Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Stalker Report

The other week, leaving the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre, I fell victim to a stalker.
I had successfully negotiated the ramp outside the green door entrance, my uncooperative trolley barely missing an optimistically parked Starlet, and was proceeding along the roadway in search of my car. Only on very rare occasions, do I make a conscious note of where I left the damned thing, although I usually have a vague notion of the general area.
This instance was no exception. I trundled merrily up a lane, turned the corner and trundled merrily back down the adjacent one. This can be quite a pleasant leisure activity, but only in fine weather, and not when your block of raspberry ripple is leaving a pink trail behind you.
It was only when I turned the second corner that I became aware of her. Middle-aged, plum-coloured hair, tinted glasses, behind the wheel of a silver Rover. As I began ascending the third lane, she purred contentedly along behind me.
Thinking that perhaps I was blocking her progress – although there was enough space to drive the proverbial bus up the lane – I moved over as far as my recalcitrant trolley would safely permit. But she did not pass. She kept coming effortlessly and slowly behind me, as though being towed by my trolley on a big invisible string.
Her actions puzzled me somewhat. Anyone who knows me understands that I don’t come from the same gene pool as Brad Pitt or David Beckham, so it was quite unlikely that her interest in me was physical. Yet I had definitely acquired a shadow.
It was only when I stumbled across my giggling Almera at the top of the lane that the mystery was solved. As I fumbled desperately for my keys, in every pocket but the right one, my beetroot-topped admirer leaned out of her window and enquired hopefully if I was leaving.
It occurred to me then, with but a small pang of disappointment, that the object of her craving was not my imperfectly-formed and slightly overweight body, but my car parking space. Less desirable than sixty square feet of tarmacadam, I nodded and proceeded, in a fit of pique, to load my boot as slowly as I possibly dared, without arousing her suspicions that I was tarrying deliberately. Then I made a big show of scanning the horizon for a trolley bank, in the manner of a matelot on the Santa Maria watching for the end of the world.
All in all, I must have procrastinated approximately five minutes, before she was able to zip into the newly vacated space. It must have been very important to her. As I watched in my rear-view mirror, I idly wondered if I ought to have haggled with her, perhaps recouping some of the money I had just handed over to the sullen girl at the checkout.
Driving home, I pondered the little scenario that had just taken place. The green carpark in Blanchardstown is always full by eleven o’clock on a Saturday morning. The only way to get a space in there after that time is to trawl up and down the aisles, hoping to hit upon a departing vehicle. This is a popular sport for many shoppers. Every lane normally has one car lying in wait, staking its claim, like a fox outside a rabbit hole. In the meantime, the rest circle and prowl menacingly, eyes darting hither and thither, ready to spring into action at the merest hint of a departure. The directional arrows, painted so beautifully on the tarmac, achieve perfect meaninglessness when confronted with the possibility of a parking space.
A spokesman for Sony, the Playstation people, has denied that Laura Croft’s next mission is to park her Vectra in the green car park at two o’clock on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas. He claimed that the premise for such a game would be “too far-fetched.”
The irony of the situation is that there are plenty of other carparking spaces in the centre. The blue carpark never gets full, the red carpark normally has spaces, except at Christmas, and the overflow, outlying carparks revel in a surfeit of vacant rectangles.
So why the urgency to get a space in the green car park? Why spend a quarter of an hour on high alert, circling frustratedly, when one can park with comfort and walk the extra distance in a quarter of the time? (Naturally, I am excusing those people for whom walking small distances is a hardship – the old, the infirm, mothers with defiant toddlers etc.)
The answer is depressingly obvious. This is the era of the dishwasher generation, for whom preparing fresh vegetables is a lost art and who haven’t actually written a letter since the computer was installed. The generation who use their feet for clutch, accelerator and brake, and who cover their garden in bark to cut down on the weeding. The generation that saves time by having a shower rather than a bath, and then uses the time saved watching “Pop Idols.”
It isn’t an age thing. Much as we may sneer at the younger generation for their laziness and lack of values, modern technology has made us soft too. Those of us who grew up carrying our shopping on and off buses are now unable to walk fifty yards from car to shopping centre. We regale our children with tales of our own hardships of yesteryear, but we rarely use shoe polish ourselves nowadays. These present day car-park circlers and stalkers are not fresh-faced youths who have only ever done long division on a calculator – they are the generation who suddenly got everything and have forgotten the meaning of quality, who never walk past the end of their driveway, who don’t listen to birds singing or throw twigs in a stream or help their children with their geography. And yes, though I might be accused of adopting a holier-than-thou attitude, I often put cheese singles on my sandwiches rather than going to the bother of slicing block cheese and doing the washing up is but a distant memory for me. But I don’t think I would ever become a car stalker.
Combatting the car stalkers is an art form in itself. The most common form involves nodding assent when asked if you are leaving, and then shouting out, “Sorry, I’ve changed my mind!” before running sniggering back inside. Pretending you have a bad back is also guaranteed to get beneath the skin of the finger-drumming stalker, particularly if you feel the need to straighten up agonisingly and ostentatiously after transferring each packet of crisps into the boot. “I’m just returning the trolley!” is another good one. Return the trolley and then crouch down behind the nearest car and time how long it takes before their impatience wears thin. Such is the demand for spaces that I often wonder if those of us who arrive and leave early should auction our car parking spaces on departure. It would certainly liven up Saturday mornings, and a small, sturdy gavel would quickly pay for itself.

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