Fight, Flight, or Sh*t Your Pants?


I went to the toilet, at the end of a brightly lit corridor, in the middle of the night. (The brightly lit part is important at this time of year because my adorable flatmate literally decks the hall with all the decorations that are too shit to go in the extravaganza sitting room display.)

When I got to the bathroom, I kept the bathroom light off. The combination of tinsley-baubleness and glaring lights was something my sleepy eyeballs hadn’t enjoyed and now wanted dark peace from. As I wondered about the impact on an atheist of having the nativity scene permanently burned on her retina, I realised I was being watched.

A slitty orange eye focused on me in the dark, it sought me out and made everything else around it darker.

 It blinked.  I felt fear slide down through my whole body and my knees were jelly that was too scared to wobble even a tiny bit. I was solid, icy terror.

It blinked again. I realised that I wanted to breathe, but I couldn’t, my lungs were stones, no single muscle in my body could even twitch.

It blinked a third time and also made a noise: TTTPPSSSSSSHHhhsssbeep.

After the noise, I stood still for a few seconds, just watching the orange eye as it watched me, we both waited. In that time I did wonder if my electric toothbrush had gone rogue; this thought comforted me, because I reckoned I could take a toothbrush.

Bolstered by my obviously superior combat stats, I crept bravely to the wall and flicked the light switch. I stared at the eye, and I saw something, but even then, I didn’t know what it was.

I stepped gently towards it, with my arms outstretched in a self-protecting/rogue-dental-hygiene-equipment-calming fashion.

The offender wasn’t my toothbrush; that maligned appliance was innocently perched on the side of the bath. The orange eye was in fact an LED on the front of a lump of cheap, extrusion moulded plastic. I picked it up and shook it; it started blinking, made the noise, and squirted perfume directly into my fucking eye.

I was aggressively assaulted by an electronic lavatory air freshener.

What hurt me most about this experience was not the low grade alcohol soaking my cornea, it was the post eye-bath realisation that I had been reduced to a terrified animal by a harmless, mechanical, domestic device. In addition to that, I’d performed badly as an animal; I’d had the options of fight, flight, or stand there with your terrified mouth hanging open, and I’d chosen the latter.

I do understand that I was facing an air freshener, not an enemy, but in those seconds when I had no idea what was happening, the response to my fear was very real. Had it been a real enemy then I would have wasted the crucial seconds in which to save my life by performing a bantam display of staring and drooling, transfixed by my own horror.

It is these mental stimuli, and the ways that we have responded to them that has decided the path of animal existence on this planet for millennia; I chose the best response to ensure the end of my genes. Thank Evolution that some of my ancestors had quicker moves than me.

When the fear kicks in, I dribble uselessly like a lobotomised Neanderthal. There’s a lesson I didn’t want to have to learn about myself from an electronic lavatory air freshener.