We were running a little late for a wedding. At some point that morning we'd lost the huge head start that comes with children that wake up at 5.30am, we'd squandered our time advantage and tempers were frayed.
"Did you charge the SatNav?"
"We don't need the SatNav"
"When was the last time you went there?"
"Five years ago"
"We've moved since then"
"But the church hasn't?"
"Fine, we get lost, you die"
"Fine. Actually we'll take it just in case"
"Right then kiddies, let's get in the car"
"I need my blanket"
"Where is it?"
"I dropped it"
"Down the toilet"
"Right, put your shoes on"
"Can I hold the car key?"
"If you'll put on your shoes"
"Here. Now put your shoes on."
"I can't. I'm holding the car key"
"Fine I'll do it - give me your foot. NO THE OTHER FOOT! WHY MUST YOU ALWAYS GIVE ME THE WRONG FOOT!!"
"Right, everyone is wearing shoes? Let's go! Where's the car key?"
"I've lost it Dad"
"You are still sitting on the same step. How could you possibly have lost it?"
"That was ages ago Dad"
"IT WAS 10 SECONDS AGO!"
Eventually we were all in the car and on our way. The outside world blurred passed us unobserved, the tormenting weather and our collective irritations had steamed up the windows and cocooned us in our own special misery. Nobody spoke, the windscreen wipers tutted away the time like a disapproving grandfather clock, a constant reminder that we were late. My wife used the motorway's inertia to put on make-up, the children played legroom tetris and dozed in the back. About halfway there I realised that I'd left the camera at home but decided not to mention it, it would be a shame not to have it, because we were all looking "wedding" nice, but a much bigger shame to admit I had forgotten it. We'd dressed for the wedding in team colours, my pink tie matched my wife's handbag and my daughters skirt and the trim on my son's blue jumper - little splashes of colour tying us together in a crowd of strangers.
As we got closer to the church we realised that we were still late and were now trusting in the bridal traditions of tardiness. It was going to be close. My wife woke the kids and made preparations to make a run for it, I agreed to park the car, get the parking ticket and follow on behind. Seconds were precious. As she set off for the church with the pushchair, dragging my son by the arm, I realised something, I wound down the window and yelled.
"Wait! I don't have any change for parking!"
She rolled her eyes, took her handbag from her shoulder and threw it through the open car window.
"My purse is in there!" she yelled back and then she charged off.
I parked quickly and started to look for the ticket machine. There was only one and it was on the other side of the carpark. As I started towards it I noticed that another man was also heading for the same machine and although he was approaching from a different angle we would arrive roughly at the same time. Our eyes met. I suddenly knew that he knew what I knew - it was a carpark ticket machine race!
Now usually I don't partake in carpark ticket machine races, I will deliberately saunter so that I am arriving as they are leaving the machine, but today I was late. Today I didn't fancy waiting in the rain holding my wife's handbag whilst somebody fished around for the correct change and tried to remember the numbers on the number plate of a car they have owned for three years.
Today, I would race!
Shit! Every second counted. Now, in situations like this, the rules are that you cannot sprint, you must walk just slightly faster than normal but nothing too obvious. It must appear a fluke of natural pace that you reach the ticket machine first. So I put the pink strap over my shoulder, held it close to my side and (head held high and mustering as much dignity as the situation would allow), I started to walk very quickly. Very quickly indeed. I'm talking borderline 'mincing'
Which is when it happened.
Having seen me increase my speed the other guy ignored acceptable norms and did the unthinkable: he broke into a little jog! Our eyes met again. What manner of man was this? The sheer cheek of it! My nemesis was overturning years of male carpark ticket machine race protocol? I was incensed (and I was late and it was raining), I clutched my handbag a little closer and (may the good lord forgive me) broke into a run.
As a man, sprinting in a busy carpark with a pink handbag is tricky to pull off. For one, someone might shout "stop thief" at any moment (which is a factor worth considering under normal circumstances) but beyond that, there's no getting away from it - it's just plain undignified. It is as far from Chariots of Fire as it is possible to imagine.
As carpark ticket machine races go - it was a thriller. For we were two mavericks, breaking the rules. A battle between two loose cannons who were willing to do whatever it took to get our carpark ticket first - no matter what it cost us in dignity.
I bloody won though.
The thrill of victory lasted about five and a half seconds and we then had to pretend that neither of us were out of breath and that nothing was amiss as we exchanged awkward smiles and I rummaged through my pink handbag looking for change. In fairness, I had the change in my hand but couldn't for the life of me remember the numberplate of the car I've driven everyday for three years. Long awkward seconds passed. The rain fell. I risked an apologetic glance up and met my enemy's eyes, he looked at my handbag and smiled in a way that said "Nice handbag twatface"
I smiled back and nearly said out loud "It's my wife's bag" when I realised that my wife was nowhere in sight and, much worse, THE HANDBAG MATCHED MY FUCKING TIE.
It looked like I was accessorising!
There was no way he'd believe it wasn't mine.
I collected my ticket, thinned my lips, put the strap back over my shoulder and sashayed back to my car.
Feeling less like a loose cannon and more like a loose woman.