We were on our annual team afternoon out, and there was much for my small (but disproportionately talented and influential) department to celebrate. The birthdays of every team member for example, since this day out was annual. Also, one colleague had recently passed her finance exams. And I was celebrating my 9 month one week and four day sobriety anniversary, which was reason enough for us to go out so I could watch everyone get shit-faced.
Our venue was Putney, by the river Thames. The fact I was surprised that Putney was on the river showed that even after ten years of living in London I still hadn’t grasped the basic layout of the place. We settled in a nice gastropub and I prepared to stuff my face, lining my stomach for all the Red Bull I was going to be drinking.
My colleague Steve had recently been evangelising about non-alcoholic beer, and how this could be a good alternative for me on nights out (and days on the piss). But prior to sitting down when we first arrived I’d already asked the barmaid what non-alcoholic drinks they had, and it was basically water, lemonade, coke and Red Bull. Typical. But Steve suggested we ask again, so next time drinks were being ordered from the table he asked the waiter if they had any non-alcoholic beer.
“Yes we have Bitburger,” he replied, in a thick French accent.
“No no no,” Steve adopted a special mode of speaking reserved for times when he was speaking to a “stupid foreigner”. His hands came up in front of him so he could illustrate every word. “No no, not BEEFBURGER. We are not READY yet for FOOD. You understand? You have *non-alcoholic beer*? For my friend. ALCOHOL-FREE? Zero alcohol? My friend here,” he pointed in my face with both hands. I was only two feet away, “He no drink! You have beer but no alcohol?”
“Yes we have Bitburger. A non-alcoholic variety of Bitburger beer. In a bottle, do you want one?”
Steve realised he was the one who had misheard, and tried to backtrack but only made things worse. “Ah sorry, I thought you said BEEFBURGER. I thought you were going to bring my friend a beefburger.”
“Does he want a beefburger? Are you ready to order?”
“No no, just the BITburger, just the beer.” Steve reeled off all the other drinks for the table, normal beers, ciders, wines, and the waiter left. He turned to us, “God, that one’s a bit useless isn’t he? Where’d he get all that beefburger stuff from… idiot.”
About ten minutes later, the waiter came back with our drinks; we think possibly he passed our order onto an English person who immediately asked the chef to start preparing a beefburger.
My drink garnered quite some attention, and Steve, understandably, asked to try it, as he had been trying out various non-alcoholic beers lately in a bid to cut back on drinking. I poured him some. Then someone else wanted to try. Then someone else, then another. By the end of the fucking tasting session, I had about two shots of beer left in my bottle, as everyone complimented how nice it was and moved on to their full glasses of normal beer, cider and wine.
Yes, the only beer I was able to drink had been snatched up by a bunch of people who could literally have ANYTHING they wanted. But no, they wanted mine! “We’ll order you another one when he comes back.” I was waiting quite some time.
Fred Russell, father of modern ventriloquism.
After a few hours we left and moved on to another bar in Putney. On the way there my colleague Franco spotted a house across the street with a blue plaque on it. He squinted and read it out:
FRED RUSSELL Father of Modern Ventriloquism, lived here 1914-1926
I quipped “Although the plaque’s on that house he actually lived next door.” Now, I didn’t get nearly the rapturous applause that this joke deserved – I blame this on the alcohol consumed by my audience in the previous bar.
Although when we finally settled down somewhere else, my gag about a new phone app for helping inexperienced men find their partner’s clitoris – called TwatNav – had everyone on the floor. You win some you lose some.
By about 7pm everyone was quite well-lubricated and I decided to call it a night as the rest went off to another bar. I’ve been having trouble with my stamina, or staying power, since stopping drinking, and at 6 or so hours had done quite well. I was also feeling quite bloated from all the alcohol-free beer. I never used to drink beer, for that reason, even when I was drinking – but it had been nice to have something beer-like while my friends were drinking proper beer. It was something I’d always avoided when I first quit, just by way of making a clean break, but after nearly ten months I thought I was safe to try it without it causing any bad memories.
And so, I left the team and waited for a convenient bus straight home to Tooting. And that’s where things got pretty weird…
I got on the fairly empty bus, and had the whole back seat to myself; I sat in the corner and amused myself with my phone doing the usual stuff, you know like taking notes of gags I’d made that day that I could later re-use on my blog, that kind of thing.
A colourfully dressed black lady in her early 40s got on, the glimmer of her bright pink suit catching my eye. She sat in the middle seat of the back row, she was clearly on the phone to someone on some kind of hands-free kit as she was all mouth, but she was so garishly adorned with accessories and ‘bling’ that I couldn’t actually see any handset or headset. Given that one of my pet hates is people having loud “private” conversations on public transport, I reached into my bag for my headphones and sunglasses so I could drown her out both visually and aurally.
But as I continued to be forced to listen to her gobbish outpourings, I started to realise everything was not quite as it seemed. Firstly, she didn’t seem to be having a “conversation” in that she didn’t shut up long enough for another person to speak. Secondly, it began to appear like she was talking about people on the bus.
I listened more and more intently, and I noticed a few other people around me on the bus seemed to be doing the same. In the next few minutes a number of things became clear. This woman was not talking to anyone on a phone of any sort, she was just talking. And she was indeed describing her bus journey and the people on it – but in the past tense. It was as if she was describing every detail to someone hours later.
It was around this time, from her frank descriptions of the darker skinned passengers on the bus, that I realised this woman was under the impression she was white. She was saying out loud things that only a white racist would say, but that only a black person could get away with. And she was using language so colourful it was the linguistic equivalent of a Dulux paint chart.
Now, I mentioned in the title that this woman had Tourette’s. This I know is false, but I wanted to give people some indication of what this woman was like. Of course we all associate Tourette’s with someone saying inappropriate offensive involuntary things in public, but in fact Tourette’s covers a range of involuntary tics, physical and verbal and the swearing (known properly as coprolalia, which literally means “shit talk”) is just one possible symptom of many. While I used Tourette’s to convey roughly what kind of condition this woman had, I actually have no idea how to describe in one word what she actually had. Whatever it was, it was far far worse.
It was like one long, uninterrupted offensive and socially unacceptable outburst. No-one was safe from this woman’s running commentary on the passengers, occasional off-topic but equally offensive monologues, and often horrific language.
A black man of about her age got on and sat in the seat in front of me (and her), his gangly legs meaning he had to sit turned halfway out to the aisle. This woman’s venom was going straight in his ear, and it was mere moments before she started on him, although I think it took him several minutes to figure out what was going on.
“He didn’t realise,” she said, continuing to talk in past tense, “that everyone on the bus knew what his intentions were. He just wanted to rape people, like all his kind.”
This is how I thought it would end…
OK, I thought, she’s gonna get killed. She’s gonna get killed, she’s gonna get killed, I’m gonna see someone get killed. She’s gonna get killed. As soon as that man realises this crazy woman is talking ABOUT HIM, there’s going to be trouble.
She continued, “He was looking around the bus calmly, raping all the women with his eyes.” I started to squirm, I could see the man in front knew by now this woman was not on the phone. She started to describe him, what he was wearing, she must have repeated the rapey comments about five more times while she did this. He turned round, looked at her – she didn’t flinch at all, just kept staring into space talking about him – then he looked at me.
I tried to encapsulate all of the following into a single look and shrug: ‘dunno mate, whackjob if you ask me, what’s she on about anyway, she’s been like this for fifteen minutes, and I definitely don’t agree with anything she’s saying about the raping, best just to ignore her eh, stick your music on or something’.
He shook his head, I could see that although he had been at first bemused about this crazy woman talking about him, as time went on he was starting to get genuinely agitated. Understandable since everyone on the bus was by now looking at him as much as they were looking at her.
Thankfully, suddenly her monologue shifted topic. “And I pulled down my knickers and I showed my daughter what God had given me. And she was jealous.” WHAT THE FUCK! Where did that come from? How seamlessly she moved from “the guy in front’s a rapist” to “so I was having a whose-got-the-best-minge competition with my daughter”. EYEEEEEEW!
The guy in front continued to get a rest as a young girl with a pushchair got on. This young girl was to be the focus of the crazy woman’s attention for the next few minutes. “I looked at her and she was only a child herself, she should have been enjoying her own childhood instead of bringing another life into this world, but she’s such a slag and she couldn’t resist feeling that penis going in and out in and out in and out…” she repeated this so many times it was fucking nauseating! She had this knack of describing things in such a clinical matter of fact way, as if bringing it up casually in a conversation. But the stuff she was coming out with was monstrous. At one point she started graphically describing what the childbirth process was like.
I felt really sorry for the young girl, who just like the other passengers she targeted, took a bit of time to realise what was going on – so there were a few minutes where everyone else on the bus knew exactly who she was talking about, but the girl (who had just got on) didn’t.
By this point I was tempted to get off the bus and walk the rest of the way. But we were almost at Tooting. I hung on as she focussed back on the black guy. She wove her perceptions of the girl as a “slag” and the guy as a “rapist” into a new fantastical monologue about the two of them. In the course of the journey it was not the first time she told stories, as if they were fact, about multiple people on the bus.
My stop arrived, and I was already at the door waiting for the bus to slow down. Made it out alive. Turned around, the black guy was behind me, and behind him, the woman. Still talking. “The women in Tooting need to watch out for this one, but you can see the rape in his eyes, he can’t hide it.” Oh for fuck’s sake! GET ME OFF THIS BUS!
I got off and basically ran to the supermarket, never looking back. Partly because I wanted to be far away in case anything kicked off, but mainly because I needed a headstart in case this crazy woman was also going to Sainsbury’s. I had this frightening vision of her behind me at the checkout as I prepared to romance one of my Sainsbury’s honeys, “The only reason he’s been buying nothing but cucumbers, cherries and condoms for the past 6 months is because he’s trying to tell your subconscious that he wants in your pants.”