They were standing, eight young men, talking at the tops of their voice, spilling all over the centre of the carriage of the tube so you couldn’t not notice them. Nobody had ever told them about noise as a form of pollution. They were where they were, taking up space, reinforced by each other. The more thoughtful part of my mind wanted to go up and say quietly “If you were the kind of men you want to be, you wouldn’t have to make this noise.” The less reasonable part of my mind said “Croydon” where a young Kurd was beaten into a skull fracture and cranial blood clot by a group of roughly the same age, who took against him. Grossly unfair of me. It was the quality of the voices, the power of the group. You could say that banding together and shooting their mouths off is their form of armour.
However decorative and imbued with dramatic chivalry, once metal armour extended beyond the targeted areas of protection, it was essentially a tin can. And if you fell, it was difficult if not impossible to get up again. The tension between covering everything to make you “safe” and which bits you covered, leaving other bits uncovered, so you were at risk but could move, led to the stories of the wound that slays, from Achilles’ legendary heel onwards. Modern warfare is more remote but there is that little thing called “fallout”. It’s the same principal. You can only “cover” so much. And if you want to read about that kind of armour, read Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, chillingly pre Trump.
Women use the word armour in rather a different way. The first time it was mentioned to me was in the context of a large neighbour when I was very young. “Don’t brush against her” said ma drily. “ it’s like knocking up against an oil can – less corsetry than armour.” I didn’t understand for years.
And as for the most part women are smaller and lighter and less strong, they use different weapons in a battle just as serious for them. The form fitting black, the high heels, the conventions of hair and makeup and package, are all designed to defend them in the corporate battle. It defends them by making all look eerily similar. But then that is a feature of modern life which I keep expecting somebody to interpret. We’re back to the young men in the tube. People only feel safe in tribes and tribal members recognise each other by accoutrements, the bits that show. The similarity of the exterior is meant to deflect your attention from the initiative and originality of the interior. That’s a fight. You need armour for that. Though occasionally there’s an exception. Like Marilyn Monroe because, with all her flaws and shortcomings, imagine having that intelligence, preserved through childhood suffering while looking like a sexual ice cream sundae.
And she did the opposite with it. She wore as little as possible. That was her armour. Without layers of clothing, you can feel yourself and locate your courage, intelligence or whatever power it is. A perfectly dreadful documentary last week (C4) threw away any ideas of her originality or perception to talk about how much her possessions achieved in auction. It was left to actress Ellen Burstyn and two academics to explain what she was at.
After three weeks of not sleeping (yes I know why but that doesn’t help me sleep) I got up one morning and looked at myself, hearing in my ear ma’s voice “Don’t go out in the street like that, you’ll frighten the horses !” (she was born in 1900) So I set to work with pots and shadows, blusher and brush to render myself “fit for human consumption.” Men don’t generally wear makeup any more though I know two who wouldn’t be seen dead without what they think of as essential – one with eye liner, one with concealer. You choose your armour and I’ll choose mine. You fight the best way you can but have no doubt, it’s a war out there.