Omega Male

Wednesday July 10th 2013: I’m descending the steps from the Tube platform at East Finchley. As I reach the bottom, I nearly collide with a bald, surly looking man coming the other way, who suddenly appears from the corridor to the left. It’s the sort of near-collision between people that would normally just result in a mutual muttering of ‘Oops! Sorry!’ Neither of us are walking particularly fast, after all.

But in fact, this man physically grabs me and holds me in place while he passes by.

I have instant recall of how he does it. Facing me square on, each of his hands take each of my elbows, firmly, confidently, turning me in a fixed object to pivot around. It’s as if he does this sort of thing all the time. I wonder now if he does.

Then he lets go in order to walk up the steps. Shocked, I turn around and glower at him – instantly regretting doing so. He’s now halfway up the stairs behind me. He glowers back but doesn’t stop – and thank goodness.

I also notice that he is wearing headphones, and wonder if that has some relevance. I am not wearing headphones, though I do often walk around in a mass of distracted thoughts, which probably amounts to the same thing.

So I think about who is in the wrong here. In my case, my fault is to (a) be in his way, and (b) to glower at him afterwards. Which is the limit of my responses to most things.  He, on the other hand, has responded to (a) by physically holding me in place. And he  might, let’s face it, now respond to (b) with violence.

It does happen. I particularly think of the man on the 43 bus who was stabbed to death for asking another man to stop throwing chips at his girlfriend. I do know what it’s like to be physically attacked or threatened in London for no reason whatsoever (and once wrote a song about it), so this sort of thinking isn’t as hysterical as it might sound.

I am not an Alpha Male, and so cannot Hold My Own in such confrontations. I am barely an Omega Male.

But – and this is surely as universal an instinct as glowering back at a stranger for grabbing you – I also try to make eye contact with the other passengers coming down the steps beside me. Because I want the vindication of the crowd. I want to see in their faces that (a) they saw what just happened, and (b) that they are on my side. That he was the one in the wrong.

And I get it. One man remarks ‘Bloody hell. That was a bit much!’ Another says to me ‘Are you okay, man?’

‘Yes…’ I feebly blather. ‘It was just a bit… unexpected.’

I come away feeling at first a bit upset, minor though the incident is. I think what troubles me is that it’s proof there are men who think nothing of suddenly manhandling other men.

But I was also consoled by the reactions of the other passengers. So that was proof that I didn’t deserve such treatment for absent-mindedly wandering down steps without looking where I was going. That between this man and myself, I was the more acceptable one in the eyes of society, if only for five seconds.

It’s the only interaction I have with other people all day.

[Edited to add: by an absolute coincidence, someone has just alerted me to a rare TV clip of Ian Nairn manhandling a stranger who gets in his way.  I think this is one instance where such a liberty is justified, in the name of Good Television if nothing else. Starts 6 minutes in:]

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