“If you show me your breasts I’ll give you £35,” was perhaps an inopportune remark to make to the middle-aged commuter sitting opposite me in the first-class carriage of the 14.30 Taunton service out of London Paddington on Tuesday afternoon. I was only going as far as Bath Spa, but from the expression that darkened his features I immediately realised I was already in very hot – and possibly even sulphurous – water.
The worst thing about the situation was that I didn’t even particularly want to see his breasts – I just spoke on impulse and out of boredom. Not, you appreciate, proximate boredom – that’s for kids – but a deep, gnawing, existential kind of boredom. Besides, he was reading The Times in a way that convinced me he was just as afflicted with tedium vitae as I. I thought: I’ll hand over the 35 quid, he’ll take off his tie – striped blue and lighter blue – and unbutton his shirt – white, not especially fresh – then simply part the sides so that I can ogle for a few seconds or minutes his slack, sparsely-haired moobs. That’ll be it: no fuss, no drama – I doubted that anyone else in the carriage would even notice.
Of course, if I’d paused for a second to think about my proposition I would’ve realised that it was just another attempt on my part to indulge in the pornography that swells in every moist and hidden crevice of contemporary society. Yes, that’s the thing: ever since a revelatory encounter with the late Andrea Dworkin, in Manhattan, in the late 1990s, I’ve accepted that pornography, far from being a harmless little vice, is in fact a crime – and a crime with victims like any other. Granted, it seemed unlikely that this man was in danger of experiencing himself as a sexual object (indeed, he might even have welcomed this if I’d put it to him nicely), but there it was: I was objectifying him.
The strange thing was that as he became more and more irate, and threatened to call the conductor – I found myself getting aroused. I suppose you can guess how it all ended… But then, I thought to myself as I zipped up my flies, smarmed my hair, shut the toilet door, and descended to the platform at Bath Spa, in my end is my beginning – surely a sentiment Pope Benedict would concur with?