A feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness
An emotional state of intense discomfort with oneself, experienced upon having a socially unacceptable act or condition witnessed by or revealed to others
Sometimes my cat will be on the arm of the sofa, stretching, stretching, stretching until she’s stretched out so much that she’s lost her balance and fallen off. She springs up, shakes her head, rolls her eyes and pulls her ‘I totally meant to do that’ face. But her whiskers are twitching, she won’t look me in the eye and she slinks out of the room pronto which shows that even cats can suffer from embarrassment.
Most of my embarrassing moments these days can be awkwardly laughed off and backed up with the phrase “sorry, it was the vodka”, but I do have a number of embarrassing memories from the past so vivid that even recollecting them now makes my heart beat faster, my skin flush and my belly somersault. Not exactly sure why I thought this would be a comfortable subject to write about but I can’t think of anything witty to say about shoes right now so this will have to do.
In no particular order, my top three embarrassing moments are:
The Plastic Pig
It was 1989. Kylie and Jason were riding high in the charts, Den Watts fell into a canal after being shot with a bunch of flowers and Emmerdale still had a farm. I was 11 and in the first year of Senior School.
At school, I was never one of the cool girls, but I wasn’t bottom of the pile either. I was magnolia, vanilla, mediocre. As school cliques go, it’s actually one of the safest places to be; high enough on the scale not to have to pick my lunch out of a puddle but low enough down the pecking order not to have to put out behind the bike sheds.
Every Wednesday after school, we visited my nan. My mum would drive to collect my younger sister before collecting me. My job was to start walking towards home, all the while looking out for my mum’s car.
On this particular day, I was walking on my own. In front of me, a group of third year boys from the in crowd. Behind me, some more third years interspersed with a smattering of first year beautiful people.
My school was on an incline and I couldn’t see over the brow of the hill but I could hear a car with a loud engine and I could hear the ‘Oi, oi! Have a look at that’ of the third year boys in front of me. I caught sight of the car and I saw my mum, except it wasn’t my mum’s car and she wasn’t driving. My great uncle Alf, my grandfather’s brother, had come to pick me up.
Uncle Alf was one of the kindest and most considerate people you could meet. He would do anything for anyone and that’s why when he found out my mum’s car had broken down, he offered to come and pick us up.
Which would have been fine had he not driven a bright yellow, three wheeled, Reliant Robin with furry leopard print seat covers, a green magic tree air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror and a blue tinted sunshade strip stuck across the windscreen.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, he beeped his horn a couple of times, waved vigorously at me and pulled over. Right next to the group of third years. To get to the car, I had to walk through a sea of hooting and jeering teenage boys.
As an adult I recognise the thoughtfulness and generosity of Uncle Alf’s gesture and telling this story makes me miss him. But it also brings back the feeling of crushing mortification that can only be experienced by an 11 year old girl being picked up from school in an overwhelmingly shit car.
The stairs hate me
My first proper job after leaving school was as an office junior for a building company called Walter Llewellyn and Sons. I was nearly 17 when I joined on a YTS scheme and I got paid about £60 per week. I got a qualification in business administration, learned computer skills and attended typing lessons. I also got a number of young male surveyors to flirt with, date and flutter my eyelashes at. I probably learned more about making eyes at men across the post trays than I did about prestressed concrete lintels or lath and plaster ceilings mind you.
In return, Llewellyns got a gofer who would do whatever was asked of her, from the bacon sandwich run on a Friday morning to the ice cream dash on a sunny afternoon. I paid cheques into the bank, filed whatever needed to be filed, franked the post and made the coffee. One of my tasks was to cover the reception desk from 12.00pm to 1.00pm when the receptionist went to lunch and from 4.45pm to 5.30pm after the receptionist went home. The receptionist was quite a formidable lady who did not like being kept waiting to leave or to go on her lunchbreak. Unfortunately for her, the franking of the post was done in the post room upstairs between 4.00pm and 4.45pm. During this time a rather lovely trainee surveyor who I had a bit of a crush on would often come down with some last minute post and spend an inordinate amount of time in the post room talking to me and distracting me from my work, so I was often late getting downstairs to let her go home. This was quite an issue and I was often pulled up by my supervisor for not getting down to reception on time.
One morning, I’d been reminded that I must be downstairs on time. It was nearly 12.00pm and I was at the top of the building. The chastising for being late that I’d received that morning was still ringing in my ears so I rushed down three flights of stairs. The last set of stairs went round a corner and widened out towards the bottom where they met the reception area.
On this particular day, I turned the final corner, missed my footing and tripped forward. I missed the last few stairs, but ended up skidding across the reception floor on my belly. The force of the fall caused my dress to ride up so that my knickers were on display. I eventually came to a halt in front of the reception counter. Unfortunately for me, the reception area also contained the receptionist, the rather lovely trainee surveyor who I had a bit of a crush on, two subcontractors, an estimator, a visitor to the building who had an appointment with one of the buyers and the chief executive. I suspect it wasn’t the first time a YTS girl showed her knickers to a chief executive but that’s not for me to judge.
Rather chivalrously, it was never spoken of again and I even ended up dating the rather lovely trainee surveyor for a brief time; I must have been wearing nice pants.
The rabbit made me do it
Back to school again. I was about 12 or 13 and I was in a science lesson. We were given a test to do. One of those unexpected tests where you didn’t have time to prepare. One of those ‘on your own, no talking to your neighbour’ tests. I completed the test uneventfully.
At the end, instead of handing the test in to the teacher to mark, it was swapped with the person next to you. I was on a work bench with an odd number of people sitting at it. Across the other side of the lab, another work bench had an odd number of people on it so the teacher suggested that someone from our bench and someone from the other bench swap papers. I walked across the room and handed my paper to a boy called John. Everyone saw me do it. Everyone knew that John had my paper for marking and I had John’s. Which would have been fine had I answered all of my questions correctly or even just a little bit wrong but noooooo, I answered one of the questions in the most ridiculous way possible.
The question was something along the lines of how you connect wood to glass. I can’t tell you the exact question and I can’t tell you the exact answer that I gave but I can tell you my thought process which went something like this. “Wood to glass, hmmmm… I don’t know how they connect. Are they both man made? No, they can’t be. Wood comes from trees, there aren’t any glass trees. Hang on what’s glass made of? Isn’t it made of something like straw or hay or something that goes in my rabbit cage? Oh, oh, oh, don’t they grind something up to make glass. Wood shavings! That’s it. Wood is connected to glass because glass is made of wood. Excellent I’ll write that down.” I distinctly remember my thought pattern because I remember thinking about my rabbit’s cage, although goodness knows why.
And so I wrote “Glass is connected to Wood because Glass is made of wood shavings” which is exactly what John read out to the class when he wasn’t sure whether I should be given any points for my answer. Even as he read it out, I can remember my thoughts “Wood shavings? It’s not wood shavings. Oh my god. It’s sand. It’s what’s at the bottom of my Nan’s parrot’s cage, not the rabbit cage. Blimey. Sand. He’s going to say wood. I feel sick. I look like an idiot. I am an idiot. Wood shavings? What is wrong with me?”
A French poet called Jean-François De La Harpe once said “We never forgive those who make us blush” which is true. I’ve never forgotten what glass is made of either.