Dickon-Baiting Is So Last Season

Recent outings? Well, there was the Last Fosca Show on Sat 13th. Islington Bar Academy, as part of the club night Feeling Gloomy. Line up is myself, Rachel, Charley, Tom and Kate. Three guitars, which means I can concentrate more on my singing, such as it is. Excellent professional sound, as it’s a modern purpose-built venue. No style in the shopping centre location, perhaps, but sometimes a hitch-free sound is preferable to a battered PA in a more historic venue.

Downstairs at about 7pm is some kind of under-18s hip hop event. There’s lots of audibly excited dressed-up teenage girls in a queue snaking around the other side of the building. I’d like to say they point or shout out things when I have to squeeze past them on the stairs to get to the soundcheck, but in fact they just go quiet and pull their friends out of the way to let me pass. So I feel rightly shamed by my own paranoia and preconceptions.

In fact, I’ve found this happening a lot lately – having to walk past loud teens on street corners I brace myself for cat calls or worse, only to find they just go quiet, look at their shoes, and politely wait for me to pass. I wonder what has changed – me, or teenagers.

The only Dickon-baiting incident of late has been on my journey to the night shift job on a Saturday evening. It’s arguably the most jarring aspect of the job, soberly commuting to work while surrounded by much less sober people on their Saturday night out. But I’m suited at being the odd one out, after all.

At about 9.15pm at Camden Town tube one recent Saturday, I pass two small party girls who must be about 19, and who have clearly started drinking early. They’re shrieking and falling about with their friends as I walk past them from the corridor onto the platform, hoping not to catch their eye but still curious to see who is making all the noise. And of course the moment I glance at them is the moment one of them sees me.

I try to act ‘invisible’ (hah!), keeping my head down and walking right to the other end of the platform to sit down on the farthest possible seat on the farthest possible bench. But without looking back, I know they’re following me. Here we go again.

I dive into my bag and pull out that ubiquitous cloak of invisibility – the i-Pod. The ‘I’m Not Really Here, Don’t Touch Me’ Pod. Some people use their music players as a social shield. A kind of cowardly retreat and ‘f— off’ statement to one’s fellow man at the same time, particularly if the volume is loud enough. Music as an alibi.

Never worked for me, though. I’m sitting on the far bench, eyes to the floor, iPod in place (though I’m not listening to anything). And I know the two drunken teen girls have sat down next to me. They’ve even left their larger party of friends to come over to me. What DO they want? They’re smiling at me and elbowing each other. I’m the shared joke.

There’s no escape. I take out the iPod earphones and sigh. And I surprise myself with what I say.

‘What do you want with me?’

Said with a smile, mind. A slightly worrying smile.

Never done this before. It’s come from somewhere. Maybe just pure tiredness after all the years of strangers Coming Over to me to helpfully tell me what I look like, or who I look like, when all I want to do is get to where I’m going without incident. Maybe it’s actual anger about feeling At The Mercy Of Others. The notion that I’m a funny little walk-on part of other people’s evening’s entertainment, rather than the other way around. Which I don’t mind, actually.

But there are times when I’m feeling fragile, when I’m trying to psych myself up for going to work, and the thought of having to play the Funny Blond Man On The Tube Platform We Saw Tonight for the 756th time isn’t always something I feel up to doing. Is that bad of me?

‘What do you want with me?’

It surprises me more than they can know, but it does the trick, and they find themselves wrong-footed from the off, alcohol or not. They blurt out a few questions about why I look the way I do, and where I’m going, but the power balance of the encounter is now in question. And they go back to their friends.

Yet I feel a little guilty about daring to question them back, for the sinister utteration, because it’s out of character for me. I never like to ruin anyone’s fun. Even if it’s at my expense. It’s just that sometimes even lifelong figures of street ridicule need a sick note.

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