The True Story of the Man Who ‘Self-Loved’ on the Train Next To Me

Warning: This post contains things children shouldn’t read.

Public transport is mostly boring, but occasionally it gets disturbing.


A long journey with strangers usually implies staring at a book or not breathing near the person who smells of sick. Since this incident, though, the words that cross my mind when someone gets too close are “please don’t wank on me.” 


It happened on a dark night on my way home from an intern position at a London magazine. That’s fancy talk for making tea and photo-copying whilst trying not to look frightened by each new assignment. I got on the train as usual and found it virtually empty. In my peripheral vision was the stubby figure of a man in dark clothes, a somewhat lonely looking middle aged sort who smiled hopefully at me as I sat down. He sat next to me. “Oh, God,” I thought, “I cannot be bothered with a conversation, I’m going to move.” So I did. I got up and moved clear across the carriage onto one of those two-seaters that nobody wants to share if they can help it. I gazed out the window and sighed with relief. He followed me. “Odd,” I thought, but because I’d somehow decided moving again would seem rude (!) I stayed where I was. 


The carriage filled up and, sitting on some seats within vision of us, was a mother with an eleven year old girl. That fact will continue to disturb me. While we set off on our journey I passed the time by looking at some photos I had in my bag (remember those days, when everything we owned had a physical presence? We live in the future now). “Are they of your holiday?” asked the man next to me.


“No,” I said quickly. I knew I was in a situation I had to get out of, though it didn’t dawn on me until later that he’d asked because he was probably thinking of my friends and I in bikinis. I hid my pictures from him and turned my face nearer to the window. He began making a strange rocking motion, nudging an arm into me again and again. I stayed put and stared at the reassuring images in front of me like they were a gateway to a safe happy place. Like someone in a horror film I just didn’t want to take that final peek at the monster behind me. Still he shuffled about and, tensing myself, I looked.


I could try to sugar coat this but I feel it would detract from my experience. What I saw sent a scream running silently throughout my body. He’d placed his blue jumper over his front but it had slipped down, revealing a paltry scrap of meat held between his fingers. I was no longer present in myself. I simply reacted by jumping up, kicking his legs when he wouldn’t move out of the way quick enough and running further down the train. All the while he mumbled “Sorry, sorry,” and, as I ran, I caught the eyes of several shocked and confused passengers, including the young girl who would then have looked right at him. 


I ran to the last of the carriages, all the while thinking: ‘My God, you are so dramatic. Wouldn’t most people have just told him off and moved quietly elsewhere?’ But no, not me. I flung myself breathlessly down on a seat and blurted out to a group of old ladies, “a man just showed me his willy!”


“Oh, that’s terrible,” they clucked.


“Are you in trouble?” one lady kept asking me. I believe now she had meant ‘can you get home alright’ or some such thing, but at the time I was just trying to figure out when ‘a man showed me his willy’ had become code for ‘I just murdered someone and stole their bag, you’ll never take me alive copper.’


“Erm, no,” I replied, and she seemed satisfied with this. My stop came and they watched as I staggered off nervously. I actually had to ask my friends at the station if they thought I was over-reacting (answer: No! Phone the transport police!) I’m 100 per cent sure he was caught with this fantastic description: “He looked normal…and had a blue jumper.” Dammit, why didn’t I take a good look at something other than the penis that was thrust into my eyes?


So it was over, and the event became another string in a rich tapestry of Odd Things That Have Happened. I considered getting angry with him but I couldn’t, I even said to the police at the time that I thought he seemed a bit simple. When it comes down to it I suppose I got off fairly lightly compared to what happens to some girls, and really it must suck to be him, at least I don’t have that daily struggle to worry about. So the only thing to do was move on and continue as normal but, of course, I’m always aware of that instinctive voice that says, “Please don’t wank on me.”

Maddie’s bizarre book club

I like to feast my brain and eyes with things that are rather unusual, as you may have guessed. Since winter began – my official hibernation and reading time – I’ve had the joy of finding some right good ‘uns which I shall share with you now. Ooh, and on a lovely snowy night too (unless you’re…somewhere it’s not snowing). I can almost hear the ghosts outside wailing about unpaid bills and the ten pence Johnny still owes.

This is my reading face
This is my reading face

1. Wisconsin Death Trip. This collection of news stories and unnervingly beautiful photography made it’s first appearance in the 70s. At the turn of the century (the Victorian one, not the other one) small towns in snowy Wisconsin were a tough place to live, inducing some pretty bizarre activity from the locals. Flick through the articles of the time and be drawn into a very spooky – but true – world.

Incidentally the events of the time are used as the backdrop for another book I enjoyed, twisty historic thriller A Reliable Wife.

2. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. A humorously clever cross between Se7en and Old Mother Hubbard, the back of the book explains it better than I can:

Once upon a time Jack set out to find his fortune in the big city. But the big city is Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town, and it has grown considerably since the good old days and isn’t all that jolly any more. And there is a serial killer loose on the streets.

The old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being slaughtered one by one and the Toy better hauntedCity police are getting nowhere in their investigations. Meanwhile, Private Eye Bill Winkie has gone missing, leaving behind his sidekick Eddie Bear to take care of things. Eddie may be a battered teddy with an identity crisis, but someone’s got to stop the killer.

When he teams up with Jack, the two are ready for the challenge. Not to mention the heavy drinking, bad behaviour, car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, toy fetishism and all-round grossness along the way.

3. The Best Bizarro of the Decade. I couldn’t really have a list of weird books without it. Everyone has preferences on their choice of out-there reading material and some of these short stories will not be your cup of tea (trust me I even hated a couple. I’m not saying which). However there are others which I found brilliant and very funny. If you can keep an open mind you will be rewarded. Maybe.

4. Better Haunted Homes and Gardens. This picture book is very sweet and pretty and future goth children will love it. If you can find a reasonably priced copy I recommend it, I know it brought out the kid who still loves Halloween in me.

5. Red Velvet and Absinthe. What can I say, I love (very) risque paranormal Stiff-coverstories. These gothic tales are some of the best I’ve found and most have a different (and rude) way of looking at classic spookiness.

6. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Mary Roach is a funny lady. This book is an entertaining read about the different and unexpected ways a human body is used (crash research, nose jobs etc) and I was particularly fascinated when it came to learning about the minutiae of rotting.

However I must admit to skipping a few chapters in the middle – I just didn’t find the bits about planes crashes etc as entertaining. Weird as that sounds. But…the majority is well written and very humorous. Enjoy!

Well, there we have it. So many words, so little time, and so little human brains to ingest while doing it. Oh, no, I found another box. Farewell till next time!

5 disturbing children’s films

There are plenty of boundary nudging children’s films which may not be included here, but the ones added have had a particular impact on my life. Mostly they opened my eyes to an exciting new way of storytelling that didn’t include sappy bears sitting on clouds, but very occasionally they went a little too far (in my mind anyway).

Please add your own films and experiences in the comments.

1. The King and the Mockingbird (Le Roi et l’oiseau)

For years this French animation lay dormant in my mind. All I could remember were talking statues, a lonely robot and a vague sense of unease. I somehow found it again a few years later and enjoyed it much more than I did back then.

A cross-eyed tyrant king is taken on Revolution style by an angry bird and a chimney sweep. A giant robot assists leading to mass destruction.

It’s very French and very beautiful, just please make sure you don’t find the cut version or you might beat me up.

2. Return to Oz

While not especially disturbing overall, specific scenes stand out as exciting my tiny child’s mind and probably stored for later creative use. Examples include Dorothy being taken to an institute pioneering electro-shock therapy, the apparent destruction of Oz in her absence and the heads kept behind glass cases by Oz witch Mombi:

P.S. Dorothy was played by Fairuza Balk, the goth girl from The Craft.

3. The Plague Dogs

The follow up from the company which gave us Watership Down. Despite its PG rating this is not a children’s film in any way, shape or form.

I used to love Watership Down and oddly had no issue with watching fluffy bunnies being torn apart by each other and a dog. I did, however, have a problem with watching two dogs escape from a testing lab, almost starve to death and eventually drown.

4. The Adventures of Mark Twain

In this claymation film three stowaway children travel with Mark Twain in a weird, air-balloon type ship. They encounter animated versions of Twain’s stories which are mostly harmless fluff, but the most notable in my memory is The Mysterious Stranger segment.

Bear in mind I used to watch this again and again. For some reason the pointlessness of man and the destruction it warrants didn’t seem to concern me:

5. Coraline

Included just because I love it, this stop-motion film is from a novella by Neil Gaiman. It has circus mice, a scary lady who wants to sew buttons into Coraline’s eyes and a disturbing burlesque performance from two elderly ladies. What’s not to love?