The cattle-class conditions of rush hour on the tube are an amazing way to learn to ignore people. With my head tucked into my neighbour's armpit, the wookie attempting to suffocate a seated bystander and some diminutive child eyeing the pink plastic handle of my umbrella as if it was a candy-cane, I travelled in one forgetable morning on a train that was packed to dangerous and unsociable standards.
When in such circumstances the urge to withdraw from the outposts of your body is overwhelming and I cease my habitual, ceaseless and obvious observation of the people in the carriage, pull all my nerve endings in closer to my spine and attempt to ignore any touch registering with my brain. I blur the edges of my peripheral vision so I can be alone and discreet in the swaying mass of steaming, exhaling, sweating bodies.
Today I was particularly loath to be in such close quarters with anyone as I was reading Perfume by Patrick Suskind and the rich descriptions of Grenouille's olfactory abilities and discoveries were exciting a strange and overwhelming feeling in me. Suskind's writing is spectacularly vivid and well rendered, and I must have been in a particularly imaginative mood, because the passages I was reading, those describing Grenouille's development of his supernatural sense of smell, were encouraging a creeping anxiety that I was going to be able to start smelling the crush around me as thoroughly and comprehensively as he could.
With a unfamiliar sense of claustrophobia, I began to contemplate the horror of my lingering blocked nose miraculously clearing up, thus allowing me to be able to smell everyone's aftershave, perfume, morning breath, pre-worn clothes, tobacco laced hair and alcohol impregnated sweat. I started to feel sick. Exploding from the carriage at my stop I was stupidly pleased to have escaped the sensory prison of my fellow travellers and my own mind.
There have been very few times in my life when I could hate the heaving mass of humanity, and the times I have walked away from an encounter with my fellow man seething with murderous rage are few. My little moment of odorous terror on the tube dredged up another hideous incident in the confines of those carriages. It was another rush hour crush and I was standing near the door with my back against the wall. New bodies crushed into me and a man's hand landed almost imperceptibly on my crotch. I waited an appropriate passage of time for the man facing me to realise the very clear indiscretion and move the offending hand. He did not move it at all.
Assuming he had not noticed, I pressed back against the wall and freed myself from his encroachment. To my disgust the hand followed me. The nausea rose as my body retreated the last few millimetres possible and his hand remained as close as before. I was horrified as my physical inability to actually disentangle myself from this situation started to short circuit my brain and I could only concentrate on that disturbing touch and my overwhelming urge to claw his eyes from his head and rip his arm from his shoulders. If I had not been getting off at the next stop I doubt that I would have been able to breathe from my helplessness and violent loathing.
Which brings me to Halloween and the sad story of a girl who constantly underestimates the animal that lurks beneath the skin of the average human. Jacinta and I were going to The Church for Halloween and I utilised the materials in the house – Matt's ripped t-shirt from his Werewolf costume and the three vials of theatrical blood – to transform myself into a dead body. Surveying my efforts in the mirror I was very pleased with the amateur makeup job - pale skin, bruised black and green eyes, bloodied cuts, bruises and rips. Topped off with my ever present devil's horns I was a 'blood splattered angel', and I thought I looked suitably scary.
I was on the tube to The Church at 9am on a Sunday morning and the travellers were not ready for me. The adults looked away and the children stared. I was still a little tired from a late night and was able to keep a solemn pout on my face that was only broken with a blinding smile as I waved jauntily to the kids staring at me. Hehehe. I actually 'rested my eyelids' for a few stops and when I snapped them open to check where I was, the girls opposite me, who had just taken a photo of me with their mobile phone, jumped and didn't look at me again.
Having scared young and old alike, I walked into The Church that morning confident in the knowledge that I was going to be unmolested in that den of sin. How wrong I was. I will take this moment to quickly disabuse any readers who have not visited The Church of any lingering notions that the establishment was anything like it's namesake. I have only ever been to this notorious Antipodean orgy of drinking, fondling, strippers and blatant debauchery once before, and what I saw on Australia Day at The Church was the final proof that Australians in London can misbehave unbelievably and uncontrollably. I am still surprised that I walked in that morning, with full knowledge of the beer-soaked meat market that awaited me, and did not anticipate the reaction my costume would evoke.
I can tell you now that as I wound my way through the crowd, I met the eyes of men I hope I never see again. In the gloom and flashing lights they smiled invitingly at a girl with a ripped lip, a dripping forehead and a neck that bled into her t-shirt. I was not a pretty sight. I dismissed these reactions in annoyance and concentrated on having a good time, dancing with Jacinta, talking to the nice Scottish guys from the line, not watching the stripper. Half way through the afternoon I was still confident enough to reapply the blood, but instead of merely refreshing the drip on my neck, the blood go smudged and things got a whole lot more interesting.
The second application was much messier and looked even more authentic. I looked even more like a victim of a violent crime and girls stopped me in the crowd and in the toilet to ask me if I was alright, although my bloodied face had been on the big screen enough for almost everyone to know that I had arrived in my current condition. This final look was so disturbing that even in broad daylight on the Tube home I saw people look away in fright from my ravaged neck and dripping chin.
Yet I began to become quickly disillusioned with the continued displays of pleasure and desire from the drunken males in my vicinity. The final indignity was being forcibly manhandled by three males, sinking their hands into my hair, grabbing my chin and sneaking their hands under my t-shirt. As I ripped myself from them and plunged through the crowd, I found myself wishing that I could rain all the power of Mephistopheles down on their heads in sickened vengeance.
Twice in the afternoon I actually discussed the reaction to the costume. The first person to ask me how the costume was going was the newly engaged Scotsman who joined Jacinta and I up the back, with our backs to the stage, when the stripper was performing. I mentioned how repulsed I was that I was still obviously attractive in this advanced state of bloodiness. He commended me for manifesting this disgust. It is always a slightly bizarre feeling, when, sober and conscious, you are congratulated by a tipsy companion for your general state of intelligence. Yes, I said with the finality of the sober, I am glad I can see this situation for what it is.
When standing in line for my coat I was even more cutting with my observations. A very attractive young man struck up a conversation with me by congratulating me on my effort. I was very polite until he started getting keen, so I dropped a clanging great 'yup, the costume worked alright, you know that the guys grinning at you and asking if they can 'kiss you better' are definately not the kind of guys you want to know better!' into the conversation. He struggled gamely on, and to his credit perhaps he really did see past all that blood.
And the moral of the story? Next year Halloween it will be back to a safe costume ...
Halloween 2002 - Claireopatra
the horns ...
Halloween 2003 - Devil in a Black Dress
or simply a bit of black eyeliner and red lipstick ...
Halloween 2003 - Damsel in Distress
Being called a 'horny little devil' in passing is infinitely more acceptable than experiencing first hand the number of men who fancy they like blood play, and I sincerely hope that my next inadvertent glimpse into the darker side of the human psyche is a while in creeping up on me.