So this afternoon I'm sat on the sofa in the front room engaging in my very own sacred sabbath ritual - watching low-quality television and eating cheese on toast - when a big old people carrier pulls up in the parking space outside my house. Out of the front gets a boy of about twelve or thirteen and he walks over to the edge of the pavement, less than a metre from where I'm sat, and spits on the edge of the pavement. Now bear in mind the curtains are open, the TV is flickering, he can clearly see me, I have a really close-up view on the action, I'm a bit disgusted by it.
There are a lot of kids who hang about in my street and I'm pretty used to shoeing them off climbing on my fence, playing knock-down ginger (ringing doorbells and running away), hassling cats and fighting with each other. So I fling open the front door and shout "Oi! Don't spit in the street! That's disgusting!", to which he replies "I'm fasting, I'm not allowed to swallow anything".
"I don't care, carry a bag with you and spit in that if you must, don't spit in the street"
Then his Dad gets out of the car and shouts at me, "It's not your street, he didn't spit in your garden"
"It's everybody's street, no-one wants to walk in his spit"
"Exactly it's everybody's street, he can do what he likes"
At this point I thought about asking for his address so I could go and defecate in the end of his driveway, but I thought better of it and was about to try to explain something about communal responsibility when a total stranger to the whole situation came across the street to join in, announcing "Yeah exactly, it's everybody's street, spit where you like mate."
By this stage Mum and, ten to eleven year-old, sister, both dressed in full headscarves and floor-length robes, heads bowed, had climbed out of the back of the car. Everybody headed off in their separate directions and I went back indoors feeling a bit like I'd become the new Mary Whitehouse of the anti-gobbing-in-the-street movement.
And the thing is, it's still bugging me. For a number of reasons:
1) Normally the kids I see being a nuisance in the street know they're doing something wrong. Usually when I stick my head out the door they apologise and skulk off, or at very least look guilty and run away. This kid actually believed he was being "righteous" spitting in the street. He had his Dad backing him up, encouraging him to behave that way.
2) Is it really fair to insist that your young teenage children fast, just when they're really growing? Is that a healthy thing for a boy around puberty to do? While we're on the subject is it fair to insist that your daughter and wife sit in the back seat, dress like ghosts and don't speak in public?
3) Is it safe to drive a car when you haven't eaten anything, nor even drunk so much as a sip of water since sunrise? Which affects your concentration more - two pints of lager or ten hours without any food or liquid? It's against the law to drive after two pints of lager.
This brings me back to an old point really. Religious tolerance is often lumped in with tolerance for people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, women, gay people and disabled people. It's not the same. Human beings, all of us, have rights, human rights. One of those rights is not the right to gob on the pavement because your imaginary friend told you to.