The trouser incident in Midsummer Night’s Dream last week reminds me that this sort of thing has happened to all of us. As it happens, I managed to brazen it out and not miss a line, in spite of the audience tittering at my unfortunate wardrobe malfunction, but then I may have been helped by previous experience – I’ve been naked on stage before audiences of 300, and if I can do that without turning a hair, trousers falling open is child’s play!!
So what’s your most embarrassing moment? Come on, speak out – we’ve all done stupid things or found ourselves blushing due to unforeseen circumstances. Actually, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but the secret is to carry it off with panache or allow shame to overcome you. Can you carry off people laughing at you with aplomb or would you rush off to the loo, your face the colour of a beetroot?
Well here’s a starter for ten: my two most embarrassing moments, not including the above.
My school was a somewhat stiff and formal boy’s grammar school, in which you were addressed by your surname, did not speak unless you raised your hand and were granted permission, and certainly did not leave a class without the approval of a master. The punishment was a detention and maybe an audience before the highly forbidding (but as I later found out, charming and delightful) deputy head, “Teddy” Colton.
Anyway, as a puny 11 year old, I was sitting in a maths class given by a chap called David Smith, or Mr Smith to give him the formal name. He was a not unkindly man, a devoutly religious but typically dusty teacher wearing glasses as thick as the bottom of a bottle, and also not given to sensitivity of the needs of others, nor indeed much awareness of what was going on about him. You could explode a bomb behind him and he would simply wonder where the noise came from.
During this particular class I needed to go to the loo. The normal procedure was to raise your hand and the teacher would give you the nod. On this occasion, Mr Smith had given us a series of maths equations to resolve, and was engaged in helping an especially tense student with his usual terse explanations.
I raised my hand. Nothing happened. I doubt he even saw it.
I tried again, raising my hand and saying timidly: “Please sir…”
He didn’t even look up: “Just a minute, Millward” and went back to the student to explain again where he was going wrong.
I left it a few more seconds, then tried again: “Please sir, I need to go to the loo…”
“Hold on a minute, Millward,” this time with irritation in his voice, as if I was deaf as well as stupid.
“Sir…. I need to go, really I do.”
For the first time, he looked up towards me, but stubbornly refused to budge: “Millward, sit down and wait.”
At this point I was on the prongs of an urgent dilemma: the need for a wee was becoming more urgent by the second, to the extent that I had to squirm around and press my bladder as if afflicted by a sudden kick in the goolies, so I could either hang on and hope, or dash out of class to the toilet, knowing that to do so would almost certainly earn me a detention.
I think fear of the teaching faculty ultimately won… I peed myself, amid laughter from the class, the ultimate humiliation. I raised my hand again, tears streaming from my face:
Suddenly Smith’s whole demeanour changed as he realised the gravity of the situation and that it may reflect on his management of his his class. In a kindly voice he began to talk:
“What’s the matter, Millward? Why didn’t you go before the class started? Do you want to go and see Matron?” and so on.
I was despatched to the lost property to find a spare pair of trousers, and the incident was hurriedly consigned to history. Except that my mate was in the same class and mentioned this occasion in his best man’s speech on my wedding day, damn him!!
Roll forwards many years to when I was married and living in Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire. In those days supermarkets were somewhat less numerous than now, so I used to drive to the rather bijou Tesco at East Didsbury while Jean did whatever she was doing, this being before Lindsey came along in 1995.
On this particular Saturday morning I had done my shopping and was standing in the queue, as you do. I got talking to the bloke in front of me in the queue, who also appeared to be out shopping on his own. Just light social chit-chat, nothing remotely racy or involved, you understand.
At this point I realised I had forgotten one item on my shopping list. Now the sensible step might have been to say to the chap that I had one item to get and would be back shortly, and would he kindly mind my place in the queue. Way too obvious!
Alas, in these moments the brain short-circuits and the clear, simple message you intended to deliver all along becomes scrambled into something altogether different, something with infinitely more meaning than you ever intended to convey. Arguably, this is more a case of not engaging the brain, but whatever the reason the message comes out in a form you never intended.
Here, I said to the chap pleasantly: “Ooh, my wife likes a bit of crumpet.”
It took a second or two to realise what I’d said, by which time the man had looked at me like I was totally deranged, turned back to the queue, stepped forwards to get as far away from me as possible. My cheeks burned with the horror of those words. As the cliche has it, I wished a hole could open up in the ground and swallow me. Instead I mumbled an excuse and made a dash for the bakery counter to escape as quickly as possible!
Right – what’s your most humiliating moment?