Like the original Madonna and child, the young woman on the Tube has her beloved draped around her, his head nestling on her shoulder. As he snoozes, she texts idly with one hand, while the other absentmindedly strokes his arm, soothingly, maternally. But this is no serene scene of mother and son — this is a couple. A couple of adults.
If you are forced to use public transport, you see them all the time. Soppy young blokes in skinny jeans, hair artfully arranged to mimic a guinea pig in a hurricane, being mollycoddled by a domineering, post-Spice Girls vixen who, if figures released last week are correct, also earns more than him. Or perhaps he’s stroking her, as though she were a cuddly toy or a security blanket. You half expect him to start sucking his thumb, or the corner of her coat. If he’s allowed to travel alone, he’ll be reading Harry Potter or playing with his phone, spreadeagled like a giant baby in its cot, scratching his crotch and yawning so brazenly you fear being sucked into the gaping chasm of his mouth.
And it’s not just young bucks. Men who would once have been called middle-aged are behaving like teenagers, faces nourished by some male-targeted unction (because he’s worth it), huddled over their Nintendo wii or iPhone, desperate to avoid the spectre of maturity tapping on their shoulder. Once the hair starts to recede, the only concession is to shave it all off — leaving a greying-templed baby-man with a risibly outsized watch on his ickle wrist, lager bottle in hand, clad in a T-shirt that declares Get Your Coat You’ve Pulled and drop-crotch, half-mast trousers that render him incapable of doing anything but stumble about like a toddler… Be still, my beating heart.
You’d think fatherhood would force these baby-men to grow up sharpish, but not a bit of it.