Whether it's biological coding, learned behaviour, or just simply fate, they say we are destined to become our parents. Yes, those irritating gits that wouldn't let us do what we wanted when we were teenagers, who always had a negative opinion of what we wore, said, watched or did - we will become them.
As youngsters, we said, "I'm never going to behave like my parents. I'm going to learn from their mistakes and be a better person for it."
Sadly, time makes fools of us all.
Something happened last week that made me realise my metamorphosis into my father has nearly concluded.
When I was in my teens, my father would sometimes be a little embarrassing when out in public. If he was in a shop waiting to be served and the assistant behind the till was chatting to their friend rather than doing their job, he'd say "Are you going to serve me or talk to your bloody mate?" If they dared to back-chat him, he'd slam the item on the counter and bellow, "Stuff it up your arse!", before walking out empty-handed. I like to think I've inherited his charm.
Often, he would then be forced to return home without the item that he wanted. To him, however, this was a victory. I believe the phrase is 'cutting off your nose to spite your face' and my father is an expert at it.
Back then, I was terribly embarrassed by his behaviour, completely failing to understand why he had to be such a grumpy old sod to everyone.
However, when I reached my twenties I suddenly found that when encountering poor service at a shop, restaurant or pub, my father's words would drift, unbidden, into my mind. Of course, I wouldn't actually say them out loud because that would be terribly rude, but they were there echoing around inside my cranium, straining to get out like hot, urgent flatulence during an important business meeting.
I'm now in my mid-thirties and have pretty much become my father, without the nose-cutting-off part of the equation.
Last week, I went into a pub to meet a friend. The pub (The Slug and Lettuce in Southend, if you're interested) is big and expensive-looking. It is also, on the whole, pretty empty for much of the week. This particular day, I wandered in and there were only about 8 people in the entire place, gazing listlessly at their pint glasses, or squinting at the tarnished coins in their hands wondering if they could afford another half of Fosters, desperately trying to delay the inevitable walk home to their depressing, nicotine-stained bedsit, full of scratched furniture, scuffed skirting-boards and stained bed linen.
Walking up to the bar, I perused the impressive selection of fine ales. Well, I say 'selection', a more accurate description would be "2". They had Bombardier or their special ale of the week, the name of which escapes me. This special ale apparently had a subtle flavour of chocolate and orange, making it a rather Christmassy affair. Intrigued, I smiled and engaged the stony-faced barman in pleasant conversation:
Me: Good afternoon.
Me: This chocolate orange beer, is it a bitter or a stout?
Manager: (from further down the bar) No, it's a bitter.
Me: Oh, a bitter. Good. What's it like?
Me: It looks intriguing. Can I have a little taste of it?
Him: No, we don't do that.
Now, at this juncture I should point out that British pub etiquette suggest, nay demands, that if a customer asks about an unusual beer, the barkeep will (normally without being asked) pour half an inch of it into a glass for you so that you can sample it. It's a given. It occurs in every pub I've ever been to.
But no, not the Slug and Lettuce. In this pub, if you ask to try a beer, they'll look at you like you've just burst into their home on Christmas day, genitals extruding grotesquely from your trouser fly, and belched loudly into the face of their grandmother, all whilst tracking fresh dog shit across their cream carpets.
The barman was clearly an utter cock and completely failed to understand that I'm the customer and, as such, am always right.
As an aside, I should point out that I worked in a pub myself at one time. My philosophical approach to this was as follows: I'm being paid to provide a service. If the customer is slurring, can't make their mind up or is generally being a dick, then that's their right - I will not roll my eyes or sigh deeply. If the customer wants to talk to me about something or tell me a long-winded, deeply unfunny joke then as long as nobody's waiting to be served, I'll stand there while they do so. Most importantly of all, even if I was in a really bad mood, I would always smile when they approached the bar, always call them Sir or Madam, always say 'please' and 'thank you'.
The thing I was not there to do was read the newspaper disinterestedly at the end of the bar, sighing gloomily each time a customer wanted a drink, aggravated that they'd disturbed this special 'me time'.
They are the rules of the game. If you think you'll be unable to treat your customers in an appropriate manner, then I suggest you fuck off and let somebody else do the job.
This particular barman clearly viewed my presence there as an inconvenience to him. I started to lose my cool somewhat.
Me: You "don't do that?"
Me: Seriously? Every other pub does it.
Me: Forget it then. Pint of Bombardier.
Him: (Silence whilst pouring the pint)
Me: I'm quite surprised actually. Every other pub in the known world will give you a taster of a beer if you ask for it.
Me: It makes sense really. The customer may take a shine to that particular beer and decide to come back again later that week whereas, ordinarily, he might not have bothered.
Me: Speculate to accumulate, and all that.
Him: Two pounds ten.
I handed him my money and flounced off to a table to occupy the moral high-ground of righteous indignation.
A couple of years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of behaving like that. I would have just looked puzzled and ordered something else, averting my gaze and inwardly shaking my head sadly. But now, as middle age approaches, I'm changing. This is most obvious in the way I hold doors...
Now, I always hold doors for people. It's not a sexist thing, I don't think that women need to have the big heavy door wrenched open and held so that they can totter their fragile bodies through without fear of breaking a bone or dropping their shiny handbag - I'll hold a door for anyone, young, old, male, female, you name it. It's called manners.
However, when I'm standing there in the rain, arm outstretched so you can walk through without 8 feet of plate glass slamming into your skull, I do expect something in return - recognition. You don't have to suddenly drop to your knees and take me eagerly in your wet mouth, just a simple "thanks" or nod of the head will suffice. Even a smile, for fucks sake, would be something. But the sheer number of people who will breeze straight through without even a glance is utterly bewildering to me.
I've even had some people look at me with suspicion as they've walked through! This, of course, causes me to instantly fill with an incandescent rage so powerful that I worry a vein in my temple will burst, showering innocent passersby with jets of blood.
Why in the name of Jesus suffering Christ would you look at me suspiciously for holding a door open? I'm not expecting you to lend me one of your children for a romantic evening of The Little Mermaid and 'special hugs'. It's called common courtesy, you steaming bag of shit.
Now, in the manner of my father, I've taken to saying "You're welcome!" in an overly jolly manner to any scum-fuck that won't engage in civility. Even better, I sometimes say "Don't mention it!" in a jaunty bellow. This pleases me enormously because, you know, it's like ironic and shit?
How the hell has the world changed so much in just a few short years? Customer service, politeness, manners - they've all gone to hell and it irritates me enormously.
And do you know what the worst part is? I'm actually looking forward to the final leg of my journey, when my transformation into Rablenkov Senior is complete; when I can tell people to stick things up their arses in shops; when I can swear at complete strangers because they've had the audacity to ignore my courteous behaviour. I long for these things.
One day I will, obviously, say something to the wrong person and end up being beaten to death by a man with arms like ham hocks and thick, muscular hands adorned with sovereign rings, but by God it'll be worth it. As the blows rain down upon my cowering head, brain-pan rattling like a charity collector's tin, I will at least know I was absolutely justified in calling his wife a cum-whore for failing to say thank you.
I'd be happy to go like that.