About seventeen years ago I was standing on the 15th tee of a local golf course when a man (apparently out for a stroll) ambled onto the course. The 15th fairway, to be specific. He appeared to be in a world of his own, quite possibly unaware that he was (a) on a golf course (b) putting himself in danger and (c) making me rather unhappy. My three playing partners, all a good few years older than I, shrugged their shoulders and waited for him to get out of the way. I didn’t. I marched down the fairway and hurled a few expletives in his direction. He returned my compliments in a similar manner. The whole incident was a little unsavoury. My older and wiser friends said nothing much about it, but there was no mistaking the chill wind of their collective disapproval. No doubt they put it down to youthful exuberance; they were in their forties, I was in my twenties. I was young. I would learn.
I recount this story because, quite frankly, I’m not sure that I have learnt at all. I am now in my forties and, were a similar incident to occur today, I’m pretty sure I’d do exactly the same thing, though perhaps the number of expletives would be slightly reduced. It’s all due to “rage”, and you either have it, or you don’t. I have it, but only in certain situations. I’m sure that everyone else who has it would say the same, that certain things will trigger the most disproportionate, irrational, almost psychotic reaction whilst other things, though quite possibly more serious in the great scheme of things, will not.
A punch in the face outside a nightclub is never welcome, but as far as I can recall my reaction has usually been surprise, bewilderment, a degree of anger (of course), but never a desire to hunt-down not only the perpetrator but also his family and anyone else in the “Contacts” section of his mobile phone. A falling-out with a female companion has typically been accompanied by a reaction along the same lines as being punched, with the additional feeling that it was almost certainly my fault (and it usually was). Random acts by others, of nastiness, stupidity or bovine thuggery do not necessarily qualify for the level of anger I felt that day on the golf course, or that I feel when the “HP Deskjet 7023” printer (or whatever it’s called) decides, for no apparent reason, to not print anything that day. Not even Baroness Warsi opening her mouth (she’s a woman and a Muslim, in case you’re one of the seven people on the planet who didn’t know) causes the same level of rage that I feel when the Wetherspoons barman/woman utters the immortal phrase “Who’s next”? as if the forty-three people who have been queuing for the previous twenty minutes are all perfect models of altruism. The kids who threw stones at me in the street a few months ago, for no reason, did spark a flash of anger in me, but that subsided quite quickly after I cornered them in a pub car-park and they apologised. They didn’t have me rushing home for a carving knife from the kitchen drawer, which is what happened a few years ago following a nasty incident with some teenagers and their supply of crab-apples. Mercifully, for them and me, the red mist lifted just in time.
Not all of us have this “rage” though, do we? I know plenty of people, many of whom I’ve known for years, who don’t appear to have it. They get angry, of course they do, but it’s a rational and controlled level of anger. They get angry about things that they are supposed to get angry about. There’s nothing wrong with that. The idea that “he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue” (the famous line from “The Untouchables”) is alien to them. To me it makes perfect sense, but I stress again; only in certain circumstances.
I would bet large amounts of money that they have never punched walls until their knuckles bled, simply because the instructions accompanying a piece of flat-pack furniture may as well have been written in Mandarin or Serbo-Croat. When one of them was burgled and the culprit’s identity established, it wasn’t the victim who suggested an elaborate kidnap plan involving a transit van, some deserted marshland and a pair of garden shears. That was me. Those of them that play golf (that’s the second time I’ve mentioned the game that Alistair Cooke called the “Marvellous Mania” – perhaps he was onto something!) would not consider that hitting a golf ball into a lake could lead them to scrabbling through their golf bags for balls made by the same manufacturer as the one that just got wet, and then throwing those balls into the same lake, leaving untouched all the balls made by other manufacturers. That was me too. These are not actions prompted by run-of-the-mill “anger”. It goes deep into blind irrationality, an overwhelming anger accompanied on occasions by a buzzing in the ears. It doesn’t take over my life because it’s a rare event. Weeks can pass without an “episode”. But when it does, it’s not nice.
So that’s that. If you are the man whose dog left a huge pile of something unpleasant outside my house yesterday morning, you can breathe easily. The “rage” has passed. You are out of danger. I won’t be following you home to find out where you live. And all the other plans I had for you have been dismissed from my mind too. Rationality has won this battle, and we should both be pleased to know that.
Until next time, my doggy-loving friend.