All disputes are now a clash of rights in which both sides compete to see who has the greatest claim to the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
I’ve realised this because the other day I took on a road resurfacer who I caught fly-tipping debris and as the ensuing row almost came to blows I contemplated what would happen if the police were called.
In the matter of Kite v. Surrey Tarmacker, I wouldn’t like to call it. On the one hand, I’d have a possible gender equality claim, and a very tenuous shot at a disability complaint based on the fact that I can barely think straight most days on account of my midlife crisis. On the other hand, he might put a very good case together alleging a racial slur pertaining to his right to make a living as generations of his family have done before him, by badly laying then dumping tarmacadam.
It all started as I pulled up at the entrance to the field where my retired horse lives to find a huge heap of sticky black grit and a bucket head for a lorry by the gate.
The bridleway had just been ‘made better’ (they pave paradise as standard nowadays, as you may know) by contractors acting for one of the posh houses next to the field, and the workmen had dumped the leftovers.
A few days later, when I came early morning to see the horse again, I caught them putting scalpings into gaps opening up in the newly laid surface, which was already flooding. When they made to leave, I ran up the path after them shouting, ‘Hey! Stop! You’ve left something! You need to take your rubbish!’
The head man, a big fella, turned round as he got in his lorry and with an astonished look on his face said, ‘You talking to me?’
‘Y-es,’ I said, starting to wonder if this was wise because he was now walking back towards me looking menacing.
‘Are …you …talking …to me?’ He was now starting to frighten me.
‘Well, er, you’re the only one dumping rubbish…’
‘Don’t you talk to me like that!’ he ranted.
‘Well, don’t you illegally Tarmac a bridleway then leave rubbish blocking a field entrance!’ I said. But then he advanced on me doing scary fist clenching.
And that was when I realised I might need the cops, but if they came with their PC hats on they might not be sympathetic. I could complain that as a member of the fair sex I felt intimidated, but I wouldn’t be able to trump a man’s right to dump road surfacing materials according to the traditions of his forefathers.
It would be like the time I had an interview to become a prospective adopter and the smug bureaucrat from Lambeth Council asked me what my ethnic origin was.
‘Er, white?’ I attempted.
‘Just white?’ she said, trying to prompt me to think of something more acceptable. ‘Let me explain,’ she went on. ‘I am British-Asian.’
‘Yes. I get that,’ I said. ‘But I am British-British.’
Then I had a brainwave. ‘Unless you mean …my grandfather was Italian.’ ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Better.’
The important thing, obviously, was to have something, anything else in one’s blood so long as it was not Anglo-Saxon. If I was related to Genghis Khan or Idi Amin it was preferable to being able to trace my ancestry to, say, Mozart.
And so as I lined up against Mr Tarmacadam it was uppermost in my mind that if and when the police were called it was going to be tricky and I wasn’t necessarily going to come out on top as the victim no matter how many sexist insults he hurled at me.
This is all most annoying and one yearns for clarity, a guide entitled ‘Know Your Place In The League Table Of Rights’ so one can check before one has an argument with someone.
Infuriatingly, however, it is impossible to draw up such a guide because the rights agenda is a game of scissor paper stone: in most situations a resurfacer will trump a middle-class woman, but not if she is a lesbian adopter, for example.
The only real certainty is that if you happen to be a transgender gay female British-Asian Tarmacker wanting to adopt as a single person you’d have it pretty much sown up and could say and do what you wanted to anyone in any situation. The law would never apply to you — unless you came before a Sharia panel in Tooting, in which case it might get rough.
Suffice to say, in my own clash of rights, I decided to get back into my Volvo (a vehicle of the imperialist oppressor if ever there was one) and flee. Let’s face it, I’d got nothing.