The recent hoo-ha about the level of harassment / male attention endured by the other gender (assuming two here, despite the controversy that may cause) got me thinking about a particular form of said harassment. My mind wandered back through the mists of time to consider the occasions when unsolicited visions of various male members hove into my unwilling view. I realise that there must be a fair few blokes who do entertain themselves in this peculiar way.
The first flasher was encountered as I meandered along a quiet road in that slightly unwilling way that 13 year olds have as the staircase leading up through a jungle-like hillside to the school playground above came into view. With my 11 year old sister in tow we were no doubt chatting amicably when I became aware of a young Chinese man half hidden in the undergrowth at the side of the road. As this was in Hong Kong, the fact he was Chinese wasn’t unusual, but the fact that he was standing very still whilst staring at us, with his crown jewels on display was. With a sharp instruction to my sister to “just ignore him and keep going” we picked up pace and carried on to school. I do not recall telling anyone about this.
The next encounter was in Glasgow two years later, as a friend and I walked back from the local park on a sunny afternoon (yes, sun can happen in Glasgow). As we made our way up a gentle slope in the road we spotted a man on the other side of the railings displaying his pride and joy. Deciding a bit of ridicule was in order – and the railings being rather too high to scale easily – we pointed and laughed loudly. Then went on our way. Again – never mentioned it to anyone.
Jump forward another couple of years and I was on the bus home from school, with my sister again (perhaps it is she that is the magnet to these encounters?). We were sitting on a bench seat that faced the opposite side of the bus, rather than a forward facing seat. The middle aged man sitting across from us had a newspaper on his lap, which he surreptitiously moved aside to reveal his unzipped trousers and something soft (thank God) nestling (and it wasn’t his new puppy). Frowning at him, I nudged my sister and we got off a stop early. Again – said nothing to the bus driver or parents.
I don’t remember any other instances until many years later, just after midnight, when I was returning from a friend’s home in central London. As I drove west along the A40, a warning light came on in the car. Slight panic – turned off into Bloemfontein Road in White City – the old Olympic Village area – and pulled up. Retrieved the handbook from the glove box and discovered a dire warning not to drive – oil warning light. Not being knowledgeable enough to know whether this was just an unnecessarily pessimistic view of the situation, I decided to call the AA. I did know this area as it was a frequent rat run I would take that emerged in Chiswick, where I could zip along through the genteel towns of Richmond and Twickenham to get home. It was an area where I wouldn’t normally linger, let’s put it that way.
The woman who answered the phone at the AA took my details and advised me that someone should be there in an hour or so. Not especially happy with that option I asked if she could advise me of the nearest garage where I might buy some oil. After a bit of key clattering she told me I could find a garage 367 miles away. I kid you not. After a few exasperated and curt comments I ended the call. I had some kind of satnav in the car that could tell me where garages were and after finding one a couple of miles away, I called a local minicab company to take me on the round trip.
When we returned, the driver offered to stay with me until the AA came (very chivalrous of him) but not wishing to detain him from earning a living, I asked him to wait until I had topped up the oil and then waved him cheerily off, got back into the car and locked the doors. I turned on the ignition but the warning light was still shining brightly. Nothing to do but wait. You may wonder why I didn’t just take a chance and drive home – and if you were to ask me the reason I would tell you about how I had been required to buy a new engine for a previous car when I had been stuck in a motorway tailback for two hours with the warning light burning its red light into my retinas.
Soon after the minicab driver had headed off into the night, I became aware of a figure on the pavement, half hidden amongst the hedge or bushes which grew in front of the blocks of apartments. The figure then turned towards my car, wandered over to the passenger window, and gave me an unasked for view of his meat and two veg. At the same time, he started banging his fist on the window. At that, I dialled 999. It was only at this point that I started to feel really shaken (definitely not stirred). As the phone was answered, he started to wander off and turned up a side street a few yards behind the car. The lady I spoke to was excellent and after taking my details, and a description of the bloke – which mainly focussed on his clothing and his new trainers as I didn’t see his face. I was asked what colour he was – was he black or white? No, he was a sort of golden colour, I thought. She assured me someone was on the way and that she would stay on the line until they were close by. We chatted a while, she told me they were nearly there and not wanting to stop her helping others, I said I was fine to wait.
Minutes later, the idiot returned. Another flash, more banging on the window. This time I hit the horn and he scarpered. Soon afterwards the Police Dog patrol van arrived. Nice policeman who asked me to go through the description one more time – including the skin colour again (as well as the bright white trainers). “Hmm, I think we might have him – I’ll drive you around and you tell me if you see him – I can’t say any more than that.” I jumped into the van and off we went, down the side streets and round a couple of blocks. “There he is!” I exclaimed. Frankly, the fact he was up against a wall with a large Alsatian straining on a lead in front of him, held by a uniformed policeman, would have been a bit of a giveaway.
Policeman number 1 returned me to my car, got in behind the wheel and switched on the ignition – red light no longer showing – yay! It’s a miracle. Told me to follow him to the station – and that two plain clothes officers who had been making their way on foot would be taking the guy to the station. Policeman then phoned the AA and told them to send the patrolman direct to the police station to check the car pronto.
There followed a lengthy process of making a detailed statement, and a visit from the plain clothes guys to say hello. I expressed my surprise to see them there so quickly as it was quite a long walk from where I had been. They looked at me as if I was mad, and said they had sent for a vehicle. How we laughed…. They also said the guy was drunk and so they would question him in the morning and let me know.
To cut this story slightly short, I got home about 4 am. Next morning on my way to another friend’s for brunch, the police officer called. The guy was from the Philippines, had a wife and family there, had been drunk, was very sorry, he had been having a pee in the bushes and wasn’t aware he hadn’t refastened his clothing. Gone with a warning and threats of deportation if he does anything else naughty. Let’s hope that put him off doing it again. (We’ll just forget the banging on the window and the second visit)
As a small footnote, there aren’t many of my friends who haven’t seen a flasher. I asked a friend yesterday – as part of my extensive research – she has had two encounters. The first as a young teenager in South Africa and the second in her 20’s on a commuter train home in the evening from Glasgow Central. She and the flasher were the only two in the carriage. She told him to “put it away, I’ve seen bigger than that.” He took himself off to the next carriage.
Few of those friends who have had this experience have been genuinely frightened – I guess that depends on the circumstances; as it was only late at night, feeling like a sitting duck in White City that I was scared. The other encounters were laughable and rather sad in the harsh light of day.
© Annie Dee 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file