Saturday night, Leicester Square tube, London. The tightly wedged crowd shuffles slowly towards the exit, barely able to move. Two parallel staircases lead us out, but the left has come to a complete standstill. It’s crammed with people but none are able to move forward or backward. A metal rail divides the right and left staircase. In front of me, a young man swings his legs over the bar and nimbly leaps to the other side which is slightly less crowded. In my silver sequined butterfly dress and high heels I inelegantly squat under the bar. It may be ungraceful but it prevents me from flashing the world. When we reach the top of the stairs I see the cause of the traffic jam.
An extremely obese woman has fallen and is struggling to get up. She’s blocking the left staircase and preventing the flow of people from exiting. A man with her is trying to help, but most of the crowd is angry at the holdup or fascinated by her size. I hear a group of guys laughing and jeering “Look at the fat bitch!” “You’re a fucking heifer!!” I instinctively look at them, irritated and saddened by their scorn and lack of empathy. The loudest of the trio, a scrawny lad from the underclass, smiles at me “Hey sexy. Where are you off to tonight then?” I keep walking. It would please me to see all three of them fall down the stairs and break their necks.
In a few minutes my mood is lifted as I see my friends waiting for me outside the burlesque club we’re attending. I mellow further when I see the velvet chaise longues inside and am handed a glass of champagne. In a chandelier lit room I take a seat on a leather wing back chair. The depressing riff-raff of central London are far away. I’m content and ready for a good night, though I can’t fully shake the image of the woman on the staircase. She’ll be feeling low for the whole evening and the experience will linger with her. I make an effort to put the memory aside so I can enjoy myself.
The array of breathtaking performances varies from beautiful and seductive to skilled and funny. I embrace the merriment, laughing and singing when required, though I’m not as much of a vocal “woo-hooer” or wolf-whistler as my exuberant friends. I reach my happy peak in the second half of the evening when we all move downstairs to a private room. The music is perfect and I blissfully move to it, the overwhelming heat causing my hair to stick to the back of my neck. My friends chat to the Hostess and other people they know and I continue dancing. The DJ smiles at me, clearly understanding that I approve of his work and we exchange a brief simulated dance from across his sound booth. Earlier in the evening he’d been playing music on gramophones but he’s moved on to more modern equipment and I love it.
The hours pass quickly and it’s time to leave. Hit suddenly by the drunk, drugged and disorderly sights and sounds of Leicester Square, my happiness goes down a notch. As I descend the stairs to the tube I think of the woman on the staircase and feel a pang. I had a wonderful and thoroughly entertaining evening but her memory of the night won’t be pleasant. I know that the men taunting her won’t have broken their necks but I hope they’ve had a terrible evening (preferably involving a beating) and wake with massive hangovers. It’s the least I can wish for.