22 April 2008

Skirting the issue

An artist's impression of the event witnessed, with some liberties taken for dramatic effect. (Painting by Gil Elvgren, 1952)

One of the nice things about living in a happening place like London is that occasionally you spot a brief vignette of pure humanity that reminds you of the innate comedic potential of everyday situations.

On Saturday morning I was taking the brief District Line journey from Southfields to Wimbledon on my way to do some shopping. In the five minutes or so that the Tube train took to rattle to the end of the line I had a chance to scan the carriage for noteworthy sights. Normally there's nothing to report - just the usual pet peeves of people having pointless loud conversations on their face-sucking mobiles or emitting repetitive tinny Kiss FM shockwaves from their cheap earphone buds.

But as the Tube crawled alongside the Wimbledon platform an unusual sight caught my eye. Now, naturally it's inappropriate to stare at young women on the Tube, so of course I didn't look overlong; just long enough to confirm that yes, my first impression was correct. Here was a young woman who had... (da dum DAAA!) Forgotten Her Skirt.

For some readers this occurrence must bring back memories of school-years nightmares in which you wake up in class to find that certain pivotal articles of schoolwear are absent, thereby sets off gales of student cackling, heckling and finger-pointing, accompanied by the ever-familiar surge of teenage embarrassment. The old 'schoolyard in your undies' nightmare is one familiar to many.

Similarly, those of you who have lived in the more youthful parts of town will be familiar with the famous Walk Of Shame such as that observed by residents of Majoribanks Street in Mt Victoria, Wellington, whereby a flock of work-suited, hung-over and somewhat bedraggled souls try to make their way homewards on a Saturday morning after nocturnal escapades in another's bed. But it would be rather unusual to spot a WoS-er sporting the No-Skirt look. Indeed, in a town like Wellington it would probably result in witnesses emailing the Dominion Post gossip column.

This South London girl had managed to combine the two in an impressive attempt to achieve the maximum possible outbreak of nudging and winking amongst her fellow passengers. Before you start getting ideas, I should point out that No Skirt Girl was not in any danger of being arrested for indecent exposure. She had a perfectly respectable pair of black tights on over her black knickers. I bet she was thanking her lucky stars that she'd left her thong in the dresser on Friday morning.

As the Tube doors opened she bolted for the door and off down the platform, hoping to outrun the other passengers. This proved to be a tactical error, because this simply drew attention to her relative lack of lower attire for those fellow passengers following behind who had yet to notice the absence. Realising her mistake, she attempted to tug the tail of her top down lower, but rather than disguising the lack of said Skirt, this instead served as a kind of flag-waving banner announcing the general area in which interested passers-by could look if they wished to gaze upon the area in which a Skirt usually resides, but in this case was lamentably, unavoidably and inexplicably Absent.

As girlfriends nudged boyfriends, flicked their eyes No-Skirt-Girl-wards and muttered, "look, she's forgotten to finish dressing!", she quickened her pace to outdistance the dozens of other passengers, and tried to merge into the crowd. Only then did she realise her dilemma - to get out of the station she had to ascend a flight of stairs! Striding purposefully onwards, she deployed a complicated and high-risk two-pronged buttock obscuration strategy. With one hand tugging at her shirt-tail, the other hand pulled her wide leather belt down as low as possible to act as an impromptu and largely ineffectual modesty preserver.

In a flash (so to speak) she was gone into the Saturday morning Wimbledon throng, leaving only wonderment in her path. How had said Skirt parted company with its owner in the first place? Had she not thought to pop into Primark and buy a replacement? And in a city as fad-obsessed as London, did she not stop to think of the fearsome consequences of setting off a rage for venturing out on the Underground sans Skirt. The papers would have a field day.

Not that I'm saying it's a bad idea, mind.

Message Mr. Cleaver.
Am appalled by message.
Skirt is demonstrably neither sick nor absent.
Appalled by management's blatantly size-ist attitude to skirt.
Suggest management sick, not skirt!

- Bridget Jones' Diary, by Helen Fielding

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