I have a very bad habit on public transport. I’m incurably nosy and I can’t help peeking over people’s shoulders at what they’re reading, watching or texting. It’s naughty, voyeuristic and an invasion of privacy but oh what a joy it can be.
Whether it’s spotting the suited businessman who is secretly reading a romantic novel on his Kindle, the surprisingly sexual texts of a middle aged woman or the semi-pornographic and bizarre social media feeds of a teenager; I love the little glimpse it gives me into people’s lives. It’s a bit like the dusky late summer nights when you get a peek into people’s sitting rooms in the magical little hour when people light the lamps just before they draw their curtains. It’s a very guilty pleasure but I confess. I’m guilty as charged. I love to see and imagine what others’ lives are like. I’m not after spying on people naked or spotting people in coitus. I’d be pretty mortified if I did and blush the colour of a pillar-box whilst quickly looking away. I want to see nasty curtains and ornaments, not cocks.
I got a couple of shocks recently. About a month ago I was on the train into central London and a well-groomed man of about 20 was answering a volley of texts on his phone. I cast a sneaky sideways glance and was pretty horrified to read that he was setting up being the all you can eat buffet for a group of Chinese businessmen in a hotel. The reassuring factor was that the person procuring his services appeared to have arranged it very carefully and was reassuring him that the businessmen would all wait in a separate room and take it turns, forming an orderly queue to make use of his body. I must admit to feeling a bit queasy but reproached myself for my bourgeois small mindedness. He was wearing McQueen (he needed income to maintain that look), looked relaxed and happy and who am I to have qualms about his job just because I wouldn’t do it myself. Although, an orderly queue? I love good manners. Maybe not such a horrific job after all, provided it was a good quality hotel.
A few weeks ago I was travelling up North and my nosiness caused me a major dilemma. The middle-aged businessman man sitting in front of me was reviewing his selection of photographs on his phone.
These weren’t happy snaps of his kids or shots of Instagrammed food: they were covert photos of young women’s crotches taken under train tables. After an hour of seeing him from between the seat backs enlarging, changing definitions and compulsively viewing a huge collection of photos of women’s thighs and gussets (all taken under train tables), I made my displeasure known through a series of huffs and tsks that made him stop for a good 5 minutes before resuming his compulsion.
To cut a long story very short: I managed to make like a cross between Mary Whitehouse and Miss Marple and got his name and company address from his email signature when he sent an email on his laptop and reported him to the police. Being the person I am, I challenged him first and asked if I could take a picture of his cock or not; a question he seemed to object to which was something I found hypocritical in an inveterate vagina snapper.
He, ultimately, got a police caution, which was great. My point in telling the story? I wonder am I any better than him? I invade privacy by reading texts, looking in people’s houses and I lecherously glance at men’s bulging crotches on public transport. Only yesterday, I couldn’t resist a good look at a muscled man in tight Lycra (he was definitely circumcised). I know people who post pictures of hot men in the street on Facebook for their friends’ to comment on.
There are whole social media feeds of people’s photos of bare chested young men on Tube trains. It’s no wonder that we can get confused on what is right and wrong any more. Is my grandmother’s favourite 1950’s past time of passing on overheard bits of gossips over the garden fence any different in its intrusive and harmful voyeuristic joy? Is the digital age making us all into a bunch of twisted individuals?
Maybe we should all think twice about what the boundaries are and what is harmless admiration and what is invasion of privacy. The questions and issues are endless. The big question: will I stop peeking at people’s I-Pads and phones? Of course not.
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.
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