31 Aug 2015

Awkward encounters at train stations

Picture this:

You're standing by the ticket machine at London Liverpool Street, minding your own business, tapping away at your phone, when a guy comes up to you.

"Excuse me, I don't mean to bother you but..."

Cue brain vomit: *Ugh, he wants my money? Wait, no, he's wearing a smart suit...not exactly your classic tramp. Maybe he wants to know the time? He's lost? What the hell does he want from me?*

"...you look lovely, and your glasses are so cool."

Me (probably blushing at this point): "erm, thank you?"

Before I know it, Mr. Stranger (who is probably in his early twenties) starts talking to me properly. I panic. Is he trying to distract me so that his accomplice can sneak his hand into my bag and pull out my wallet? I watch my bag like a hawk. He probably thinks I'm one of those socially incompetent people that can't hold eye contact.

"So where are you from?"
 he blurts out.

"Essex."

"You're very well spoken for someone from Essex," he continues.

"How original. We don't all sound like we're straight out of TOWIE."

"Did you purposefully match your eyes and jacket?" 

"Yes, yes that was on purpose. I decided to put my khaki green contact lenses in today. You're the first person to notice!"

"Really? That's amazing!"

"Sorry, that was a joke...ya...err...I just like the colour green."
 

*awkward silence*

"So what's your name?"

"Montana"

"HAHAHAHAHA, what like Hannah Montana?" 

*never heard that one before*

"Or the state."

Conversation continues. I discover he works in food, and that he had a brief stint at the University of Bristol. That's all I caught. Oh, and he wants to work at PWC.

"Oh cool, my best friend works there," 
I chime. 

*most pointless conversation ever*

"So, can I get your number?"

"Uhmm, I er, um, boyfriend, he, I, my...I have a boyfriend," I stumble. 

*classic Pinocchio moment*

"Ah, okay, I get it. Well, you don't by any chance..."

"...have any hot single friends I can set you up with? Nope, really sorry."

"How did you guess I was going to ask?"

*rolls eyes* 

"Oh you know, degree in mind reading."

"But seriously...you don't have any hot single friends?"

"Nope, sorry. I'm not going to just give you their numbers anyway."

"Haha, that's not what I was asking! That would be so creepy."

*And you're not being creepy right now?*

"Anyway, most of them are taken. I also tend to choose friends that are less attractive than me, so that I can feel better about myself."


"Really?"

"Yea, really."

"Oh my God."

*this guy doesn't understand sarcasm*

"That, that was a joke. You know, it was supposed to be funny..." 

*fake laugh*

"Haha, right, yes, of course. I couldn't tell if you were joking or not..."

"Erm, yea, I was. That would be pretty weird."

"I don't know though, you were pretty convincing."

"Anyway, great to meet you, I should probably catch my train. Have a good weekend."

*handshake*

"You have a great handshake."

"Well, you know, nothing worse than a limp handshake."

"My dog just died...do you want to see a picture?"

*takes my phone and goes onto his Facebook page to show me his dead dog*

"Oh gosh, so sorry to hear that."

"Yea."

"Yea. I guess that's worse than a limp handshake."

30 Aug 2015

1000 word rant about the tube


It's a truth universally acknowledged that Londoners have two favourite topics of conversation, particularly when it comes to small talk: the weather and transport. (I can vouch for this too because an Italian once told me his teacher warned him in class.)  But that's not stopping me from writing a blog dedicated to the latter. Yep, I'm going to delve into the beauty (read horror) of taking a tube in the capital.


I read an article last week in the Evening Standard about how tube fares in London are something like 25 per cent more expensive than the next most expensive city, Washington D.C. That, frankly, is outrageous. For that sort of price difference I'd expect TfL to provide leather seats, a real-time cleaning service, a free kindle (actually wait, I've boycotted Amazon), air-con, and at least a few inches of personal space. But I sense I'm hedging my bets slightly. Seriously though, what is with the sky high prices?

While summer has come and almost gone with not so much as a passing "hey, how are you?", I have noticed that the tubes have been marginally quieter. Emphasis on marginally. I suppose that's because in August most Britons bugger off somewhere warm, to escape the notoriously wet month. Yep, you saw those flood warnings for the bank holiday weekend...

But the very slender decline in human presence on the tube this summer hasn't necessarily been a blessing. It just means you're more likely to actually get on a train, rather than sulk impatiently behind the yellow line as a handful of trains pass with zero possibility of plunging yourself into the throng of people already trapped inside. And breathe. That was a long sentence.

And you know it's summer when you start to notice a rise in armpit sweat patches, fringes glued to foreheads with perspiration, and faces dripping with grease. Your copy of Metro is starting to wilt, and you struggle to turn the pages with your moist fingers. You feel sweat trickling down your forehead, and wipe it away with you clammy hands, absentmindedly splashing a greyish black smudge of ink across your face. And no-one tells you, not even your colleagues when you get to work, because that's not a British thing to do. Either way, one would be forgiven for thinking you'd spent the morning in the mines.

A stifling smell of sweat mixed with toxic levels of anti-perspirant suddenly becomes apparent. You begin to sniff out the culprit before realising that everyone around you is clinging onto the handrails above them, armpits galore. Get me out of this hell hole fast, you think. 

Someone coughs. A wave of panic rises up inside you. What diseases am I going to wake up with tomorrow? And now a sneeze. And another one. And another one. Ebola. Wearing a face mask might not be such a bad idea. Someone yawns. A stench of last night's alcohol mixed with bitter coffee wafts your way. Death seems close.

There's space further inside the carriage, but no-one wants to budge to make room. Just a hoard of selfish commuters, too transfixed on their copies of Metro, Stylist or Time Out, or reading the latest scandals on Mail Online in between stations whenever there's WiFi. Then there are the women intent on slapping on a face of make-up and curling their eye lashes (I keep waiting for the tube to come to a sudden halt and for poor Tracy to realise she's pulled out a clump of them.) 

While those starting their commutes in Greater London secure prime standing ground (i.e. the row between the seats), the rest of us squeeze into the remaining nooks and crannies available, struggling to even stand up straight. Reading the news at this point seems farcical as turning the pages of Metro (which at this point I've already folded into quarters to make space for) would only result in the suffocation of the person in front of you. 


This is why I particularly hate the Northern line, because it takes the word "cramped" to unprecedented levels. As men and women of all shapes and sizes propel themselves at full speed into the battery cage, elbowing and shoving like there's no tomorrow, I really do question why I'm even attempting the journey.


In fact, I remember reading an article on Time Out about a year ago, ranking the tube lines from best to worst. The Northern line had one of the worst, if not the worst, rating. Surely it couldn't be THAT bad, I thought, as I signed the contract for a flat in Clapham. How ignorant and disillusioned I was.

But now that I'm living a couple stops further south in Tooting Bec, I'm one of the lucky few that can actually get on the train, without waiting for 10 to go past (yes, that happened to me in Clapham). At Balham, you're just about safe. Clapham South, you have to start being strategic about where you stand on the platform. Clapham Common, well, don't bother if you want to arrive at work on time. Clapham North? You're an idiot. Walk to Stockwell.

In London, we pay a staggering £144.80 a month for zones 1-3, and £123.30 for zones 1-2. In Paris, I paid €60 for use of the entire metro system, which currently works out as £43.58. That makes us £100 worse off a month in London. I'm not very good at maths, but I reckon that's quite a few Gin & Tonics.

7 Mar 2015

A date with a drug-dealer, feminism, and other tales

In my second year at university, I worked behind the bar at a local pub in Exeter, owned by my landlords. I only worked Sundays but it was a good way to earn a little pocket money (i.e. purchase all that expensive cheese I can't get enough of). But first, let me paint a picture for you. The average clientele on a Sunday afternoon was (and still is, I’m sure) over 60, male, and - in want of a better phrase - touchy-feely. They’d pinch my bottom as I walked past them, or peer lasciviously at my chest. My appearance was the hot topic of conversation; as much as I’d love to say it’s because I look like Gisele B√ľndchen, let’s get real here. I couldn’t work out whether I loved the attention, or despised the leering audacity. I forgave them because they were old, which in my mind made it OK. But was it? And they weren’t the only ones…

Some cricketers came into the pub one evening and descended on the bar like a pack of hungry wolves. Looking at me like I was their prize, they came to an agreement: “she’s an 8 out of 10.” And they told me. They asked to shake my hand, congratulating me on my ‘achievement’. After all, 8 out of 10 was a ‘respectable’ score. "Wow, lucky me", I thought. They vocally measured up my chest size in front of me, and each took it in turns to ask for my phone number. 

I was even asked on a couple dates by some younger, local pub-goers. And when I say younger, I mean “are you even potty trained?” First there was Charlie*. Charlie initially liked me to believe that he was 18. Moreover, Charlie was evidently very much of the opinion that age is only a number, which must be why he kept on changing it. I can only assume this was because he thought I had the memory of a goldfish and wouldn't latch on. After the youngster chatted me up in the pub, he managed to find me on Facebook (the woes of being the only Montana in a billion mile radius), and decided to add me. Of course I rejected his inquiry into my personal life, but that didn’t stop me investigating. It didn’t take long for me to notice that the boy’s Facebook profile clearly stated he was only 17.

The next time Charlie came into the pub, asking for a pint, I stopped him in his tracks. “Can I see some ID please?” I snarled. He paused. When - out of curiosity at his response - I asked him what year he was born, he stammered “errr…well, ummm…err, March..13th..1990?” A year which would have meant he was over a year older than me, and much older than the 18 years he’d claimed to be on our first encounter. All very confusing I know. Rule no. 1 boys: learn how to add and subtract if you want to ask a girl out on a date. 

It also transpired that a couple other local men at the pub, slightly closer to my age, were keen to sweep me off my feet (#desperatetimes). I was warned that one of them was “trouble”, and the other had kids (I know how to attract ‘em). The father-of-two invited me to watch a movie at his (Sleeping Beauty or Bambi?) which I politely declined, while the former invited me to a grotty pub with him for a drink. In a “I knew you were trouble” (courtesy of Tay-Tay aka Taylor Swift) moment, I naively accepted his request. We got there and sat down on a sofa, and probably spoke about something inconsequential. Not long after, a man and woman walked in and 'Mr Trouble' got up and said to me “I’ll be back in a minute”. The couple came to sit opposite me and, assuming they were friends of my newfound buddy, I extended my hand to them and introduced myself. I noticed that the guy held my hand strangely, as if I were trying to pass something to him. I remember thinking it was odd. Then 'Mr Trouble' came back to his seat with a rucksack. In a flash, I noticed that the couple opposite me were getting up to leave and there was a £20 note by my heel which was quickly tucked into a jacket pocket. In a split second, there had been a scandalous operation happening right under my very nose. I demanded immediately, "Did you just deal drugs in front of me?” Defensively he said, “Is that a problem? I respect the fact that you don’t deal drugs, so you should respect the fact that I do.” That was genuinely his response. Dumbfounded, I downed my drink and made an excuse to leave.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post my experience with a lying gym manager who hid the fact that he was married with kids, harassed me and stole personal data from my gym membership. So it’s probably time I told you about the guy I met at university who lied to me about having cancer. Yep, you read that right. Lied about having cancer. Given that someone is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes in the UK, it’s not something to joke about. Pretending you have cancer to win the affections of a girl - seriously? And it got even worse when I ultimately rejected his advances, so in bitter retaliation he branded me a “whore”. People I hadn’t even met before were labelling me a “bitch” who “liked to sleep around”, because I’d hurt the ego of a guy I didn’t fancy who’d lied about having cancer. Since when was this OK? At the time, he told me he was going to die and that he probably wouldn’t last the year. He told me that he was going for chemotherapy treatment, and that he needed moral support. It wasn’t until a couple years later when talking to a mutual friend that I found out it was all one massive lie, and he’d used the same deception on another unsuspecting victim. 

So why have I written all this? Because countless women are in the habit of degrading themselves, of letting themselves be defined by the wrong things and the wrong people. So many women somehow inadvertently accept that they are inferior to men, and don't question the way they are treated. This must stop.

And finally, women: don't ever think that the greatest praise you can receive is a man telling you that you're "hot", because that's no achievement at all. If looking beautiful on the outside is all you think you can or should achieve in life, then you are truly undervaluing yourself.

#heforshe

*Not his real name