(Not) In my back yard

It’s a sunny afternoon near the end of the holidays. My son and I are in the back garden and perhaps there’s a slight feeling of melancholia carried in the warm summer breeze, a regret over how fast the time passes. I probably feel it more than he does.

I’m doing something with the old lawnmower pretending not to hear him complaining about the bird poo on the seat of his blue swing. I’ve just nipped into the house to connect a plug when my son’s urgent shout brings me running back out.

‘Daddy! Daddy! Someone’s parked their car in our house!’

It takes me a few seconds to catch his meaning. He leads me to our back gate, I open the creaking wooden structure and there it is, a muddy black car parked directly across the end of our driveway, blocking access to the rear yard.

We look about for a few minutes, thinking possibly that someone is visiting us or delivering a package to our house. But nobody can be found and the conclusion is clear. The driver has blocked our gate while he or she has gone to carry out whatever their business is in our estate.

We walk around the car. I take a few photos. My son is snapping at my heels, buzzing agitatedly.

‘Daddy, they can’t park there! This is our house! Call the police!’

I’ve seen my share of residential parking disputes over the years. I had a neighbour once who, if anyone dared to park on the pavement in front of his terraced house, would emerge and roar about how long he had lived on this street and how he had earned the right to park outside his own fucking house.

I had other neighbours who, if they determined that a car had parked too close to their front door, would surround that car front and back with their own two vehicles in a pincer movement, making it close to impossible for the offending driver to drive away. It was a crude way of making a point.

I know anecdotally from family members of another man who has put nails under the tyres of cars that parked on the footpath at the end of his garden. I’m aware of another person who leaves sarcastic notes on the windscreens of cars which park anywhere near the end of her driveway.

I’ve always tried not to get involved, determined, as ever, to see both sides of the argument. After all, I have reasoned, the planet is heading for climate change apocalypse and politics has become debased and shockingly toxic, so it makes no sense to get heated over something as trivial as inconsiderate parking. That’s what I tell myself.

But now here I am, feeling my mood darken because a car has blocked my driveway. I argue internally that this is different, this car is actually on my land, blocking an entrance route. I’ve every right to bristle at the trespass. I tell myself that I’d love to give the driver a stern lecture and a poisonous glare, if only I wasn’t so profoundly petrified at the prospect of human confrontation.

And then something occurs to me. My son is angry, more angry than I am. He’s six-years-old. I know what’s happening here. He’s aping my behaviour, doing what he thinks I’ll do, and what he thinks I want him to do. But he’s six-years old and I don’t want him or me to be annoyed on this sunny afternoon, even if my instinct is telling me that I’ve every right to be.

So I sit on the swing with the bird poo and I ask him why he’s angry. He tells me it’s because the car has parked on our land, on the stones that distinguish our plot from the road outside.

Which is true. But it’s also true that I never use the back gate for access. The car, while parked inconsiderately, is causing us no material harm and perhaps it’s not worth getting steamed about.

I try to explain this to my son, telling him that we’ve no way of knowing why that car has parked there, perhaps the driver had an emergency, perhaps he did not recognise it as a entrance point. Or perhaps, I suggest, he or she did it deliberately and always make a point of parking in the most antagonistic fashion they can manage. We have no way of controlling the behaviour of others, just of ourselves. My son looks confusedly at me before he runs off to play another game.

I’ve got a news alert on my phone. It’s from the BBC and tells me that swathes of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil are burning at record rates. I put the phone back in my pocket.

It’s about an hour later when I finally get round to mowing the lawn. My son is now playing indoors and I’m clearing toys off the grass. I’ve left the back gate open, perhaps as a way of making a point.

Then I hear the crunch of footprints on stones nearby. A car door opens and an engine reluctantly growls into life.

I stand tall and, just for a moment, consider that I should go and talk to the driver. Maybe we’d have a good yarn about it, maybe he or she would apologise, I’d say it’s fine and we’d have a shared laugh at the misunderstanding. Maybe the driver would get defensive and annoyed and some relationship would be poisoned, but at least I’d have made my point.

But, as I said earlier, I’m a coward by instinct. I return to my mower and watch the car drive away in the cracks between the slats of my old garden fence. There are more clouds in the sky now than earlier and I feel the breeze on my bare forearms and see it play with the leaves at the end of the thin branches at the far side of the garden. I notice that there are blackberries on the thorny bushes, the first I’ve seen this year, a sign that summer is on the wane. I get on with cutting the grass.

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