A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY LUKE TAGG
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SMOKE: Fear Of Crowds

Originally published: 7 November 2003

I find it odd that in my adult life I am not a very fearful person, considering that my childhood was a wasteland of fear in which I lost myself for many years, and since I've never been to a shrink in my life (and certainly never intend to) I have no idea how I overcame my various fears.

My greatest fear was always of social situations - I hated having to go to the houses of friends of my parents, or to social events like weddings or funerals, or even just family Christmas parties.

The reason I feared these situations was that I had a burning hatred of forced politeness, as I always had to do the right thing, say the right thing, and generally be a model boy in every sense of the word.

I never got on with my relatives as a result - not through their doing, but because I always had to be on my best behaviour around them.

I hated having to smile at appropriate moments, come up with witty comments (my uncles are all witty people and I always felt like I was expected to fit in with them by making amusing observations), and do all the right things that make up a proper gentleman.

I have no idea whether this behaviour was expected of me, or whether I expected it of myself, but whatever the case it instilled in me a pathological hatred of politeness, and situations where it was required.

That being said - nobody on this Earth could be more adept at being polite than I, although in my old age I seem to have lost the knack to a certain degree.

I still hate social situations to this day, but I've learned that I don't have to be a perfect gentlemen in them all the time. The only time I feel the need to be polite now is when rudeness would adversely affect someone I care about, but as for the rest - I couldn't give a continental rat's arse what people think of me.

However - I've noticed a new phobia of late, which in a way is linked to social situations - I have a fear of crowds. I guess it's not as much a fear of crowds as it is a fear of being in a crowd, with people jostling me, pushing me from behind in a queue and generally getting way too close to my personal space.

It's probably the reason I dislike nightclubs so much, and the reason I have tended to steer clear of them in favour of the breathing room - smoky as it is - of a bar or pub. I just see no point in standing elbow to elbow with a crowd of sweaty, jostling assholes, getting my toes trampled on.

I have a definite need for personal space, and once you invade that invisible line that seperates me from the rest of humanity - I get upset.

I noticed this new fear in two situations recently - one was in a crowd at an Idols autograph-signing, and the second was outside Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island.


In the first instance there were some 5,000 people pushing and shoving to get a good view of the two Idols finalists - Poseletso and Anke - at Canal Walk, a massive shopping centre in Cape Town.

Standing back from the crowd was fine, but as soon as I was forced into the middle of it I lost all my mirth, and eventually had to strongarm my way through the throngs of mums, kids and hysterical teenagers to get some breathing room.

The second instance happened yesterday when I went with Tashi to Robben Island, and got caught up in a tour group - we were standing in the narrow corridor which houses the old cell of Nelson Mandela, and due to the confines of the corridor everyone was bunched up, trying to hear what our tour guide was saying.

Everyone was trying to get a pic of Madiba's cell - as was I - but you would have sworn they had simply bussed in the paparazzi for all the pushing and shoving that was going on.

Eventually I had to break free and went hurtling up the corridor to stand at the end of it. I instantly felt better.

Thinking about it later I realised this phobia is the reason I can't stand shopping - lean, mean women with shopping trolleys who just blindly careen around the store, not caring who gets in their way, or huge, fat Mamas who regard a push in the back as the best way to get the queue at the till moving faster.

I absolutely loathe it. I get a similarly panicky feeling when walking in a throng of people, particularly when the people in front of me are dawdling, and there's no way past them.

My eyes are always scanning well ahead to spot the first available gap, and the longer it takes me to break out the more irritable and enraged I get.

It's not claustrophobia by any stretch of the imagination - I'm the furthest from claustrophobic you're likely to get. I used to hide in tiny, pitch-black closets as a child, and even preferred riding in the boot of the car to sitting on the seat. I absolutely loved small, dark places, and I guess the reason for this was my obsession with anonymity.

I'm perfectly happy to be in a confined space by myself, but throw in a whole bunch of other folks and I become the antichrist.

I wonder if this is a fear of crowds, or a fear of my personal space being invaded? I have no idea. I'm inclined to believe the latter, since I'm perfectly happy being on a stage in front of 5000 people - I just don't like to be in that crowd.

I guess all this makes me a pretty antisocial person and it probably also explains my unnatural obsession with being indoors, with everything shut up.

A hermit waiting to happen.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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