Sunday, July 27, 2008

Acts of Urban Heroism

Act # 67: Putting on make-up while travelling on public transport

During my brief stint as a city dweller I was reminded over and over again of what adaptive little critters Homo Sapiens are. Just think of how adept we have become at opening plastic food wrapping (though we somehow balk at shrunk-wrapped CDs), slotting devices into USB ports, hacking text messages into our mobile phones as we are crossing Euston Road while deep in conversation with Sasha from Human Resources (Act of Urban Heroism #42).

In situations like these, our species affirms its crown of creation status on a daily, nay hourly basis!

Today’s heroic deed refers to the intimate acts of beautification usually committed in the privacy of one’s bathroom (and in front of a large, preferably well-lit mirror). Or so I have always thought. Yet in the cramped twilight of the London Underground I have seen many a woman dangle a make-up bag on her knees three times the size of the one I have at home, performing feats of artistry well beyond anything I could ever achieve, even with world enough and time and both my feet firmly planted on the ground. In amongst total strangers, it’s all “eyeliner, rosehips and lip-gloss, such fun”, like in that lovely old ditty from Lou Reed’s Transformer.

And no, these women don’t ever stab themselves in the eye with their khol. They never accidentally prise back their eyelids with an eyelash curler in freak accidents recalling the famous torture scene from A Clockwork Orange. Nevertheless, I’m convinced the tabloids will someday bellow the headline “Woman impaled by mascara on the Victoria line.”

Why then do women engage in dangerous acts that might well leave them maimed for the rest of their lives? Now, here’s my theory (which is mine). These are acts of costly signalling, whereby women inform the world about the status of their fertility. They are complex statements in a kind of behavioural morse code whose erratic beeps announce the following: “Hi - I’m a strong, high-quality female and capable of performing complex tasks in untoward circumstances. You - yes, you - should mate with me.”

The implicit logic of such acts runs as follows: "If we can do this on the tube, just think what we might do in the suburban home (that you will be paying for). We will have babies aplenty (as bawling containers for your - yes your - genes) and keep them entertained while we dangle the cat on our knees and roll a batch of vegetarian sushi at the same time."

Judging by the many, many pregnant and/or bechilded women I’ve seen over the past weeks (man, what a reproductive country the UK is!), that strategy seems to be successful.

It also goes well with the obnoxious reality show that I didn't really watch while here: Tribal Wives, a kind of Big Brother for the more discerning viewer, based on the silly conceit that ambitious albeit burnt-out career women might be brought to their senses by being sent to live with remote tribal cultures for a weekend or so. After that they usually ditch "that job interview" scheduled for next week in order to have a/another sprog. Because they want to find out what is really important in life.

Like passing on those damn old genes!

This is a crazy city indeed, and not a place I would find it easy to live in. But right now I'm kind of sad to leave.

Next AUH: Surfing dog poop in your flip flops. Watch this space!

UPDATE: For more on career women out of touch with their feminine side, see here. I'm utterly bored with the sanctimonious waffle by hypocritical career women telling other women what they shouldn't be doing that seems to be all the rage at the moment.

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