It's a little tricky to know exactly how to frame this post; how to word it without seeming heartless or frigid or fishing for compliments or self-esteem. So I'm telling you upfront, this post has no ulterior motive. It's just a tale of some things that happen to have happened.
Lately, I have got blonder. Not blonde – I want to make that very clear as well – no, not blonde, because I'd look shit blonde, but blonder. Partly the effect of summer sunshine, partly the effect of a change in dye, I'm now less of a coppery redhead and more of a reddish gold. Plus, my hair's getting longer, so the general effect is less in-your-face and altogether more feminine. I'm not deliberately aiming for feminine (in fact, I'm just aiming for a hairstyle that doesn't make me look like my mother; however much I love her, a woman doesn't need to see her Mum staring out of the mirror at 31 years old), but that's whats happening.
So naturally, I'm getting hit on.
I'm normally blithely unaware of being hit on (evidence: years of being blithely single). It's similar to the way I can walk down Camden HIgh Street – have walked down Camden High Street many times in my decade in London – and not hear any dealers offering drugs. I was convinced I was the only person in Camden never to have been offered drugs until I was walking back from a gig with a couple of friends, and one them turned to me and said "You didn't hear any of that, did you?". I confess, I had not. So for me to notice being hit on, it's got to be pretty unsubtle. But there's unsubtle, and then there's creepy and inappropriate.
The other Saturday, I'd been in town and decided to catch a taxi back to my house from Lewisham. It was only about 10pm, but there was a huge rainstorm tracking down from London Bridge and I was knackered from getting up early to inject the cat and watch the Japanese grand prix qualifying. So I jumped in a black cab (which happened to be red). The driver asked a few pleasantries, I answered in a vaguely neutral, tired sort of way. He pulled into my street and started asking how long I'd lived here, if I owned, if I lived on my own, if I were married. (Note to self: rehearse the imaginary boyfriend so you can pull him convinceingly out of even your tiredest brain instead of automatically reaching for the truth.) As I paid, a little hurridly, he said "right, and if I see you again we'll go for a beer".
If that sounds innocuous to you, let's recap. I'm a woman on my own. At night. I'm quite little. This man knows where I live, and that I live alone. I haven't even properly seen his face. Attempting to arrange a date after five minutes' taxi chat is not something to make me feel comfortable, or even safe.
But do you know what pissed me off the most? The fare was £6.40. I paid with a £10 note. I always round up when I take taxis, but I do it by leavng the money with the driver when he hands me the change. This guy automatically rounded up for me. I didn't quibble, I wanted the hell out of the car. But what kind of man tries to set up a drink with a woman and then takes his own tip?
Moving back in time… a couple of weeks ago I was at a gathering that shall remain nameless, because it's not the fault of the poor gathering. Suffice to say it's a place for sensible, rational people to meet and chat and have a few beers. Heavily geek, if I'm honest with you, but that's OK because I am also geek. On this occasion, my usual (male) gathering buddy was going to be a bit late so I watched the main event on my own after having a peer round for anybody I knew. Felt a bit hyena-surrounded-by-lions, but put that down to paranoia. Until. Later, after my friend had turned up, I got introduced to This Guy. This Guy and I had a very stilted conversation for about 60 seconds, during which he increasingy resembled an over-eager spaniel about to start humping one's leg. Except that makes him sound cute, and it most definitely wasn't. We get to 61 seconds and he comes out with "I was very pleased to be introduced to you". 'Really? Well, that's nice, and I've heard of how you've been helping out w-' "I was very pleased to be introduced to you because you're very pretty", and This Guy stares at me, waiting for a response.
Again, let's recap. We're in a pub, it's true, but it's a deeply unfashionable basement in a deeply unfashionable part of town (which is why I love it). This is no meat market, this is a place for intelligent people to discuss things with people of like minds. It's the kind of place you expect someone would place a little more emphasis on inter-personal relationships, how we get on, whether we have anything in common, striking up a conversation that lasts more than 65 bloody seconds before you try and get jiggy with a lady. I think it was fair for me to be somewhat blindsided, and only able to respond with 'Errr, thanks… that's a bit weird'. (Doubtless that latter bit was not what he was expecting, and I feel a bit bad. But not that bad.)
"I know it's politically incorrect to say such a thing", he continued. I wish I could have shaken off the shock and replied with something like; 'It has nothing to do with political correctness. What did you honestly expect to get back? 'Thanks, I know nothing about you but your attraction to me physically is clearly a basis for a date'; 'This is nothing, you should see my degree certificate'; 'I'll buy you a drink right now if you can remember my name'?' Instead I could only come up with, again, 'errrrr, no, it's a bit weird' and start backing away towards my friend (who, on hearing the tale, actually apologised for being late and leaving me in there alone. Which is terrible; I shouldn't need fucking chaperoning).
I am unused to this kind of attention. You can probably tell. But I'm more than happy to have been unused to it if it means avoiding men who think it's perfectly acceptable to charge in without warning or trying to work out if such advances might be welcome (hint: you cannot do that in 65 seconds, or from the driver's seat of a short cab ride). Perhaps this is symptomatic of the self help mantra to 'go out and seize the day – you never get want you want if you don't GO FOR IT!'. But I suspect that was never intended to mean 'go impose yourself on anyone you want, and make them feel bad when they're forced to reject you because you barely gave them a chance to breathe, never mind form an opinion of you'. And yes, you do make us feel bad because we're British, damn you, and we survive on binding rules of etiquette and self-loathing (or is that just me?).
Maybe it's all an unfortunate coincidence. But I do blame my hair. No, that's not right. I blame a culture that has incubated a belief that women are there to be picked up, that we have to endure being reduced to our hair and whatever else some guy likes the look of. Apparently being blonde-ish now places me in this category. Lifelong blondes: how the hell do you deal with this shit?