Here's the scenario. I was dropping-in there for a quick purchase, but I could see at once that I'd probably chosen the wrong day. Apart from it being a Saturday afternoon - guaranteeing that they would be quite busy - they were hosting (as I found out online afterwards) a Wildlife Event, with staff and displays outside, all to do with wildlife photography. You know, long lenses and tripods: that kind of thing. The store and its parking were inside a high fenced compound. Normally, even on a Saturday, the number of parking spaces was adequate. But today spaces were hard to get, and cars were manoeuvring to and fro in a way that suggested impatience and frustration. I didn't appreciate that one of these cars was waiting to get into a certain vacant space, and had mentally reserved it as 'their' space, even though they were presently stuck in a corner a little way off.
What I saw as I drove in through the compound gate was a car waiting off to my left, presumably trying to get into a space in that direction, and a car waiting off to my right, in that corner. It was of course impossible to know what was in any other driver's mind. Before me, an empty space. Aha, thought I. Lucky me. And I drove straight in, not realising that I was committing a grave crime.
Immediately there was a howl of protest, and the driver of the car who believed that the space I was now in was 'his' got out of his car, and gave me a piece of his mind. Something about waiting ages for the space to become free. Something also about drivers (did he specifically intend to say 'women drivers'?) who barged in and jumped the queue. Didn't I see him pointing and gesticulating? Then he stalked back to his own car, complaining to a Park Cameras staff member as he did so. His whole attitude was petulant.
For goodness sake!
Well, one of us had to do the adult thing. I walked over to his car and spoke to him through his open window. 'Look,' I said to him, 'If that was really your space, then you can have it. I'll back out, and then you can drive in.' To which I got a muttered and indistinct reply, made with an angry tossing head, that I took to mean, basically: 'That's nice of you. I'm sorry that I was so rude. Good luck in finding somewhere else to park!' But I'm afraid he clearly wasn't minded to be polite and urbane.
Actually I did not care very much where I parked - I could easily park in the road outside. In fact that seemed rather a good idea, if the compound was full of short-fused and aggressive male drivers.
Perhaps it looked as if I was making a humiliating climbdown. But it didn't feel at all like that. I felt that I was defusing a situation, doing a sensible thing that would cool the man down. And not disadvantage me very much, if at all. He clearly had a problem with parking spaces. It wasn't going to become my problem too.
So I did what I promised, and when I returned from where I had left Fiona - just a little up the road - the man was (thankfully) out of sight. He hadn't waited around to give me further verbals. Relieved, I went in, now looking only to buy what I'd come for, and then escape before I encountered more men with fragile egos.
I was after a new battery for my Panasonic LX100 camera. If you read my recent post on slipping over on rocks while on holiday, then you'll recall that when I crashed the camera into a rock ledge, the battery flew out and ended up totally immersed in a salt-water pool. I had no great hopes that it would survive getting so wet, but surprisingly, once dried off, it did power up the camera. During the following week, the camera would occasionally stall when switched on - but I put that down to the general shake-up it had endured, and did not think it might be the battery.
But when the battery's power ran down to nothing, and the time came for a recharge, it wouldn't. It had died, and was fit only for the bin.
Hmm, that was a shame! The replacement would cost a princely £59.99. I could buy it online, but decided instead to go personally to Park Cameras and pick it up there for the same price. That's why I was there.
Well, I looked around for someone to serve me. Some hope! The place was seething with men wanting service ahead of me. And only men. There were a couple of girls in Manfrotto uniforms, demonstrating that firm's latest tripods, but otherwise it was a sea of serious and preoccupied men, all focussed on Photographic Equipment. I won't say the atmosphere was heavy with testosterone, but it was distinctly masculine - cold and competitive, possibly even short-tempered. Full of unwelcoming vibes. All rather off-putting. PC World, another mainly-male haunt, had not felt like this! They might as well have had a notice on these lines at the entrance:
MEN ONLY - WOMEN WILL BE IGNORED
AND SHOULD KEEP OUT!
One middle-aged chappie, dressed in shorts and a floppy camouflage hat, glanced up at me from the backpack he was trying to stuff something into, presumably a photo gadget to shoot mating pterodactyls with. He looked at me as if I had wandered by mistake into a men's loo. The look said: 'This is a photo store. What are you doing here? This isn't your kind of shop. Go away.' I ignored him, but continued to feel very much out of place. And it soon became obvious that unless I hung around for half an hour - at least that - I would not get served.
This is why Internet shopping is sometimes the very best option. It's not just about price: it cuts out the hassle at the store.
Back home, I ordered the battery I needed online, as I should have done in the first place. There was the rigmarole of 'registering' with Park Cameras, but otherwise the purchase went smoothly and I can expect the thing to pop through my front door sometime in the days ahead. There's no immediate urgency, and so I didn't pay for 'express delivery'. My spare battery - which didn't go for a swim - is powering my camera at the moment.
I've noticed before how places which attract mainly men push at you a certain feeling of tension, and are dark and unwelcoming to women. I'm not saying they are unsafe, or that the staff are unwilling to serve a woman wishing to make a cash purchase. But any women who enter such places must expect condescension and no favours whatever. They are outsiders there, and may not get taken seriously. I have been buying stuff from Park Cameras for the last sixteen years, and while I have been happy with my purchases, I have always found the atmosphere lacking in warmth. I can't quite pin it down, but some of the staff seem to think a lady customer on her own is potentially a difficult customer, and now and then the other customers can be a bit 'Hey, it's me next, not you!' Mind you, it's a lottery who will next get served if the store is busy, and it must often happen that little injustices occur. If that gets to anyone, then he (normally it is 'he') will of course seethe.
So I suppose, knowing the store, I was not so very surprised to be given some peeved language when I slid deftly and nonchalantly into that man's parking space. 'His' space, indeed! There is of course no such thing. All customers are equal. Surely it's first come, first served, and if a person messes around and someone else gets in before him, then that's no more than a missed opportunity, the luck (or bad luck) of the game. Especially when the 'usurper' or 'thief' does it in all innocence. But human nature is not like that, or at least the nature of men who hate being thwarted is not like that.
Let's be charitable: perhaps this was for him the last straw in a badly frustrating week.
Or let's not be charitable at all. Let me wish him dead batteries when he gets a clear, close-up view of the Loch Ness Monster in all its splendour, and is otherwise ready to get the pictures of a lifetime.