Sunday, January 12, 2003

My torrid affairs

Embarrassment is a mistress who stalks me constantly, she sneaks around, sits on the back seat of my car, lives down the back of my settee, and just when I’m at my most unsuspecting she’ll jump out, tap me on the shoulder and run round the other side.

“Wha..? Oh bugger it’s you.”

I was once talking to a very senior academic on the phone. I asked him whether he could get anything to me by the end of the week because I was going on holiday. As the conversation drew to a close, I dropped into autopilot to sign off.

“Have a good holiday” he said
“And you” Said I

Except of course, he wasn’t going on holiday, I was.

“Wha…? Oh bugger it’s you.”

When my mistress springs me I let out an involuntary, and very audible groan at the sheer humiliation of reliving the scene. This is, of course, is self-perpetuating, because an audible groan on a crowded tube train is an embarrassment in itself. I have come to the conclusion that the only way around this is to relive your embarrassments over and over in order to keep them in your sights.

Last Saturday before Oxford’s disappointingly anodyne and rudimentary defeat by Arsenal, I took the opportunity to steam through a few record shops searching for some groovy records. One shop I dropped into was Vinyl Junkies on Berwick Street, it’s a shop run by impossibly fashionable and beautiful people. If it was a clothes shop, I wouldn’t dream of walking in, but I’ve been buying records for a long time and I’m just about brave enough to go into these shops without a blink.

Seeing a record I’ve been trying to find for a while, I made for the cash desk. The copy I’d taken from the box was rather battered, the bloke who served me went over to the shelves behind him and pulled a brand new, shrink wrapped copy for me to have. He held it up as if to say, “Do you want a new copy”. I acknowledged him with a thumbs up.

I looked like I was “We Are The Champions” Though I wasn’t wearing a brown t-shirt with a yellow triangle on it, and I didn’t come from Ryedale Comprehensive. What’s more, the bags with my earlier purchases were wrapped around my wrists; I was wearing my bright shiny yellow Oxford shirt, a yellow Oxford scarf and my big coat to protect me from the frost. I looked like exactly what I was, a country bumpkin, naively enjoying the bumptious delights of The Big City. He probably wondered where my smock was, and where I’d parked my Combine Harvester. The whole episode wouldn’t have bothered me, had the bloke not been so visibly taken aback, smirking as he put my card through the till. The embarrassment slowly enveloped me as I made my way to Highbury.

On the way home on the train, without warning my mistress sat next to me, unexpectedly jumping out to relive the episode in the shop. I tossed my head back but managed to restrain the groan. I applied the antidote of reliving the moment, though not in my head as I had planned, my thumb sprang up eagerly in acknowledgement of the back of the seat in front. That done, I managed to convince myself that the thumbs up gesture was not a daft and uncool thing to do in a hopelessly cool retail establishment. At once she was gone.

She was back again once I got into the car and remembered the faces of the women standing on the train staring at me, with a mixture of fear and sympathy, perplexed as to why I was giving a hearty thumbs up to an empty can of Pepsi, whilst smiling to myself with smug satisfaction.


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