Some years ago I sat talking to a man in an office. He was, in a strictly professional capacity, attempting to help me prise loose the nuts, bolts and screws of my nervous system, which I had spent the previous few years winding tighter and tighter until the strain upon it was such I was likely to explode at any moment, showering a five-mile radius with highly concentrated anxiety, neat grief and scraps of singed cardigan.
As a species, he told me, we are more anxious than we have ever been. While the worries of our ancestors were extreme but elemental, he said, today we are constantly assailed by a more complicated and wide-ranging set of risks. And we can't handle it. Specifically, I wasn't handling it. Sociologically, we have evolved at an exponential rate and our sweating, straining biology just can't keep up with these new demands. (See also: fertility – although you may not have heard about the decline in women's reproductive potential in their mid-to-late 30s because, really, magazines and newspapers HARDLY EVER MENTION IT.)
On Saturday, in broad daylight, surrounded by people who would easily have heard my cries for help, I was confronted by A Thing that genuinely terrifies me, that gives my fight or flight response an aggressive poke with a sharp yet gnarly stick.
A person in a costume with a large head. My eyes my eyes MYEYES. I don't care if you are collecting for charity, person inside the bear suit, YOU ARE GIVING ME THE CREEPS.
I have only just recovered from the freakish, beaming, big-headed Mickey Mouse I had to have my photo taken with about a decade ago on a jolly work excursion to EuroDisney. For months, years, after, I would see his huge, hollow black eyes and blank grin looming towards me whenever I turned the lights off and tried to sleep.
Anywhere there is 'family fun', giant costumes follow. And anywhere you find them, you will not find me, as I will be taking cover behind some bouncy castle or other or, in this case, the Paddington station branch of Bagel Factory, panic levels ascending.
I'm not sure whether this counts as a primitive fear, or a modern one. In some senses, maybe this fun, furry Paddington Bear represents the wild beast who is coming to destroy my family and homestead. Yet on a deeper level, I think it tickles some more sophisticated, subtle reflex which concerns enforced fun and not knowing exactly the right way to talk to a person in a giant animal costume.
Also, it just looks really weird and freaky.
I am going to bed now, where I fully expect to slip into a sweet dream about some beloved or other, only to roll over in my bed, stretch out my arm and feel it fall on the scratchy wool of duffel coat. I will open my eyes to see a giant Paddington Bear bearing down on me, about to suffocate me with an enormous marmalade sandwich and then I won't know if it is a dream any more...
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
9 months ago