed it all out in a big wet foamy lump on the pavement at my feet. I told everyone I could see and everyone I met for the rest of the night.

It wasn't particularly satisfying revenge as such, but at least I didn't push her back.