I was very rude the other day. I didn’t mean to be, and I feel terrible, but someone said something I violently disagreed with and I forgot that I am supposed to be polite, and that the habits of other people need not be the same as mine to be ok.
On the other shoe of this response-legged creature, however, is a conversation I had with a friend where he reported that a German mathematician had berated the British for their inability to hold, and defend, strong opinions, and our unwillingness to embrace vigorous debate.
The third leg of this curious tri-ped are those women whose existence I have just been made aware of (there will also be men, forgive me, I just haven’t sniffed them out) whose iron muscles undulate under unruffle-ably affable exteriors. Women who go out of their way to help, who feel genuinely terrible about not doing their utmost for someone or something, but whose goals are in no way impeded by this excess of conscience. Who get where they want to go, annihilating the competition, and still being – without any falseness – extraordinarily nice to the competition. And meaning it.
I’m not sure if I would like to be one. I already play host to a multitude of dualities (as most of us do) oscillating between my needs/desires and those of everyone else around me. We are all in constant motion between self-centred and selfless, I think, those funny lines between that friend who only ever talks about himself and the other one who is a compulsive baker and who never interjects.
On the tube, I am thrown wildly between claustrophobia and the thrill of industrial efficiency (colour me Victorian). I ricochet between the undesirable state of grinning loon, feeling irrationally united in our funny travelling tubers, and being that bitch who will sneak behind you as you are sitting down and steal the seat before your bum hits it.
Underground, unlike everywhere else in the world including my own head, I feel totally licensed to behave as I see fit instant to instant, without attempting to create a coherent (and attractive) narrative of self. Perhaps that sails perilously close to insanity, but London makes me feel insane.
Its such an unwieldy combination of spoon feeding and wilderness. I come from a city where the buses don’t announce, there are no men loitering around to help you, no city centre maps to speak of, no glaring underground signs rising like fingers through knuckled pedestrians. But then conversely, mollycoddling gives way to that chilling and panicked aloneness where you know that everybody is bound onto their own rails, unable to pause for pity or connection, because if you pause once you become porous, and the volume of compassion and relation is enough to kill a person in an instant.
Think of all the hearts (grossly sentimental, but I made no claims to the contrary) that commute and bustle full of pain or hope or joy or lust or messy combinations. It hurts and boggles to think about. The ego may not survive under the weight of other people forcibly making your needs ever smaller, ever more similar to everyone elses.
I laughed hysterically in Tesco today, because our queue was backlogged by an inability to weigh vegetables. I think the cashier thought I was mocking him, and I wasn’t, it was just the ridiculousness of us all, huddled underground, being as a group defeated by (and we did ‘crowdsource it’) an inability to find parsnips on the till display, or find a mop to deal with the mik that burst – all over the parsnips – and ran everywhere, encroaching on our work shoes.
The woman in front of me bought fifteen Toblerones.
It is this kind of absurdity I love. So if you find that, upon elbowing my face on the commute I sharply and deliberately jab my book into the tender small of your back and then flash you a smile of false incomprehension, please go along with it. We all seem to be complicit in this curious performance art.
I wonder what you all do on the tube?