‘Excuse me’ I said for the third time as a leachy man rubbed himself against me on the tube while making eye contact with his friends who surrounded me from all sides. It was about 4:30pm on a Friday and I had been in London for work. I decided to leave early to try and avoid the circus that is rush hour, but evidently, I wasn’t early enough.
I used to romanticise London, growing up in the countryside the unfamiliarity of the big city and the anonymity of being able to reinvent yourself attracted me. My mum used to take me for the day or the weekend and it was one of my absolute favourite things to do. We’d wander around Harrods and I’d fantasise that one day I would be successful enough to shop there. We’d also spend a lot of time visiting Camden Market, I was inspired by the alternative fashion and would eagerly watch the weirdos in their natural habitat free to be whoever they wanted.
As I got older I dreamed that I would live in London. Whenever I saved enough money from working my weekend job (cold-calling to sell windows and doors with surprisingly good commission), I would venture there on the coach with my friends. We weren’t even old enough to drink, but we’d get dressed up and confidently stroll into wine bars and clubs pretending we were in our 20s. There was something about the hustle and bustle that invigorated me. I am 25 now and in a long-term relationship with my girlfriend Laura, back then I never saw same-sex relationships and certainly not any I could relate to, going to places where drag queens, goths and beautiful gay women would party made me feel like I could accept myself for who I was.
‘Excuse me’ I said for the final time as I gestured the creep and his friends out the way so I could get off the tube. I didn’t know the station but I felt a panic attack would ensue any second if I stayed on that sweaty, cramped carriage any longer. I could finally breathe easy without the musky breath of my neighbour going in my face and no longer had to hold myself steady with a slimy plastic handle to stop myself sitting on someone’s lap by accident. ‘At least I can get to Liverpool Street from here’ I thought as I waited for the next train. From here I was going to my partner’s parents for the weekend. They only live in Kent and so it should have taken an hour door-to-door. With my diversion, it was taking a lot longer.
I like to think I am a pretty rational person, I understand that the news have their own agenda which much like most things in this world is to make money. That being said, the current reports we are bombarded with about shootings, bombs, acid attacks and rape culture can’t be completely ignored, and sadly for us, they have a lot of truth in them. I have always felt that acid attacks are one of the most brutal and life-ruining things that you can do to someone and so the reports on these do terrify me, even if the media are using click-bait headlines to get you to buy their paper, or click on their website some of the cold hard facts, are true.
For the last two-three years, going to London has become less and less appealing to me and on this particular day, all of my anxiety about current events were flaring up in my mind. In the past, a creep on the train would have been the least of my worries, I would have moved away from them and most likely highlighted what they were doing and asked them to stop.
London seems to have an added level of danger to it, maybe this has always been the case but it seems to have increased recently. The anonymity I was once attracted to suddenly feels dangerous and chilling. In Gloucester, if there was an injustice happening in front of me I would try to stop it, but in London, I admit I most likely wouldn’t; the density of the city in broad daylight is as veiling for criminals as the darkness of night is in a small town.
I felt paralysed to tell this creep to stop rubbing himself against me for fear he would get a bottle of acid out his bag and throw it on me, or one of his friends would follow me off the tube to an area I am not familiar with, so it was better for me to put up with it and leave than stand up for myself. Although the news keeps telling us to carry on with our lives and not let evil people control us, that advice is getting more pathetic by the day.
London is one of the greatest cities in the world, but if bombs are going off every few months and sex-crimes on tubes are rising considerably, maybe we should make changes. Maybe we should re-think the tubes altogether, or at least limit the number of people underground at one time. Why do people still work 9-5 in a 24-hour city, are there not ways to remove rush-hour entirely? Of course, there is but the tubes are clearly exceptionally profitable, and people are willing to put up with it so why bother?
I don’t think the answer is to restrict freedom nor do I think the answer is to normalise police walking around with guns on the streets of London (which is already the case). The answer is to think more intelligently about making the city safer in general.
Share your thoughts with me below.