Category Archives: November 2011 Posts

Solitary adult pleasure

I’m not sure when I became the person who takes a bottle of wine into the cinema on their own.  At fourteen, my movie marathons were accompanied by awe-inspiring sweets and crisps binges; at some point I progressed to the adult version.  In time, I’ll be covered in cat hair and a trail of birdseed will spill from the bin liners I carry.  It’s Tuesday afternoon at the Vue Cinema, Shepherd’s Bush.  I’m in the ticket purchasing area having just watched “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and about to head in to “The Help”.  A woman in a grey suit holding a clipboard makes eye contact with me in a way that’s beckoning me to stop.  Slightly tipsy, I oblige.    

WOMAN:  Are you interested in two free tickets to a movie?

ME (pausing slightly, wary of the sales catch):  Um, maybe.

WOMAN:  All you have to do is put your name on this list and the tickets are yours.  We’re screening “Red Dog” here on Thursday.

ME:  Ah, that’s an Australian movie! (Nostalgia’s making me encourage her when I should be cutting her off).

WOMAN:  Ok, give me your name and I’ll put you down.  You need to bring a male with you for our numbers.

ME (thrown by the condition attached to the free tickets):  Oh, um, I don’t know who I’d bring ….

WOMAN:  You must have a male you can bring?

ME: Well, not really.  I’m single so …

WOMAN:  And you don’t have any family here?  A brother?  Cousin? (My Australian accent should indicate that my family are not Londoners).

ME (starting to feel pressured):  Well I have males I can bring, but they all live in other parts of London and won’t be free at such short notice. 

WOMAN:  So, you don’t have any male you could bring with you?  We can’t give you the tickets if you don’t bring a male. 

(Jesus Christ, is she trying to make me feel bad?  I look at her and just sort of shrug).

WOMAN:  I could give you three tickets instead of two and you could bring a couple with you?  (Ugh.  I’m in a scene from “Bridget Jones“). 

ME (pity and discomfort have drifted into the situation so I lie):  Oh, no it’s okay, I know exactly who I’ll take – two tickets are perfect! (My enthusiasm reeks of overcompensation).

I put my name down for the tickets, but won’t collect them; her judging eyes have slightly tainted my afternoon retreat.  She feels sorry for me, but her pity is misplaced.  Yes, I’ve developed some habits that might be described as eccentric, but at this very moment I’m entirely happy – few pleasures compare with a good movie and a “glass” of wine.  

Entering the cinema to watch my second movie of the day, I see there are only three other people viewing – all on their own and all men (I wonder if the “numbers” are acceptable in here …).  To some people, we’re desperate loners; if we were about to see an adult movie the whole scene would be sordid.  Instead I hear the familiar crinkling of food wrappers from three other seats and think of us as innocent fourteen year olds (nostalgia creeping over me again).  There’s an intimacy in our united solitude and anticipation of the escapism we’re about to share.  I stretch out, take my shoes off, pour myself a drink and wait to be transported to another world.   

No good deed goes unpunished

An Acton bus stop, Sunday, 12:30pm.  The sun is shining and through my headphones I’m happily listening to the cast of Glee sing Christina Aguilera’s, “Candyman” – the post gym buzz still with me.  A long, bendy 207 bus pulls up and the door opens, revealing the back of a reversing wheelchair.  I wait on the pavement for the passenger to alight.  Nothing happens.  Oddly, the chair isn’t moving towards me, but instead jerking erratically from side to side.  Alarmed, I realise the passenger’s not alighting; she’s clinging to the safety rail.  Her brakes don’t work so she’s gripping the bar with all her strength to prevent the chair from skidding off the bus.  She loses her grip and the chair slides rapidly to the exit.  I jump up and grab the chair’s handlebars to stop her fall. Furious, she hits my hand away.

WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me!!

ME: (stunned, embarrassed and nervous.): Sorry, I was trying to help, sorry.

WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me! Why does it always fucking do this?! Piece of shit! (She yells, swears and mumbles a lot of things that don’t make sense).

I take my hands from the handlebars, but keep my body against the chair so it won’t just skid away.  If I move my weight, the chair will slide off the bus and out the open door.  Without a ramp she’ll end up hurt.

ME: Do you want to get off the bus?

WOMAN: No!  He should have answered his fucking phone! (She rants some more and the C word is thrown about with carefree abandon).

I just stand there.  The doors of the bus have closed and we’re moving.  Even though I’m supporting the chair, she’s still clinging to the bar, swearing and mumbling.  The movement of the bus snaps me out of my paralysis and I look at her properly.  She’s wearing a baseball cap, with greasy shoulder-length hair hanging in limp clumps from under it.  Her fingernails have black dirt encrusted under them.  She’s wearing a loose black t-shirt and jogging bottoms.  Her arms have what I initially think are cuts on them, but then I realise they’re track marks.  She smells of urine.  She’s a junkie … possibly homeless.

I look around at my fellow passengers.  Most of them are looking away, a few glance at me with sympathy.  ALL of them know what’s happened:  I’d jumped to the aid of a person in a wheelchair, but been confronted with an aggressive drug addict.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m still pressed against the chair with this woman sporadically yelling and mumbling.  I lock eyes with a man on a seat not too far from me, some sort of message passes between us and he gets up.  He presses the button for the bus to stop and, as it pulls up and the ramp comes down, he speaks to the woman – manoeuvring himself around me so he can grab the handles of the chair.

MAN (to the woman): Would you like to get off here?

WOMAN: Yes!  Fucking hell! (She looks over at me) C***!

I nod thanks to him, move out of the way and he helps her off.

With the screaming woman gone, the atmosphere on the bus is awkwardly quiet.  Feeling self-conscious, I get off the bus at the next stop … three stops early.  My buzz is definitely gone. 

London is a carnival of junkies, though I’ll not be escaping the theatrics when I return to Australia.  My hometown was a hotbed of nutters; the most famous being “Ding, Ding”, an alcoholic ex-boxer who enjoyed air fighting imaginary opponents and chasing my terrified sister through the park during her lunch hour.  Local “characters” are found in any environment, city or rural.

Anyway, speaking of fringe dwellers who are capable of humiliation and intimidation, I’m off to Erotica.

Pond life

A grey Thursday afternoon in November.  Ealing, 1:15pm.  The high street is busy with people on their lunch breaks. Having just been to Nationwide, I cross the road mouthing the words to the music on my ipod and passing lots of people.  A man in his late twenties is walking past Specsavers, heading in my direction.  He’s striding purposefully and clearly focused on me; I don’t know what he’s going to do.  Seconds later he’s standing in front of me and the following, somewhat surreal, conversation takes place.   

MAN: I’ve got a long, hard cock for you.

ME (raised eyebrows, simultaneously shocked and irritated, but unexpectedly composed.  I tilt my head slightly to the side and smile): And yet I’d prefer you to have a good job and speak properly.

MAN (pauses, taken aback): …. Fuck you.

ME (still smiling): Well, no … you won’t. That’s the point. (I walk off and don’t look back).

Central line platform, Holland Park tube. 11:20pm. Ten hours have passed, filled with the completion of chores and dinner with a friend. I walk onto the platform and see that the only people waiting for a train are myself, a middle-aged man on a seat further ahead, and a man in his early thirties who is just near me.  The man near me looks up and speaks.

MAN (smiling): Hello.

ME (return the smile): Hello.

MAN (raises his voice as I’m continuing to walk down the platform): Hey! Wank me off!

Ugh.  I roll my eyes, but say nothing and keep walking – my feistiness of the morning has disappeared with the day.

So that’s the city of London bidding me farewell in its own charming way.  It’s confirming that I’ve made the right decision to leave.  Don’t get me wrong, in the past week I’ve also experienced the many positives of the city – I’ve been to the play “Jerusalem”, the musical “Rock of Ages”, had a dignified afternoon tea and been out for many dinners.  No one’s ever short of entertainment here, but a different lifestyle is beckoning.  Soon the theatre, pubs and restaurants will be replaced with horse riding, cycling and cafes.  The grime of the tube will be replaced by the dirt of the muddy, snake ridden rivers.  The tension of keeping a lookout for thieves will be replaced by the tension of keeping a lookout for spiders.  Evenings of Sky+ viewing will be replaced by evenings of Scrabble with my mother.  My pace of life is about to dramatically change.

Symbolically, my final weekend in London will be spent at “Erotica” and my first weekend in Australia will be at my niece’s third birthday party … I’ll definitely feel more comfortable and familiar at one of those events than the other.  I’m swapping the life of a youngish Londoner for that of a rural pensioner – or possibly a 6 year old.  With the outdoor activities, the regular board games, and my intention to seek and embrace every obscure activity that comes my way, I feel I’m going down the child route.  When I was a young sprout I had high hopes for myself and in some ways I’ve let that sprout down.  The absence of work and the focus on new experiences in the coming months will create the opportunity to try to become the creature the little me anticipated.  This warty toad is regressing to a tadpole and hoping to emerge as a bright-eyed frog.  I’ve no idea if the change will be for the better (my inner cynic speaks loudly), but I’ll (quite literally) keep you posted!