It was a perfectly ordinary trip to Tesco for my husband and me. It was a pleasant enough day outside. Parking was easy. The shop wasn't busy. It certainly wasn't an intrinsically stressful environment for shoppers.
But as we chatted idly about what we needed to buy and who would search for the croutons, and what we'd have for lunch, I became aware of a couple, perhaps in their late 60s, who were moving in our direction. The male was haranguing the female, his body language very aggressive and gesticulating in apparent anger. She was quieter and was responding but clearly she wasn't doing as he wanted. As they passed us and he insisted that she "go down this way!" I saw that he was gripping her arm. It was an unpleasant scene. "If you ever spoke to me like that I..." I said to my husband " ..... I think I'd lamp you!" We smiled at the irony.
I have to clarify. This was not in the nature of marital niggling and low-level squabbling: couples who've been together for 40 years recognise the day to day affectionate grumbling that comes with closeness. This wasn't even a full-blown "I -don't-care-if-we're-in-public-we-are-having-this-argument-right-now!" kind of thing. They looked like a well dressed, ordinary couple; they showed no signs of being under the influence. Even given the current heightened awareness of Alzheimer's behaviour and consequent partner frustration, I didn't read their interactions as one of carer and sufferer. I believed that I was seeing a bully in action and their age made it shocking.
However, the parmesan cheese had to be bought and on we trolleyed.
In the wine aisle, as we debated tempranillo versus merlot, I was utterly astonished to find another couple right beside us, in what could have been a rerun of the previous scenario! This pair seemed to be in their 70s and he was actually dragging her hand back from her choice of wine as he said loudly 'NO! Not that!" He muttered and moaned "For godsake! I told you ...." Again, no sign of drinking or of dementia behaviours: just bullying. Another male talking 'at' a woman as though she were dirt and verging on physical contact to make her do as he wished.
I've since wondered if perhaps these incidents did indeed betray the very early signs of dementia taking the form of unreasonably aggressive interactions. I can't possibly know.
But I did worry that those women seemed so cowed and accepting. My husband thought maybe they'd been treated like that for so long, they hardly even noticed. I wonder.