Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A student in body as well as in mind


I'm booked in for an OU day revision course at Kings College in the Strand (London) on 9 May and I am very excited about it. I'll finally be a student in a building with a live tutor, not just one at the end of a phone or an email. I've added on a couple of days either side to be able to see friends and family and  perhaps  even get to see what I've missed the  most from London - a decent play. My cousin will be away on a cruise - bad thing because I wanted to see her; she has offered me her apartment to stay in - good thing because I won't have to pay for a hotel.

If I go to the theatre on a couple of evenings then I will have to find something that it has not been necessary to use for a long time now - the blasé late night public transport persona. Except for the last ten years, I have lived my entire life in London and regularly used to get the very late tube train home (Northern Line).  Only once did something untoward happen and that was on the last tube of the evening - just after midnight. All the way home a man had been staring at me whilst I kept my eyes glued on my book (so how did I know he was staring at me? - I knew.) I left the station and he followed me up the footpath, overtook me and then turned back, grabbing my shirt as if to rip it. I'd always wondered what I would do in this situation - well, now I knew. I screamed and I screamed and I screamed. He ran away and I ran home. My parents wanted to call the police but I wouldn't have been able to give a description beside 'short and skinny' and this was long before CCTV took over the UK. So for the next two years I was too frightened  to use the footpath (which was the short cut home) and had to do a long rambling well-lit circuit. My dad worked in the evening as a musician so was unable to meet me and my mum didn't drive. Of course I could have got a mini cab home from opposite the station, but you'll see why I didn't in a moment.

Anyway I hadn't thought about this incident for years, but thinking about returning to my cousin's apartment after an evening out has brought this memory to the fore. A taxi will cost about £70, that is if one will take me because, if it is over six miles from the centre of London there is no obligation for a licenced taxi cab to actually deliver what it is they advertise - a ride home for money. I am always reluctant to use mini cabs - I've had a few not very nice drivers in the past who - (how to put this) tried it on - and got duly sacked (and then I had to worry about revenge visits because, after all, they knew where I lived, having picked me up from home).

If the rag that calls itself a newspaper Daily Mail is to be believed, attacks happen on late night public transport regularly. Therefore I will be travelling with my key, credit card and money inside my bra and will just carry a token note to wave in front of potential muggers. I will step purposefully along, bathed in the glow of having seen a good play and give out positive and determined vibes. Don't mess with this OU student my body language will be saying - I'll recite Byron to you.

35 comments:

Lane said...

Isn't it sickening that we have to be so aware and take so many precautions.

Funnily enough I've had two similar experiences to you, one with a flasher who also used his fists and gave me a split lip (and this was 9am in the morning, many years ago) and one with a dodgy mini cab driver.

Don't let it effect your trip though. Plan in advance, look purposeful and own that pavement. And I'm sure Byron will help too:-)

Ann said...

Oh my goodness FF, that must have been a very frightening experience, I can imagine the fear you must have felt, especially when he grabbed you, all sorts of thoughts must have been going through your head, thank goodness you were not physically harmed, though it just shows you how easily this can happen, very scary, I hope through time you managed to get over this trauma.
Hope you sort the transport problem out, yes indeed, there are some very shady taxi driver characters, do you know of any all female taxi firms?.

justme said...

Don't know if it is possible for you where you will be going, but I find late night buses are actually less scary than the tube? And btw, I work in Central London so if you want to meet up for a coffee or something if you have any free time, e mail me!

Bill Stankus said...

Do you need a license in order to recite Byron at a potential attacker?

Frankofile said...

matinée performances?

Contemporary Troubadour said...

How frightening! I do find that walking like I mean business makes me feel safer at night. Is it legal for you to carry pepper spray? In some states in the U.S., it isn't.

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

I have a cunning plan...just get in the cab, get to your destination, casually mention you just returned from Mexico and you'll be out of that cab and it'll be off up the road before you can say Jack the Ripper- no charge!! Sorry, no pigs or people were harmed in the making of that rather bad joke. ;-))

claire p said...

I used to hate the tube, I always get the drunk sitting next to me!!

I do miss London though, never lived there but lived close enough.
Enjoy it xxxx

Dedene said...

Being alone at night has become so dangerous. Do be careful, maybe you can find a kind neighbor to go to the plays with.
Very scary experience.
Hooray for you for going to the University.

willow said...

I'm afraid if I loaded down my bra with all the contents of my handbag, I would look like a very lumpy Dolly Parton.

Godspeed and enjoy!

French Fancy said...

Lane - you just never associate flashers with daytime. Did you get the police involved - what a shock, a split lip!
I'll practice owning the pavement. This is a time when dogs come in handy - nobody would dare approach me with Pop the monster (although Misty the timid would run behind me). Shame I can't take them - but then they wouldn't be allowed in to the theatre anyway. Seeing Eye excitable bichons.

Ann - that's not a bad idea, female taxi firms. Although I'll be going from Leicester Square to the edge of Hertfordshire - a long way and it will be very expensive.

justme - I think there is a night bus but it will drop me too far from where I need to get to. I can either go to almost the last stop on the Piccadilly line and then try and get a taxi or else get he tube to Kings Cross and then overground to Winchmore Hill - and then a walk.

I won't have much time to meet up - schedule is looking pretty full but, another time I would love to.

Bill - imagine, if I just stood there quoting chunks of Don Juan. They'd think I'd escaped from a mental hospital and hopefully run away.

Frankie - yes, I thought of that too. I'm on the lookout for a Friday aft one and I'll be at the college all day Sat so am looking for an evening one for after that. I'll be very near the NT so will probably amble towards there.

I'd hate to just see one play though and to sit indoors in the evening seems such a waste - I do that enough at home.

Contem Troub - I'm so weak and feeble that if I had spray or mace I'd be overpowered no doubt and have it used against me (gosh, don't I sound a wuss? Well, I am)

Reasons = I have a cousin who is an expert on this sort of thing (swine flu) and is currently much in demand.

claire - I don't mind crowded tubes and trains - it's the almost empty ones I don't like

Dedene - I don't know anyone in my cousin's area unfortunately. And none of my friends live nearby - it's always the way.

willow - I often stick stuff in my bra - the mind boggles I know. I wear loose tops (big boobs that I hate to draw attention to) so you don't notice the bra bulges

lakeviewer said...

The things women have to do to live a normal life; and the price of relative protection is never cheap. But, you must go on and take steps to run your own life. Good spirit.

Steve said...

It's appalling that in this day and age, in a so called civilized country, people still feel unsafe while going about their business. I think confident attitude is a great deterrent - attackers are by their nature cowards and seek people that they think won't resist or who will be paralysed with fear. Despite this awful memory, I hope you enjoy your revision course and your night at the theatre.

French Fancy said...

lakeviewer - once it would not even have crossed my mind to be (slightly) anxious about travelling late at night, But my love of the theatre will win out against an (unlikely) altercation

Steve - yes, it is awful but I'm not going to sit in a flat in the London suburbs watching telly on my own - not when I could be out and about in WC2

Ann said...

Goodness, that would be over 20 miles by taxi, you would need to take out a mortgage to pay, just think of the boots or shoes you could buy instead.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

...Arrange to go to a matinee, FF, and don't take the risk of a late night journey anywhere. Crime in the UK is far, far less than the media would have you believe - Trust me, not The Daily Snail, honestly, but I would be cautious anywhere as a woman alone, and there are some people about who have mental health probs with whom you could not reason - either that or buy an inflatable, or hire a looky-likey, Lord Byron to accompany you... Don't take risks, ma chere FF, and I wished I lived nearer to the City so we might meet for a cup of tea! x

A Super Dilettante said...

My dear FF what a frightful experience!! I've always thought Northern Line is safe (it stops at St. John's Wood - you can't get any more up market) but now I have to think again. I must say I was very lucky when I lived in North London. I didn't meet any muggers and no one ever followed me (except on one ocassion - an antique dealer who lives on the same street followed me to ask where I got my leather bag). If I were you, I would take a personal alarm in your bag.

A Super Dilettante said...

PS. I hope you have a lovely time when you go to London. Please visit new Sacchi art gallery if you have time. I love this arty area of London!

nikkicrumpet said...

That all sounds very scary....forget Byron and bring a large cannister of MACE!!!

Ayak said...

Don't let your fears spoil your trip FF. It will be a wonderful exerience. It reminds me of the week long summer school I spent at Sussex University as part of my OU Social Science Foundation Course. Because I didn't go to University in my youth I think I appreciated the experience far more in my 40s. I was a terrible swot for the week...attending every single lecture whilst others were getting drunk.

Lulu LaBonne said...

OOoh - I'm very envious that you'll be getting theatre, I look forward to hearing about what you see.

French Fancy said...

oh I just replied to everyone and my comments disappeared - let's try again...

Ann, I used to spend so much on taxis once way back when - I used to get them to drop me round the corner so my parents couldn't see my blatant waste of money.

AWONI - I'm going to have five nights where I do not just want to sit in someone else's flat either reading or watching tv - I could do that at home. Even if I don't go out late to the theatre I'll still be meeting up with friends so will have to return home in the dark.

ASD - I love the idea of someone following you - purely to seek a fashion tip. It is so *you*.

You never know with any area these days - a couple of years ago my cousin (this one who will be on a cruise) - her best friend's husband was stabbed down his cheek at 9am in the morning. He'd come out of his house and was about to get into his car. It turned out to be an initiation ceremony for a gang who decided to hide out in a 'decent' suburb and pick the first person they saw.

It has ruined his life, he had a breakdown, left his job and is not the man he used to be.

nikki - but then I'd have to run away and I'm the world's slowest runner. It would be okay if my car was parked there - it would be like a scene from an action movie then,

AYAK - oh I'd love to have done a week's summer school - still I'll treasure my day.

Lulu - I'm hoping to see two or perhaps three plays and I will give you feedback. What a shame the British Council don't tour the top UK plays around France.

LadyFi said...

A matinee performance sounds like a good idea... I had a giggle about quoting Byron to any would-be assailant though...

I suggest that screaming and a well-aimed kick in the googlies are a powerful combination... it's worked for me!

Jennysmith said...

Hi FF, so you're coming back to homeground eh? Yes, my feelings are mixed on your behalf. Something like that can be so traumatic. I know this is easy to say but don't let it spoil your trip here.

Oh wil think of you on that date, knowing we are both in the same city. xxxx

Carol and Chris said...

I was once grabbed from behind on my way home late one night....I screamed like hell and jumped up on down on his toes. I had killer heels on and he limped off rather sharpish. I will tell you one thing that the policeman said to me....he said that if it happens once then it's extremely unlikely to happen again which made me feel much better!!

Walk like you own the road or perhaps one of your friends could come back with you and you could have a girly catch up.

If you've got time it would be fab to meet you. Let me know :-)

C x

Elizabeth said...

This is something totally depressing to think about - except you have to think about it.
Black cabs are now absurdly expensive and mini cabs dodgy as you say.
Awful to need a large male or similar to accompany one.
I lived in Herne Hill years ago (70's) and used to take buses back after the theatre......nothing awful ever happened --including the time I was in such a rush to get in that I left my key in the front door all night.
Have a wonderful time in London.

French Fancy said...

Ladyfi - yes, Mr FF has gone on about a kick in the goulies would finish any man off. I've never had cause to try it and always wonder if I'd find the one man that had balls of steel.

Jen - in the same city - oh that sounds so nice.If only you lived on the outskirts of the North London suburbs

Carol - that's very comforting actually - so that little pipsqueak who grabbed me that time meant that I've done my time and can walk assailant-free - good!

Elizabeth - maybe we've just been sucked into the media claptrap about violent times. I know loads of women who travel alone late at night and have had not one instance of alarm.

david mcmahon said...

I know London SO well, because I covered summer sport in the UK each year as a tennis and cricket writer.

And yes, like you, I have always been a Byron fan.

And Keats ...

Blu said...

I had forgotton about a memory like that too. The Police told my Mum that they couldnt do anything unless he touched me, but being followed was scarey enough for me.

I hope that you have a great trip, love to London.

Blu x

French Fancy said...

David - so by that reckoning you must know Wimbledon, The Oval and St John's Wood - all pretty nice areas.

Blu - it's funny the things we sink into our memories - I guess they are best left there.

Grace Albaugh said...

US gal but been to London twice. Luckily have never had any bad experiences there. Always traveled with one other person though. Safety in numbers I guess. Congrats on the POTD from David!

(Very) Lost in France said...

The thought of Byron would surely keep the hardiest criminal away! Take care and don't take chances. VLiF

French Fancy said...

Grace - thanks for popping in and glad you found London was perfect for you

VLIF - well, my guardian angel decided it would be safer to stay at home - so I'm doing so.

Phil Lowe said...

Sorry that you had those bad experiences FF. I agree with the comments about walking with purpose and not someone to be intimidated. I'm a bloke and I do that around dodgy or odd looking characters. Read em some Spike Milligan or a poem with as many mentions of Mexico (as already suggested) as possible.

Sydney said...

Having lived in New York for years (which is not as dangerous or as mean as it's reputation... I mean AT ALL), I find in those situations, it's always helpful to give out the Crazy Chick vibe. Gives would-be assailants the feeling that they might be taking more of a risk with their own lives if they choose to mess with you ( It helps to talk to yourself and scratch places while they are sizing you up ). Just a thought... :-)