Imagine this. You’re cleaning the car in the street outside your house. It’s probably a Sunday and if you’re anything like me it’s been a long time since you cleaned the car – months at least, perhaps over a year. Maybe it’s the first time you’ve ever cleaned it because you only bought it a while back to replace the Vauxhall Corsa with the shuddery automatic gearbox that you had to get rid of because there was a leak in the petrol tank and it would have cost more than the car was worth to replace.

Anyway, you’re cleaning this car, the newer car. It doesn’t matter what type of car it is, it doesn’t have a shuddery automatic gearbox and there’s no leak in the petrol tank. It’s black, underneath the months of grime. It’s probably a spring day, or at least the first warm day for a while – you’re not going to be out here sloshing the suds around on a cold day. Oh, of course, it’s Sunday. It has to be a Sunday.

So, what with the warm weather and everything you’re feeling pretty good. You’re not doing a terribly good job but you have bought a chamois leather and you feel like you’re giving it a go. You’re perhaps a little possessed by some strange atavistic memory of how people should clean cars – with shampoo, and chamois and wax. Not sure where that comes from but it’s a pleasing feeling. There is also the exotic pleasure of the word chamois smashed up against its English pronunciation, that never gets old.

It’s all going well on this warm Sunday morning, in May. And then... And then a neighbour walks past. Not a neighbour you know the name of or who knows your name. it doesn’t really matter if it’s a man or a woman. Let’s say it’s a woman, just because that’s less of a cliché. Well a bit less. So, this woman walks past who you vaguely recognise but you have never spoken to, will never speak to. She sees you’re cleaning your car – they’re observant in the village/town/city. As she is passing she says “You can do mine, too, if you like.”

Thud. Really?

Is that what you’ve got to say. You’ve been walking up this road and been able to see me for at a minute where you could see me cleaning this black car on this warm Sunday morning in this peaceful/lively/ riotous village/town/city and that’s what you’ve got to say to me? Your first, last and only words to me are that? If I hadn’t been looking (relatively) content you might have tried “cheer up, it might never…” The passive-aggressive verbal equivalent of the snatch and grab.

But imagine this. She walks on by. Perhaps there’s a vague nod of recognition that is perfect and literally appropriate to your acquaintance. If it’s a friendly street, this one, in this place where you love or lived or will live or would like to live then perhaps she says, “Morning”. Not “good morning” because that would be too much, more appropriate for somewhere else, where you probably wouldn’t be cleaning your car in the street. I hope you weren’t imagining somewhere like that. Or just perhaps she says nothing.

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