What is it with me accidentally hurting other commuters? After bashing someone’s shin due a dream about a bastard cat, or catching a woman’s bag on mine and nearly dragging her off the train, I’m starting to sense a pattern.
I know it’s been a bit quiet on the “random stuff from the city” front. I thought this was because I’ve not experienced any real commuting horrors of late.
I put this down to sparse use of the underground and sleeping more on the train. Drama seems to erupt more frequently if you’re crammed into dark, small spaces with rage-filled strangers, but I’m using buses instead, or walking to work in the dazzling sunshine.
It was so non-eventful as to make you vomit.
However, as the Weimar Republic demonstrated, the good times eventually end (too soon?), and I enjoyed/endured two separate incidents in as many days.
I’ll talk about the other incident in a separate post as I’m kind of on a comeback kick today, but the most recent issue was more about how shutting out the world can become a bit of a habit.
Oh, and lead to minor injury.
Travelling to and from London can get overwhelming, particularly when you’re already predisposed to mild social anxiety as I am, so an escape route is needed. In my case, that’s separating myself from my surroundings through music, or books, or (these days) podcasts.
I’ve taken to listening to one podcast in particular called Podquisition. It features game critic/reviewer Jim Fucking Sterling, Son as the founding host, but he is equally matched by Laura K Dale, a games journalist and butts connoisseur, as well as Gavin Dunne, an indie musician known as Miracle of Sound, who makes amazing songs inspired by video games, TV and films.
I’ve been nomming through these in the way I do when I find a new piece of entertainment. It’s partly why I’m scared to read books: once I start, I don’t stop until the whole thing is done, and then I will devour the series. Even with going to and doing work, I can easily finish a book in a day. This is because I read quickly (and I do worry sometimes that I miss details because of this), but also because I literally will not put the book down unless it’s seen as bad form. At staff meetings, for example, they tend to frown on leafing through books about magical police detectives.
It’s a dangerous addiction to escapism, one that’s gotten worse due to my Kindle app. Now I can easily buy and read a book without moving from my seat on the 6:25 to Liverpool Street.
I’ve substituted hungrily consuming books with hungrily consuming podcasts, mainly because they don’t run out as quickly or cost me as much. Instead of paying a fee, you can often support through small donations to the creator’s Patreon account, or buy merch.
None of this really explains how I ended up accidentally punching a guy in the bollocks, but it’s good to have background to the incident.
I was walking along the platform, listening to the podcast on full volume. If you’ve ever been to Liverpool Street, you’ll know a high volume level is necessary to drown out noise from crowds, or overheard conversations about the unbelievability of a colleague’s behaviour (which all participants apparently can believe), or the tannoy announcements apologising for a delay because of their broken, ancient trains.
On the podcast, I was intently following Sterling’s descriptions about some of the weirder fan requests/comments he’s had, summed up by Dale with “…the fuck is your life, Jim?!”
Now, I wasn’t just walking along the platform, I was striding. I’ve been told I swing my arms a bit, which I can now believe.
So engrossed was I in the podcast, I had forgotten that other commuters existed. This is dangerous, generally, but especially when the platform is crowded.
At the moment Dale commented on the interesting behaviour of Sterling’s fans, I burst into laughter.
That in itself is fine. The problem was that I also seemed to lose control of my limbs as I giggled and threw my arms out with more force than I realised.
Again, in itself, not an issue. However, my enthusiastic arm-swinging coincided with a gentleman trying to push past me on the platform.
As I swung my left arm back, I felt it hit something squishy. Even before I heard the muffled “Oof!”, I knew what has happened.
Appalled, I turned my head to check. Following just to my side was a man with plastic, glazed hair, dressed in a smart suit. He appeared to be slowing down. He stared intently ahead, refusing to make eye contact, and trying not to gasp.
He began to speed up, which only intensified the mild hobbling in his gait. He was determined to get past me now at any cost, as if to prove that receiving an accidental attack to the nut sack was totally worth it for gaining a few steps.
I swear, as he walked past me, he looked like he had tears in his eyes.
“Um, er,” I began, trying to work out the best way to say “Sorry for punching your crotch!” to a total stranger.
However, he ignored me and powered ahead, as if removing me from sight would magically erase events of the past and the pain in his pants.
He was still crab-walking down the platform by the time I climbed on board. I’m honestly not sure he stopped, so focused was he on escaping.
I settled into my seat and decided that perhaps that was enough podcast-listening for the day, just in case I accidentally murdered the entire carriage thanks to a particularly amusing anecdote.
Funnily, I always saw podcasts and books as a means of protecting myself from the world, giving me a temporary place to hide so I could emerge regularly and participate once again in society. However small an incident (well, for me at least; I’m not sure how that poor guy dealt with the rest of what I presume was an uncomfortable journey home), it highlighted just how much I now shut out the world, to the point where I don’t even notice the presence of other people; or perhaps can’t deal with their presence.
I realised that maybe it wasn’t that I hadn’t observed any funny or odd commuting moments recently, but more that I had numbed myself to them, slicing them out of my vision.
I thought more about it and wondered when the last time was that I had actively sought out news about the world, about anything that wasn’t distraction. I couldn’t remember one moment, even in the last few months.
I’m not sure it’s a good thing to shut yourself off from the world, at least not on a regular basis. Sometimes you need a quiet space in the chaos, but a constant desire to escape from your fellow humans is probably a sign of something not being quite right, something which should be addressed rather than ignored.
I’m not saying everyone should be an extrovert. Trust me, I’m the last one to advocate that. But if you’re starting to shrink further and further away from the world, there’s likely something behind it. I’m never going to be a social butterfly, but I know that cutting myself off from the world is a maladaptive coping strategy I’ve used before to shield myself from having to deal with, well, life.
So, from now on, no more automatic plugging myself in to distraction. I’ll still read and listen, because they feed my mind. I also may need to escape into them now and again, but my default setting will be trying to engage with life rather than ignore it; to care about it.
And for the man who took a shot to the balls in order for this message to get through, I salute you.