I was groped. So why am I laughing?
Followed home by a fondler, Emma Forrest finds herself playing Barbara Windsor to his Sid James
Tuesday 25 March 1997
When I lived at home, I always hated that walk. Eight and a half minutes of cracked road from the station to my house, me in school uniform, the numerous trees in full blossom and very few people around. Total John Carpenter/Jamie Lee Curtis territory.
But that's how I always comforted myself: nothing's going to happen because it's too obvious, too much like a film set. I don't expect to trip over Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr every time I jump a wave on the beach - why should I assume Michael Myers is going to be waiting for me behind every tree? My fears are more sophisticated than that: I generally look for him inside my shoe closet, behind the bathroom door and in the ice box in my fridge.
But when a man, apparently out of nowhere, started walking alongside me, my first thought was: 'Why are you walking so close to me?' My second thought was: 'Why am I so vain as to imagine the world wants to walk in step with me?' Sure enough, he pulled ahead and I studied him from behind.
Stocky, with close-cropped ginger hair, stubble, dark glasses and a white baseball cap. Probably on his way to meet his girlfriend. He was probably only staring at me because my hair needed washing and my sweater didn't go with my cords. And that's when he slowed down.
I heard him breathing hard and I tried to step away from him, but he grabbed my backside. "Oi!" I squealed, raging like Germaine Greer but sounding like Barbara Windsor. Then he squeezed my breasts - and that's when I really felt the spirit of Germaine spit forth. But somehow she reacted with the air and I turned from an eloquent feminist into Ice-T: "F*** off, muthaf****!"
I lashed out with my arm in Sporty Spice style. Unfortunately my attempt at kung-fu appeared to have the same encouraging effect as a Spice Girls video and he started breathing harder. "Oooh," he smarmed, playing Sid James to my Babs. Then a car pulled round the corner and he ran back towards the Tube.
I kept walking for another five minutes, shaken, but laughing out loud at the fact that I blew my big chance to be Modesty Blaise and had ended up, in fact, in a Carry On film. Then something made me turn around and I saw him striding back towards me.
I sprinted to my parents' door and rang the bell. He watched me as I waited, but the minute my mum answered he was gone. I stood on the doorstep, slack jawed.
"What?" she said. Dad poked his head around the kitchen door and then came grandma, bearing an Easter egg. "What?"
"I don't know. It's probably nothing. But I think this guy just grabbed my tits. No, he definitely did." I started laughing again. Mum rang the police.
Victims always think it is their fault... but I do think it was my fault, for having such a pathetic handbag. "Didn't you whack him in the face with your bag?" said the feisty female constable. I held up the bag I had been carrying, which is the size of a purse and made out of pale blue Hello Kitty printed flannel. "Well, I kind of twirled it a bit..."
The policewoman was in such an inspiring rage that I wanted to form a rock group with her. "It's completely out of order. We've been having this sort of attack up to twice a day in this area. Wait till I get my hands on him."
I gave her my description - stocky with cropped ginger hair - and we agreed that it was probably the same guy who had groped a girl in a nearby street last week. She had described her attacker as looking like "a fat Jimmy Somerville". As she left, the constable promised that if she got hold of fat Jimmy Somerville she would whack him for me. I told her that if she saw any members of The Communards she should whack 'em for me.
I felt absolutely fine, until half past four in the morning, when I woke up with the unsettling recollection that fat Jimmy Somerville had watched me go into my house That's when I decided that he was definitely waiting for me. I also convinced myself that if I didn't hear "Rooms on Fire" by Stevie Nicks in the next two minutes, I was going to get chopped up. In my experience, 4.30am and rationality do not go hand in hand.
Most people would find the thought of Stevie Nicks frightening rather than soothing, but for some reason, I decided I had to find that record or something awful would happen. Apparently, it's called fear displacement. Trembling, I turned on all the lights and started flicking through the CDs until I found it. I felt a lot better. I even heard myself say, "Well, maybe I shouldn't be so upset. At least something thinks that I'm pretty."
The reality is, if you think you're boyfriend's cheating on you, he probably is. If you think you're going to fail an exam, you usually do. And if a man looks like he's going to grope you, he probably will. On the return walk from the house to the station I wondered why I wasn't as shaken up as I might have been. And my conclusion troubled me more than the assault: he grabbed my bum, he grabbed my tits, he got scared and he ran away. It's only a speeded up version of how 'normal' men treat women all the time.
Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax
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