Panic on the Escalator
Looking back this was quite funny, but at the time I was scared witless. It certainly put me off travelling by tube on my own at night for a while.
It was years ago now, back in the late 70s. I had been out for a few drinks, probably quite a few drinks, with workmates one summer evening and it was getting late, I expect after 11pm as we rarely left the pub before chucking out time. I worked in Marylebone Road but lived in North London, Hackney or Islington, depending on who was asking, so I had to get the Tube home.
Another reason it must have been late is that it was very quiet in the tube station, barely a soul around. (I nearly wrote sole but then again they don't sell fish in the underground - sorry.) The escalator down to my tube line was one of those old, wooden, shaky contraptions, really steep and smelling of grease. Being lazy I was standing still, letting the stairs do their work when I felt something odd touch the back of my knee and my left leg gave way slightly. I looked around and behind me was an odd sight. An extremely tall, extremely black man with a pencil thin moustache was standing three or four steps behind me. It wasn't just his height that was particularly odd, but his dress. He was wearing a pure white double breasted suit with a black shirt and a white tie, black and white shoes and a white scarf, topped off by a white, wide-brimmed fedora with a black band. In his hand was a tightly rolled long black umbrella. Even for the 70s he looked quite ridiculous but, in the early hours of the morning on my own, even a little unsettling.
I turned to face the front and continued the descent, Some of these escalators are so long and they seem to move so slowly. I walked a few steps down and stood still. Again, I felt a prod in the back of my knee and it gave way slightly. I knew I shouldn't have done but I couldn't help myself and turned around to look at him again, his face devoid of emotion suddenly jutted towards me and a terrifying leer appeared on his face, follow by an open mouthed grin that showed a mouth full of yellow and brown teeth.
I now had a manic fear for my life, there was no-one else around and I was down in the bowels of the earth with a nutter. Normally I would have given him a mouthful of verbal abuse then run off but I was actually rooted to the spot. So this is how people get abducted, raped and murdered, through their own fear pinning them to the spot.
This all happened so quickly although at the time it felt like much longer. I couldn't feel my legs and had to scream to myself in my head move, move, move or else something really bad will happen. Fortunately I had the option of moving taken from me, the escalator began juddering every more erratically, indicating that it had reached the bottom and it was time to return to firmer ground. But what was I going to do now. Was he going to follow me. I didn't wait to find out. I grabbed my bag and held it close and ran down the tunnel to my platform, praying there would be a tube employee or someone waiting for a train. What a relief to find several other people on the platform, even if they were drunk skinheads. Had I jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. The entrance had brought me to the centre of the platform so now what should I do. If I went to the left I would risk attracting their attention and possibly further grief, but if I turned to the right I would possibly be trapped if 'umbrella man' came onto the platform. But at least I could possibly scream if he did come along and got anywhere near me.
A few moments passed and I could hear footsteps as someone else was making their way to the platform opening. I turned to the right, hoping it was the right thing to go. Heart pounding, hands sweating and breath catching. As I moved down the platform the man in the white suit entered, he paused, and looked first to the left and then to the right. He saw me clearly and his eyes fixed on mine and he began in turn towards me, in almost the same instant, the skinheads saw him in his clean white suit and began to jeer and call him names. Instantly the look on his face changed and his eyes showed panic. He had no choice but to turn back to the platform opening and run, run for his life. The two boys were hot on his heels calling him all the names under the sun and I just stood there motionless until I felt the warm wind on my face, signalling the approach of a train.
I still wonder what happened that night. Even though the guy in the suit scared the hell out of me I still, in some ways, hope he got away although I wouldn't want anyone else to go through what I did. Those few minutes of panic still remain with me today. He might have been just having a bit of fun, but then again, well who knows. And, no, I didn't tell the police, well it all sounds a bit far fetched really, even my flatmates thought I was exaggerating.