Recently whilst on holiday in France, I took my young son to an evening football match in Paris.
Whilst returning from the game on the Paris underground we were to leave the Metro and connect with a shuttle bus back to our accommodation. We were travelling alone and left the game a few minutes early to avoid the cramped conditions on the tube experienced on the way to the game.
Any underground stations in unfamiliar cities can be a little intimidating late at night (it was approximately 11.15pm when we got off the tube – way past his bedtime).
The route from the Metro exit to our Shuttle bus was short and should have presented little problem, however the exit signs and maze of tunnels from the underground platform were disorientating and confusing.
We had travelled on a line we had not used before and found ourselves emerging from the underground, alone, using an unfamiliar exit.
As I climbed the left hand side of the steps holding my sons hand, I became very aware that the only other person was a man leaning against the right hand side metal bannister at the top of the steps. The man glared at us in an intimidating manner as we climbed the steps and failed to take his eyes off us as we climbed the last few steps to get a view of our surroundings, previously obscured by the concrete walls either side of the steps.
He was not hunched on the floor, like some of the homeless people we had seen sitting near Metro exits, during the day. He was standing, leaning back slightly against the bannister. Both his hands were visible as we passed him, his weight resting on them, with both of them pressed on the metal railings. His eyes remained fixed on us. No other visible signs of aggression, but very sinister in his stare.
On reaching the top of the steps and beginning to move away from the station so as to ascertain whether we had exited correctly or not it became clear in our dark surroundings that the larger threat lay not necessarily with just the man still glaring at us, but with the environment we now found ourselves in.
We were presented with the possibility of being cut off from the rest of the city by fast moving, noisy but distant traffic circling a large, dark wooded roundabout we found ourselves stood on (we were at least a hundred or so feet from the road). A heavily ‘wooded parkland pathway’ with many trees obscuring our view of the distant drivers and their view of us led away from the station steps. Perhaps fine in the day, pretty disturbing at night in an unfamiliar city.
Presumably other subway tunnels must have led people off the traffic island to wherever they wanted to go, however none were immediately obvious in the darkness.
I kept checking on the position of the man whilst assessing the threat posed by the remote landscape we were now in. What R.A.I.D gave me was the presence of mind to stay calm and assess the surroundings, the stare and potential threat of the only other person near us without panicking my son or myself. What empowers most is knowing what you are going to say and do should the intimidation develop into something with closer contact.
After further assessing the potential threat posed by the man using the H.E.L.P principle (it’s amazing how something that appears to be just four letters on paper becomes so incredibly effective when you come to rely on it for real) – it became clear that returning into the station, even if this meant passing the glare of the man again whilst remaining several feet away from him (he had remained on the far right hand side of the steps), was the safest route to get my son back to our accommodation.
Although returning to the safe haven of the underground (they are not often called that!) may seem obvious, without utilising the principles learned at R.A.I.D, it is possible I may have been intimidated sufficiently to lead my son and I into a more threatening situation, just in order to get some distance between us and the man. (That would have meant being hemmed in by noise from distant traffic, on a dark, wooded path with no other obvious exit point apart from trying to reach and cross a hazardous road encircling us, to reach our shuttle bus stop).
The guiding principle that the man was not alone, if he was a genuine threat, made the unclear, dark and wooded location even more of a potential safety risk than the walk back past him. What was noticeable to me after the event, however free from drama it may appear on reflection, is the calmness and presence of mind I felt whilst the man’s eyes were fixed on us. His glare was intimidating, but I did not allow myself to be intimidated. Keeping my son safe was the priority but I was able to do so without panicking him.
I know myself well enough to understand my fears and concerns would have been far more noticeable to my little boy and the man (if his intentions really were as sinister as they appeared), had I not experienced R.A.I.D training.
Once back in the tube station we were able to ask for directions to the correct exit and were soon safely on the shuttle bus home.
I believe RAID has equipped me to take better care of my family if faced with a physical, verbal or psychological threat and that, to me, is priceless.