This afternoon, at the recommendation of a friend, I went to see Susan Hiller’s ‘The Last Silent Movie,’ a recording of extinct languages, because I’m writing about conversations with the dead and the gallery wasn’t far from where I live. As it's summer at last, I put on one of my lovely floaty silk dresses that I bought in Thailand and haven’t yet worn, a pair of Muji thongs, a black sunhat and my don’t-fuck-with-me Prada sunglasses. The exhibition was interesting. The audience sat in a dark room in front of a movie screen, but it remained blank except for white, written translations of the languages. The translation was screened as the voices were broadcast. My sister, to whom I’d spoken that morning, said there would be Aboriginal languages and sure enough there were two of them, although I recognised them from the context (the form of their stories and the talk of spears) rather than the sounds of the words. My friend had said it was eerie to hear dead people speaking but it didn’t have much effect on me; it just seemed like any other recording.
Afterwards I read some of Hiller’s catalogues from old exhibitions, and she talked about Freud’s The Uncanny and Cixous’ "The Laugh of the Medusa" and pointed out that the unconscious, the unknown, was like the feminine and/or that which is repressed and undefined, although this didn’t mean that it was confined to women. I liked that idea, and decided to incorporate it into my thesis. I didn’t hang around because I a lot of work to do, and sauntered back out into the sunshine.
The route back home was through a largely Muslim community, and I run through it most weekends so I’ve never felt threatened. In fact one of the things I like about where we live is that I feel much safer than I did in Hackney. When I saw the group of young boys, about 11 or 12 years old, clustered at the top of a street I was, to use Johnny Howard’s fridge magnet phrase (which he thought would save us from the terrorists), ‘Alert, but not alarmed.’ Some of them were smoking and trying to look adult in the way that stupid boys do; as if anyone can’t see through the pretence. I ignored them as I went by.
Then, halfway down the street, one of them suddenly grabbed my arse, and I shouted, ‘You fucking cunt!’ I whirled around and saw two of them running away. I was enraged, and I was fucked if I was going to let them get away with that. I put my foot back in my thong (I had lost it in my surprise) and strode back after them. Seeing this, they began to run away.
‘So you’re fucking scared now?’ I jeered. Then I raised my voice another decibel. ‘Why don’t you learn to treat women nicely?’ To his credit, there was one small boy who stayed, and to him I delivered the brunt of my anger. ‘And you know what?’ I shouted, pointing at my ear. ‘I’m fucking deaf! I’m wearing a hearing aid. I couldn’t hear them come up behind me.’ (This was a slight fabrication; I heard something but I couldn't tell how close they were). The boy glanced at my hearing aid, looking worried now. Then another of them, taller and thinner, began to come back. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but he gestured to the ones that had run off, and I assumed he was saying it was their fault. ‘Yeah? They’re your mates!’ I said scornfully. There was no response to this, so I began to walk off. I heard voices behind me and I turned again. I wasn’t sure if they were talking amongst themselves or to me, so I shouted, ‘And don’t fucking talk to me because I can’t fucking hear you.’
By the time I got home I was shaking, but jubilant. H said he was very impressed by my use of the C word, and I replied that they’d probably never heard it before. Nor had they probably ever had a woman shout and swear at them, being used to submission. He thought they might go home and say, ‘Mummy, what does cunt mean?’
So, not an entirely pleasant way of ending a Sunday afternoon. But I’m not going to stop running through that area; I refuse to be intimidated, not least by a pack of 12-year-old twerps.