I HAVE had a moment of weakness
that did not go as far as making me feel sorry for the government’s
embarrassment and rage over parliamentary opposition to the Terrorism
Bill, but did produce a fellow-feeling for those responsible for the
botched legislation, who may be reeling and writhing in red-faced remorse.
my incident-prone life, people assume I am flushed with success when my
rosy cheeks probably indicate that I have just been in some humiliating
situation. That could include going in the wrong direction up a one-way,
Lisbon street and encountering a phalanx of hooting, fist-waving cars
bearing down on me like wolves upon the fold, and making me reverse
rapidly onto a main road filled with equally maddened motorists, and
turning up at a London party, that I mistakenly thought was a formal
affair with medals, and finding guests sporting, in fancy dress theme,
variations on the garb of old Gaul at the time of Pliny the elder.
convinced that embarrassments come to me that start out to happen to other
people. One arrived when lunching at my club recently and about to embark
on a feast of reason and flow of soul. Suddenly, a member accidentally
dropped a jug of water onto the table, the contents of which cascaded
directly onto my lap and down my prestige, gentleman’s suiting.
as suggested by a Rupert Brooke poem, see a purpose in liquidity, it was
lost on me. The incident cast a dampener on the proceedings and a waiter
confirmed it, "You’re wet sir," he said as I gathered up my soaked loins
and left for a taxi rank and home, leaving a moist line, like a snail
trail, to mark my passage.
"Good lord; you’re wet,"
observed the taxi-driver, obviously trained to look for liquefaction among
customers. At home, my wife asked incisively, "Why are you wet?", and a
neighbour queried, "Has it been raining?" To them, I spilled the beans,
adding that it took more than a splash to extinguish the spirit of one who
regards himself metaphorically as a small, usually dry pea blown about in
the rusty whistle of fate.
THAT incident was a mere drop
in my embarrassment ocean. Many things have been dropped on me from
various heights. A serving lackey accidentally tilted part of the contents
of a spaghetti Bolognaise plate onto my Burton’s best, evening dress
jacket in Edinburgh’s then NB Hotel. I was told by staff, applying
emergency wipes, that the overspill was "good for the texture of the
cloth", but that reassurance didn’t wash with me.
QE2, a steward, clearing our café table, upended a cup of coffee onto my
newly-purchased, expensive, gale-resistant trousers - the stain is with
them yet - and, at a restaurant in Tahiti, a serving minion carelessly
uncorked a champagne bottle which spurted Pommery 89 down my shirt front,
and gave the garment, despite cleaning, a lingering bouquet, delicately
redolent of premier cru publicity promotions.
I have had red-faced days that
gave me sleepless nights ranging from the blank classroom embarrassment
experienced on being suddenly called on to locate a minor prophet hidden
somewhere in the tangled hinterland of the Old Testament, to the incident
when, having to make a speech at a dinner, I had to hire an evening suit
for the purpose; mine was being cleaned to rid it of collected waiter
droppings. It had natty drainpipe trousers, a long jacket, suitable for a
tasteful simian and what seemed a handkerchief with a smartly serrated
edge showing at the top pocket.
During my speech, I reached
for the supposed handkerchief, which resisted my increasingly desperate
tugs. Suddenly, there was a rending sound and the article - a wretched
sliver of cloth attached to a cardboard base - was revealed in all its
tawdry tastelessness. My astonished face, doubtless resembling a ripe
nectarine, set the tables in a roar and my gas at a peep.
Wilde claimed there was a good deal to be said for blushing, "if one can
do it at the proper time", but for me and many people I know, there is
almost a red-faced routine in the calendar year with deaf-aids peeping
plaintively at orchestral concerts, forgetting people’s names you have
just been introduced to at parties and are required to introduce them to
others, and trying in vain to open the car door until a voice says:
"You’re trying to get into my car."
Recounting such humiliating
experiences to a friend at lunch the other day, a spiritual cold douche
engulfed me. I found, when about to pay my bill, that I had forgotten my
wallet and had to get my companion to cough up a loan.
once wrote in postcards: "Hoping this finds you in the pink as it leaves
me at present."