Category Archives: Embarrassing situations

The elephant in the room – Part 2

My kitchen and bathroom have been re-tiled by a tradesman who was recommended by a neighbour.  He’s a tall, good-looking Polish man and has done an impeccable job; the recommendation was valid. I pay him and go to work.  An hour later I emerge from the tube and my phone beeps with a text message.

It’s Maciek, the guy I’ve just paid. There’s clearly a problem with either the payment or my flat, and I’m anxious as I open the message.

“I think you’re very attractive and was wondering if you would like to go for a drink sometime?”

I smile at the pleasant surprise – there’s nothing wrong with my flat and my attraction to Maciek is mutual.  I happily agree to a date and three days later we meet for a drink.   We have a pleasant evening together, but I decide I don’t want to see him again.

That date was in 2007.

Maciek and I didn’t go out again but he’s continued to contact me every three months … for the past SIX YEARS.  His last message was (verbatim) “Simone, let me know if I should bugger off for good and delete your phone number as I don’t want to be charged with stalking 🙂 I didn’t reply and haven’t heard from him since.

Wednesday 31st July. It’s my final day at work and I open an email from the estate agent dealing with leasing my flat.

“Hi Simone – I visited your flat last Tuesday with Maciek (MW Contracted Building) who said he’s done some tiling and other work for you before. He quoted £1,300 for painting. I also asked him to include replacement of silicone in the kitchen and bathroom. Please let me know if you would like to go ahead.”

The blood drains from my face as three things simultaneously dawn on me.

  1. This is the Maciek who I went out with six years ago who still contacts me
  2. He was IN my flat last Tuesday
  3. When he was in my flat there was a hot pink vibrator perched barefaced in the middle of my bed

Shock turns to amusement. I smile as I email the estate agent asking them to get a second quote.  I don’t want him coming again (no pun intended).


Thursday 1st August, 6pm (the day after the email from the estate agent and 10 days since Maciek was in my home). I exit my flat to go to a comedy gig in Battersea.  When I get to the end of the street a car pulls over and the driver winds down his window.  I walk over to him as he clearly wants directions.

In the seconds that I’m talking to this stranger, a van drives past and slows down.  I glance at the licence place.  It’s Maciek’s van.  Ugh.  Between seeing the vibrator on my bed and me leaning over to talk to a guy in a car, I can’t imagine Maciek’s opinion of me is improving.  I just hope my luck soon does.

The elephant in the room – Part 1

“Simone, we have two potential tenants who would like to view your flat today. Is that okay?”

It’s Tuesday 23rd July. I’m at my desk when I receive this email from the estate agent dealing with leasing my flat.  I’ve been out past midnight for four nights in a row, and will be out again tonight.  In exactly two weeks I depart permanently for Australia to start my new job and I’m exhausted. Physically and emotionally.  My farewell tour has been bittersweet, and has taken its toll.

My flat’s cluttered with twenty boxes. Ninety cubic feet of my possessions will be collected on Friday to commence a twelve week journey across the seas.  In addition to the waiting cargo, my uncharacteristically frantic social life has prevented me from maintaining my housekeeping.  It’s all I can do to be showered, dressed and turn up to work or my next leaving do.

I’ve been keeping myself clean and presentable (just), but my home’s suffering.  My neglected flat isn’t ready for unveiling, but I need tenants so I reply.

 “The place is a complete mess, but you’re welcome to let them in while I’m at work.”

I scan my brain for anything of particular embarrassment. My dirty clothes (inclusive of knickers) are safely in the washing machine, so aside from some scattered (clean) clothes, and some dirty dishes in the sink, I’m pretty sure I’ve nothing of which to be ashamed.  Either way, I’ve given them the green-light so it’s too late to worry.

The work day finishes and I enjoy dinner on the South Bank with a friend and ex-colleague. It’s a hot summer evening and the atmosphere along the Thames is buzzing.  Nostalgia and sentimentality flood me.  I’ll miss the familiar silhouettes of St Paul’s, Big Ben and the London Eye.  I’ll miss my friend.

The tube’s crammed and alive with chatter when I complete yet another goodbye and head home at just after 11pm.

With red eyes and a tired head I unlock my front door and enter my bedroom.  I’d made my bed this morning, as I do every day (no matter how busy I am).  As I take off my heels I look at the clean white linen duvet and gasp.

Sitting right in the centre of the bed: my hot pink vibrator.

No way that wasn’t seen . . .

I laugh as I picture the estate agent and prospective tenants entering the room, locking eyes on the brazen phallus but desperately babbling about anything else “ … So plenty of wardrobe space, nice big window …” and moving rapidly to the next room.

They say you should never leave home without clean underwear. You should also never leave home without putting your sex toys back in the bedside drawer.  Lesson learned.

The beating bag

28th January 2013.  Flight VS026 from JFK to Heathrow.  We sit silently, buckled and ready to take-off.  It’s taking too long.  Something’s delaying us.  Brett, a well-groomed male air steward, approaches the man seated in front of me.

Brett:  Excuse me, Mr O’Brien?

Mr O’Brien (presumably):  Yes?

Brett:  There’s a slight problem with your luggage.  Would you mind coming with me?

He rises and his face is anxious; a natural response when questioned by airline staff.  I make a comment to the man next to me about how nerve wracking it is to have your luggage searched – even though you know you’re innocent.

He nods and I hear his clear New Zealand accent “Oh yeah, it’s awful.  I had it happen to me in Peru years ago”.   I adopt an expression encouraging him to continue.

A half-smile flickers across his face as he shakes his head “Nah, I won’t bore you with it.”

Oh go on” I persist.  “It’ll kill a few minutes of the hours ahead”.

He looks directly at me, sizing me up.  Some inexplicable deliberation takes place before he speaks “Alright … as you’re a fellow antipodean, albeit Australian”.

I smile and turn my body towards him to give him my full attention.  Here is his story.

“The beating bag”

It was 2006 and I was returning from my honeymoon with my now ex-wife.  We’re checked-in and ready to board our return flight to the US.  A security man approaches the boarding queue and taps three of us – myself and two other men – indicating for us to follow him.  I leave my wife in the queue.

In silence, we’re led through security doors and down stairs, then down further stairs and through a maze of passages.  After what seems like ages, we enter a highly industrial area.  We’re surrounded by conveyor belts of luggage and humming machinery.  The South American heat is stifling and the smell of body odour overwhelming.   We’re in the underbelly of the airport.

In the centre of the room are three heavily armed and uniformed military men, each pointing a massive gun at three individual pieces of luggage; one of them mine.  I was already nervous, but I’m now shitting myself.   Has someone put drugs in my bag?!  My wife’s migraine medication is in that bag, and I’m not sure that it’s legal in countries outside the US.  Am I about to be imprisoned?!

Nobody speaks English.  One of the intensely solemn armed men has the palm of his hand on my bag and says something to me in Spanish.  One of the other two passengers speaks a little English and tries to help me.

Fellow passenger (pointing to my bag):  Is beating.


Fellow passengerSi, beating.

They want me to feel my “beating” bag, so I do – with a gun aimed at me.  With sudden heart-sinking horror, my emotions shift from fear to embarrassment.  The bag isn’t beating, it’s vibrating.  My face glows red, drawing more suspicion to me as I realise that the buzzing item is my wife’s vibrator [at this point in the man’s story I blurt out a loud laugh, drawing unwanted attention from our fellow passengers].

In desperation and zero Spanish I try to suggest that we open our bags in separate rooms so I don’t have to do this in front of such a big audience.

I tell my semi-English-speaking-fellow-traveller what’s in the bag and he instantly smiles, containing a laugh.  I can’t believe this is happening.

They refuse my request to open the bag in a more private environment and, with the giant gun pointed at me, I kneel to the floor and open my bag.  Everyone is quietly watching as I rummage around.  The vibrator is a plug-in one and I’m hoping to locate the main power source so I can switch it off.  Yes! I did it!  I triumphantly, but slowly, pull out the power supply – NOT the vibrator and say “This is it.  It’s switched off – nothing harmful”.   I’m so relieved to not have to pull out the actual vibrator.

With disaster averted, I’m allowed to return to the departure gates.  My wife’s furious and shouts out “What took you so long?! ” I shout back across the crowded departure lounge “IT WAS YOUR BLOODY VIBRATOR!  IT WENT OFF IN THE LUGGAGE!!

She’s mortified.

Mr New Zealand’s finished his story. “So that’s it.  I wouldn’t believe it if it hadn’t happened to me and all I can say is if you’ve got any ‘personal’ devices in your luggage, I hope you’ve removed the batteries!”

I laugh (non-committedly ….) and move on to the next obvious conversation; how and why did Mrs New Zealand become Mrs Ex-New Zealand.  The next seven hours pass quickly – for me at least.


I’m beginning to realise that I’m a “flight-talker”.  When you’re seated next to me on a long-haul flight there might be an awful moment when you realise you won’t be watching any movies …

The cage

The cage's ludicrous location in the children's section of the women's lockers

The cage’s ludicrous location in the children’s section of the women’s lockers

My outfit for New Year’s Eve displays my pale cleavage and my pale back; a little colour is needed.  A couple of sunbed sessions (“solarium” for Australian readers which are now illegal – and by that I mean solariums are illegal, not Australian readers) will do the trick.  I realise I shouldn’t but there are quite a few things I shouldn’t do …

The stand-up sunbed at my gym is a walk-in cage.  These solar cages usually have their own room, where you can comfortably undress with the reassuring privacy of a locked door.  However this one is in the open area of the female lockers.  The door to the cage shuts, but can’t be fastened.  An unlocked door in an open space where you’re naked isn’t ideal.

I insert my tokens to activate the power, strip and put on eye stickers to protect my corneas from the ultraviolet rays. I enter the cage and close the door.  My face tans easily so I need to shield it.  This means that I cover it with my black long-sleeved top.  I put the earphones of my iPod in and then tie the top tightly around my head.  I position the iPod on my head by tucking it into a fold of my self-made execution mask.

The cage

The cage

I spread my legs like a starfish and grab the two metal bars positioned on either side of my head, in a kind of flagellation pose.  The music drowns out the noise of the loudly humming machine.

Ordinarily I’d be dancing freely during a tanning session, but there’s the possibility of the cage door being opened.  A remote possibility, granted.  But a possibility never-the-less; I cannot take the risk.  Plus, to my annoyance, the possibility is increased by the suncage’s location in the children’s section of the women’s lockers.

I hang there, draped like a sweating Iraqi torture victim.  I’m blind and deaf as the rays sting my back and the blood drains from my elevated arms.  The pursuit of beauty really is pain, mixed with the total absence of dignity.

The cage

The cage

The heat becomes increasingly unbearable on my skin and underneath my suffocating make-shift gimp mask.  After a few minutes I feel the relief of fresh cool air hitting my body … balanced only by the awful realisation that my cage door has been opened.

With panicked urgency, I clumsily rip the self-made black-top mask from my face, sending my iPod crashing to the floor.  I see a rather tall boy standing in front of me, staring.  How long has he been there for?!

I rush to grab my clothes and the boy’s mother emerges, ironically fully covered in a burka; between the two for us we have an acceptable quantity of clothing “Ahmed! Ahmed! Come here!!”

The closed cage in the open area

The closed cage in the open area

Ahmed ignores his mother and watches me with solemn concentration as I dress.  His mother seems oblivious to the inappropriate awkwardness of the situation.

I quickly exit the changing rooms.  As I leave I see the bright red sign “Boy free zone! Please ensure all boys over the age of 8 use the male changing rooms only”.

Ahmed may have been under 8, but he wasn’t far off my height (I realise I’m no giant) and the look in his eye certainly seemed more that of an adolescent than a boy.  My embarrassment has passed, but the image of me looking like I was about to be flogged may stay with him for quite some time.

Either some 8-year-old boys are VERY mature or some mums are a bit liberal with this gym rule ...

Either some 8-year-old boys are VERY mature or some mums are a bit liberal with this gym rule …


FYI – people do NOT like photos being taken in lockers … especially when their children are getting changed.

My security blanket

Sunday afternoon. I’m at a class I love at the only gym in London where the air-conditioning works. My Step is set up in my usual position – second row from the back in the right-hand corner of the room. In this spot, next to the speaker, the music is loud and drowns out the voice of the instructor. The cool air blows directly on me. This is my favourite time of the week: my personal happy hour. Paul enters and sets up his Step in his position on my left. He smiles at me “Are you ready for this?” I return his smile “I am now – I did NOT appreciate you not being here last week. Don’t do that to me again”. We both laugh.

The Step class is a finely tuned machine. We all have our spots and Paul not turning up the previous week offset the balance. He needs to be on my left, and I need to be on his right for both of us to perform at our best. It’s odd, but it’s how it is. Nicky is directly in front of me, Sarah is on my right, Maxine behind me and so on. It’s been this way for years and the system works.

We chat while waiting for Charlotte, our vibrant and attractive blonde Instructor. Her lateness is abnormal …

With a loud bang of the door, in bursts a huge muscular black man with waist-length dreadlocks. His confident stride and the microphone pack around his waist indicate that he’s a substitute Instructor. I grin broadly, jubilantly surprised. Male Instructors are rare; a straight muscle-bound black guy with dreadlocks instructing a Step class is unprecedented. A straight muscle-bound black guy with dreadlocks instructing a Step class wearing a skin-tight unitard is priceless. My grin widens to a smile that won’t leave my face.

William puts on the music and gets the class started. He’s good and I’m transfixed. The Predator is instructing us. A dancing, singing Predator dressed in a skin-tight unitard. The ridiculousness of the image keeps me smiling and my good mood enhances my workout.

William: Alright Steppers! I want you all in sync and I want to see perfect rhythm! Steppers are dancing soldiers! Show me your style!

Sarah and Paul jump higher. It’s the perfect motivator for us; in our delusional minds we do see ourselves as dancing soldiers. My smile progresses to a giggle I’m unable to stifle. William looks at me and smiles warmly.

William (loudly): Well at least one of you is enjoying yourselves!

I am enjoying myself. Thoroughly enjoying myself. This is exhilarating.

I hear a thud from the left side of the room. Someone’s fallen. Someone always falls. William rushes to their aid and the class is momentarily halted. He stops the music.

William: I’m just going to sort out Amy’s ankle. (He looks at me), Smiley’s going to lead you for the next two tracks.

WHAT?! I firmly protest but no one else will lead and the allocated hour is ticking on. Time’s-a-wasting and I’m pretty sure I know the choreography for the next two songs.

Me: Fine. But I can’t yell out instructions. Everyone will just have to watch and follow. And Paul’s joining me.

Paul’s horrified but equally aware that we need to get on with it. And I need him on my left-side if I’m to have any chance of getting through this.

We take our positions at the front of the room and face the class. Everyone’s laughing, but it’s warm, supportive laughter. The music starts and we take off! Pain sears through my injured toe but I’m having too much fun, and feel too much responsibility to stop.

William returns and all three of us stay facing the class for the remainder of the workout. It’s one of the most enjoyable Step classes I’ve experienced. Though could I have done it without the familiarity of Paul on my left-hand side? Doubtful. I needed my security blanket.