A Sober take on Love, Life and London
By Janna Fox
I was at work the other night, day job not acting (yawn), I work in a pub. A charming pub right on Victoria Park called The Royal Inn, it’s a big beautiful Georgian (I have no idea if it’s Georgian to be honest it could be Victorian or anything old) building right on the border of Tower Hamlets and Hackney boasting a traditional tap room, a large garden room at the back and a front and back beer garden that are both most popular in the summer months. Check it out;
So I’m working and all of a sudden I switch. I get into a mood. I didn’t know what it was at the time; I do this more since I’ve been sober especially when people I know like the staff are in there drinking and having shots and things that I nine and a half months ago would have partaken in. I have since realised that this wasn’t the case at all. We had a late surge of busy-ness due to a party in the function room (did I mention we have a function room available for hire?) and I realised I may be leaving later than expected. This worried me. I was frightened.
Exactly a week previous to this a girl was walking home, along what locals call Red Path a road that divides two parts of the park, at around midnight and was attacked.
She wasn’t just attacked she was dragged deeper into the park and raped by what must have been a brutal and strong attacker. I spoke to the police and it turned out that at the exact time of this attack I was sitting at the deserted bus stop on Victoria Park Road outside The Empress waiting for my bus to take me home.
It turns out that a man, according to local ‘knowledge’ very likely to be the attacker, has been arrested;
and that he actually took this route passing my bus stop and that it was in fact the CCTV along this stretch that helped identify him. However on the night of my mood I did not know if there was a rapist lurking somewhere in the same streets as me. And the dull constant threat of attack that every woman has learned to live with had all of a sudden become very real and present danger; you know what I mean it’s a bit like Donald Trump becoming President of The U.S. you know it’s happening but you don’t quite believe it until you see a very orange hand signing other peoples lives away.
I have worked in bars since I was seventeen years old and have lived all over Europe and travelled all over the world often finding myself walking down badly lit streets or footpaths at obscure times of the morning that I potentially shouldn’t. But what is a young woman to do? Similar to my current predicament of working in a pub when trying to stay sober I cannot just change my life because it might not be safe. Yes there are predators outside and yes there is alcohol in close proximity but just because there are rapists out there does not mean that we as women should be chaperoned after a certain time or modify our clothing to make it less likely that we are attacked. It means that more should be done to stop people from attacking one another. Just because I am working around alcohol making it much more tempting for me to start drinking again does not mean that I should go and get some call centre job that would keep me further from harms’ way; it means I need to practice more discipline.
When I was eleven years old a friend of mine was raped while we were away on holiday together and I can honestly say it has been my biggest fear ever since. When I started my first pub job back in the village I grew up in I had to walk down a dark ginnell to get to my house on my way home and as I am famously frightened of the dark I used to dread it every single night but I still worked there for three years. And I walked, in fact often I ran, home every night with my keys in the fist of one hand and a lit cigarette in the other my breath sharp and fast, my heart thumping out of my chest and it never went away. I remember joking with a friend of mine about this when I was staying in New York back in 2009 as she named my defence tactic ‘fag eye key face’ when I told her that my plan was to burn my attacker in the eye, scratch him in the face and then run like hell; this was after another traumatic walk home one night from the subway to our theatre digs in a fairly rough part of Queens. Over the years no matter how drunk or high I got to stifle that fear through the darkness not knowing what was waiting for me on the other side of the bushes I was always afraid. And no matter how sober I get I still am. Particularly now I’ve stopped smoking and am only down to one mode of defence; ‘key face’.
I had to pull a knife on a group of men who tried to attack me one night leaving the bar in France I worked in walking the back way to my apartment when I was nineteen. A few years ago a young man threatened to show me his penis as I was walking home just round the back of Brick lane in Shoreditch and probably would have if his friends hadn’t stopped him and let me pass. The young lady who was raped in Victoria Park was not so lucky. I have had nightmares of that same thing happening to me since I was 11.
However I absolutely refuse now as I did then to ever allow that fear to disable my life. I will march on through the dark, across the ice and in the rain to get where I’m going; sober and without fags to burn potential attackers in the eye. Like the millions of women that marched globally on inauguration weekend I will not let a rapist determine the route that I take.
And neither should you.