What IS IT with blokes and alcohol? Fotr all that I may occasionally protest, daytimes are largely OK for me. Part, I guess, that I am passing better: part that there are just moer people around – and more sober ones at that.
So apart from the occasional lapse into intolerance (as at the Leisure Centre) , daytime is mostly a space where I get funny looks and young children embarrassing their parents by asking loudly and in earshot “is that a man or a lady?”
Then there’s night: more particularly, Friday and Saturday nights on public transport. These, I soon realised, are mostly nightmare, with blokes and alcohol the usual cause of discomfort.
Last night was no exception. Heading for London and the F-Word’s 10th birthday bash (of which more later) I boarded a slow train from Peterborough. Empty. But it soon filled up.
Half way thru the journey I felt the effects of the Americano I had downed earlier on, and made my way precariously to the loo, about two carriages down. This necessitated negotiating a party of about half a dozen blokes in what I now recognise as alcohol-inspired mode one. That is, they were loud, irreverent, but mostly cheerful.
I don’t like such encounters. The booze seems to diminish the wittiness of comment, whilst simultaneously lowering any embarrassment threshold that might have acted as restraint on uttering same. So I get the usual catcalls and “what’s this?”, called out with not a care as to whether I hear or mind on my way thru – and then much the same on my way back.
Leaving the train at Kings Cross, the process is repeated. “Where are you going, honey?”, sounded like a proposition, though I doubt it. Unless there is some hitherto untapped reservoir of interest in middle-aged ladies with slightly mad hair, I doubt there was any serious interest.
I don’t like this although, as one friend – Kathy – has pointed out, there’s probably no real threat involved. The lads think they’re being funny, don’t have a clue how boringly boorish they are being and probably some would be ashamed if they understood the effect they have.
Still, I cope. Its alcohol-inspired mode two that worries me – frightens me, actually – and is reason to think twice about where I walk, and watch my back when I do. It’s the way lads get when they go past cheeriness, and start to plumb the darker emotions: become angry, demanding and aggressive.
It started on the way back, on the station itself. I queued for another coffee (ooops! Personal bad habits coming out now!) and the guy in the queue in front of me swayed, turned, clocked me as “different”. No comment. Just a long and seemingly angry stare that went on long past any decent inquisitiveness.
I averted my eyes and nacked off a pace. He shrugged and went back to his queuing. So far so good.
On the train, though, another drunk makes his impact felt. First, he tries to occupy a seat next to a pre-teen girl: her mum objects. He swears and moves off. There is a seriously angry swagger to his depart. On the station, heading for the exit, I suddenly feel myself shoved from behind: its him. I’m in his way. I get out of it.
Then it’s a five-minute walk to the car. I leave him behind at the taxi rank – only, two minutes later, to find his path and mine cross once more. Only now its just us two, in the semi-dark, with no-one else around.
He approaches: wishes to talk. He puts a hand round my shoulder. I jump back like a scalded cat. We eye each other for a moment or two, then more swearing and he’s off. I let him go: watch as he looks at the bottle he is carrying and then, in a fit of pique, hurls it into the air to smash down in the middle of the dual carriageway. Ugh!
And then…a minute or so from my car…just as I think I’ve lost him, he approaches again. What? He’s incoherent. Maybe he just wants to know the time. Maybe not. Earlier still I watched him square up for a fight with another guy. I just want away from this idiot.
And that, thank God, is that: I turned a corner into the light of a late-night burger bar. My drunken companion seemed to prefer the shadows – and slunk back into them. I made my car, got in, and hit the door lock.
I end the evening thinking, as I often have, that if government really wants to help people, they would do a lot more to clamp down on booze. I also wonder about legalising mace – or similar. The case for that just feels a whole lot stronger.