Category Archives: Embarrassing situations

Bewitching burlesque and badly behaved boys

Saturday night, Leicester Square tube, London.  The tightly wedged crowd shuffles slowly towards the exit, barely able to move.  Two parallel staircases lead us out, but the left has come to a complete standstill.  It’s crammed with people but none are able to move forward or backward.  A metal rail divides the right and left staircase.  In front of me, a young man swings his legs over the bar and nimbly leaps to the other side which is slightly less crowded.  In my silver sequined butterfly dress and high heels I inelegantly squat under the bar.  It may be ungraceful but it prevents me from flashing the world.  When we reach the top of the stairs I see the cause of the traffic jam. 

An extremely obese woman has fallen and is struggling to get up.  She’s blocking the left staircase and preventing the flow of people from exiting.  A man with her is trying to help, but most of the crowd is angry at the holdup or fascinated by her size.  I hear a group of guys laughing and jeering “Look at the fat bitch!” “You’re a fucking heifer!!”  I instinctively look at them, irritated and saddened by their scorn and lack of empathy.  The loudest of the trio, a scrawny lad from the underclass, smiles at me “Hey sexy.  Where are you off to tonight then?” I keep walking.  It would please me to see all three of them fall down the stairs and break their necks.

In a few minutes my mood is lifted as I see my friends waiting for me outside the burlesque club we’re attending.  I mellow further when I see the velvet chaise longues inside and am handed a glass of champagne.  In a chandelier lit room I take a seat on a leather wing back chair.  The depressing riff-raff of central London are far away.  I’m content and ready for a good night, though I can’t fully shake the image of the woman on the staircase.  She’ll be feeling low for the whole evening and the experience will linger with her.  I make an effort to put the memory aside so I can enjoy myself.

The DJ

The DJ

The array of breathtaking performances varies from beautiful and seductive to skilled and funny.  I embrace the merriment, laughing and singing when required, though I’m not as much of a vocal “woo-hooer” or wolf-whistler as my exuberant friends.  I reach my happy peak in the second half of the evening when we all move downstairs to a private room.  The music is perfect and I blissfully move to it, the overwhelming heat causing my hair to stick to the back of my neck.  My friends chat to the Hostess and other people they know and I continue dancing.  The DJ smiles at me, clearly understanding that I approve of his work and we exchange a brief simulated dance from across his sound booth.  Earlier in the evening he’d been playing music on gramophones but he’s moved on to more modern equipment and I love it.

The hours pass quickly and it’s time to leave.  Hit suddenly by the drunk, drugged and disorderly sights and sounds of Leicester Square, my happiness goes down a notch.  As I descend the stairs to the tube I think of the woman on the staircase and feel a pang.    I had a wonderful and thoroughly entertaining evening but her memory of the night won’t be pleasant.  I know that the men taunting her won’t have broken their necks but I hope they’ve had a terrible evening (preferably involving a beating) and wake with massive hangovers.  It’s the least I can wish for.

The blood drains, but I’m red-faced

A cold November day in one of London’s many hospitals. Kate, a young blonde nurse, takes me in to a cubicle sectioned off by a thin blue curtain. I sit down on a hard plastic chair as she chirps away, presumably to distract me from the approaching activity. It’s her first day working here and she seems a little nervous.

Me (smiling): Just so you know, I’ll faint.

Kate (in a heavy South African accent): Oh, are you sure?

Me: Yes, I always faint when I have a blood test. I often faint when I get a needle, but I always faint when blood is taken.

Kate (slightly apprehensive but maintaining her chirpiness):  Oh, okay. Well just relax and take a deep breath and I’ll try to be as gentle as possible.

The needle goes in and after a few seconds I feel the familiar woozy rush.

Me: I’m going to faint now.

Kate: Are you sure?

Me: Yes.

I wake up.

I feel clammy and damp from head to toe. My hair is sticking to my face. A woman in her late-fifties is standing in front of me, Kate at her side.

Woman: Hello dear. You’re in hospital. I’m the nurse in charge. Kate just tried to take some blood from you, but when she did you fainted and you actually had a bit of a fit. Your eyes rolled back and you were gurgling …

She wants me to say something, but I’m embarrassed so I just look at her blankly until she continues.

Woman: You also had a bit of an accident… you’ve unfortunately wet yourself.

With slow horror, it dawns on me that the damp feeling on the seat isn’t sweat. I’m mortified.

Woman: Kate, get her some water. Do you feel okay?

I shake my head. The truth is I feel physically fine, but I’m so excruciatingly embarrassed that I can’t bring myself to speak. I need a moment to regain my composure. This is horrendous.

Thankfully I’m wearing black trousers – if I’d been in a light summer dress this would have been worse. Unfortunately the failed test means I have to go home and come back another day. The humiliation isn’t over as I realise that today I’M going to be the person on the bus smelling of urine.

That was in 2001. Eleven years later, on Friday 16 November 2012, and I’m in another London hospital about to have an MRI scan. An injection is required.

Me (commencing a monologue I’ve repeated many times): Just so you know, I’ll faint. And I might have a fit. That’s happened before and I wet myself so I need to let you know it’s a possibility. I’m okay most of the time though, so I’m likely to be fine. I’m sorry to be a problem.

The nurse isn’t taking any chances and brings in two other members of staff (the “reserves” for special cases …) and takes me to a room so I’m not in the open area. One of the “reserves” takes over as she’s apparently the best. She talks me through the process far too much (hearing “I’ve got a good vein here!” isn’t helpful) and cheerfully announces when it’s over. She’s pleased the procedure was successful and turns to complete her paperwork.

With her back to me, I faint.

God. Damn. It.

Fire alarm

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!  The high-pitched smoke detector screeches loudly and I rush from the bathroom to the kitchenette of my hotel room.  The building will be evacuated if I don’t quickly stop the cause of the noise and I simply cannot have that happen.  Urgently I switch the toaster off, grab a chair and stand on it to reach the alarm.  With a towel wrapped around me I stretch up and press the silent button.  With my arms extended to the ceiling my towel falls to the floor.  At that exact moment the door to my room opens. 

Me:  Jesus! Shit!  (I drop to a crouch on the chair, in a sort of naked Terminator pose).

The hotel manager:  Christ, I’m sorry!  (He pauses for a moment, clearly searching for the words to justify his intrusion).  I’m just here to investigate a fire.

I look at him over my bare shoulder in a room now so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  His eyes are bolted steadfastly on my face as he slowly processes the situation.     

It’s Tuesday morning at the Four-Trees Apartments in St Kilda Road, Melbourne.  Minutes earlier I’d showered and carved a piece of the delicious fruit loaf I’d purchased at Prahran Market the previous day.  I’d popped the toaster down and returned to the bathroom to comb my wet hair; I was really looking forward to a thick piece of buttery toast with apricots and dates coated in sesame seeds.  Now I’m frozen to the chair as cold water from my hair trickles down my back:  a plump and self-conscious drenched albino rat.

The young hotel manager finally overcomes his stunned embarrassment and looks away.  I unsuccessfully try to break the uneasy silence by desperately babbling.

Me:  It’s okay, it was just some toast.  It didn’t even burn.  The smoke detector must be overly sensitive.  I’ve stopped it now.  There’s no fire.

The hotel manager:  Oh good.  Okay.  Um, I still need to check the area and re-set the alarm …. Sorry.  I just can’t leave the area without making sure.

Jesus Christ, seriously?

The awkward atmosphere continues as he turns and faces the door to give me much overdue privacy.  I get off the chair with as much self-assurance as I can muster, pick up the towel and wrap it back around me.  In a weak attempt to reduce the discomfort I switch the TV on, purely for some noise, and head to the bathroom to dress.

I hear him bustle around the room making the necessary checks and he leaves with an excessively loud, “Okay that’s all sorted!  Let me know if you need anything else”!  I call out thanks, knowing that I’ll be avoiding him for the remainder of my stay.  The air conditioning doesn’t work, the safe doesn’t lock and the Wifi keeps cutting out, all unacceptable in a five-star hotel, but I’ll put up with the flaws for the next two days.  Certain he’ll tell his staff about this incident, I’ll do my best to keep a low profile until I check-out.  Sigh.  Causing an evacuation would have been less embarrassing.  Admittedly, supervising the toasting bread in the first instance would have been the best approach … well my lesson has been sharply learnt through good old-fashioned humiliation.

Solitary adult pleasure

I’m not sure when I became the person who takes a bottle of wine into the cinema on their own.  At fourteen, my movie marathons were accompanied by awe-inspiring sweets and crisps binges; at some point I progressed to the adult version.  In time, I’ll be covered in cat hair and a trail of birdseed will spill from the bin liners I carry.  It’s Tuesday afternoon at the Vue Cinema, Shepherd’s Bush.  I’m in the ticket purchasing area having just watched “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and about to head in to “The Help”.  A woman in a grey suit holding a clipboard makes eye contact with me in a way that’s beckoning me to stop.  Slightly tipsy, I oblige.    

WOMAN:  Are you interested in two free tickets to a movie?

ME (pausing slightly, wary of the sales catch):  Um, maybe.

WOMAN:  All you have to do is put your name on this list and the tickets are yours.  We’re screening “Red Dog” here on Thursday.

ME:  Ah, that’s an Australian movie! (Nostalgia’s making me encourage her when I should be cutting her off).

WOMAN:  Ok, give me your name and I’ll put you down.  You need to bring a male with you for our numbers.

ME (thrown by the condition attached to the free tickets):  Oh, um, I don’t know who I’d bring ….

WOMAN:  You must have a male you can bring?

ME: Well, not really.  I’m single so …

WOMAN:  And you don’t have any family here?  A brother?  Cousin? (My Australian accent should indicate that my family are not Londoners).

ME (starting to feel pressured):  Well I have males I can bring, but they all live in other parts of London and won’t be free at such short notice. 

WOMAN:  So, you don’t have any male you could bring with you?  We can’t give you the tickets if you don’t bring a male. 

(Jesus Christ, is she trying to make me feel bad?  I look at her and just sort of shrug).

WOMAN:  I could give you three tickets instead of two and you could bring a couple with you?  (Ugh.  I’m in a scene from “Bridget Jones“). 

ME (pity and discomfort have drifted into the situation so I lie):  Oh, no it’s okay, I know exactly who I’ll take – two tickets are perfect! (My enthusiasm reeks of overcompensation).

I put my name down for the tickets, but won’t collect them; her judging eyes have slightly tainted my afternoon retreat.  She feels sorry for me, but her pity is misplaced.  Yes, I’ve developed some habits that might be described as eccentric, but at this very moment I’m entirely happy – few pleasures compare with a good movie and a “glass” of wine.  

Entering the cinema to watch my second movie of the day, I see there are only three other people viewing – all on their own and all men (I wonder if the “numbers” are acceptable in here …).  To some people, we’re desperate loners; if we were about to see an adult movie the whole scene would be sordid.  Instead I hear the familiar crinkling of food wrappers from three other seats and think of us as innocent fourteen year olds (nostalgia creeping over me again).  There’s an intimacy in our united solitude and anticipation of the escapism we’re about to share.  I stretch out, take my shoes off, pour myself a drink and wait to be transported to another world.   

No good deed goes unpunished

An Acton bus stop, Sunday, 12:30pm.  The sun is shining and through my headphones I’m happily listening to the cast of Glee sing Christina Aguilera’s, “Candyman” – the post gym buzz still with me.  A long, bendy 207 bus pulls up and the door opens, revealing the back of a reversing wheelchair.  I wait on the pavement for the passenger to alight.  Nothing happens.  Oddly, the chair isn’t moving towards me, but instead jerking erratically from side to side.  Alarmed, I realise the passenger’s not alighting; she’s clinging to the safety rail.  Her brakes don’t work so she’s gripping the bar with all her strength to prevent the chair from skidding off the bus.  She loses her grip and the chair slides rapidly to the exit.  I jump up and grab the chair’s handlebars to stop her fall. Furious, she hits my hand away.

WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me!!

ME: (stunned, embarrassed and nervous.): Sorry, I was trying to help, sorry.

WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me! Why does it always fucking do this?! Piece of shit! (She yells, swears and mumbles a lot of things that don’t make sense).

I take my hands from the handlebars, but keep my body against the chair so it won’t just skid away.  If I move my weight, the chair will slide off the bus and out the open door.  Without a ramp she’ll end up hurt.

ME: Do you want to get off the bus?

WOMAN: No!  He should have answered his fucking phone! (She rants some more and the C word is thrown about with carefree abandon).

I just stand there.  The doors of the bus have closed and we’re moving.  Even though I’m supporting the chair, she’s still clinging to the bar, swearing and mumbling.  The movement of the bus snaps me out of my paralysis and I look at her properly.  She’s wearing a baseball cap, with greasy shoulder-length hair hanging in limp clumps from under it.  Her fingernails have black dirt encrusted under them.  She’s wearing a loose black t-shirt and jogging bottoms.  Her arms have what I initially think are cuts on them, but then I realise they’re track marks.  She smells of urine.  She’s a junkie … possibly homeless.

I look around at my fellow passengers.  Most of them are looking away, a few glance at me with sympathy.  ALL of them know what’s happened:  I’d jumped to the aid of a person in a wheelchair, but been confronted with an aggressive drug addict.  I don’t know what to do.  I’m still pressed against the chair with this woman sporadically yelling and mumbling.  I lock eyes with a man on a seat not too far from me, some sort of message passes between us and he gets up.  He presses the button for the bus to stop and, as it pulls up and the ramp comes down, he speaks to the woman – manoeuvring himself around me so he can grab the handles of the chair.

MAN (to the woman): Would you like to get off here?

WOMAN: Yes!  Fucking hell! (She looks over at me) C***!

I nod thanks to him, move out of the way and he helps her off.

With the screaming woman gone, the atmosphere on the bus is awkwardly quiet.  Feeling self-conscious, I get off the bus at the next stop … three stops early.  My buzz is definitely gone. 

London is a carnival of junkies, though I’ll not be escaping the theatrics when I return to Australia.  My hometown was a hotbed of nutters; the most famous being “Ding, Ding”, an alcoholic ex-boxer who enjoyed air fighting imaginary opponents and chasing my terrified sister through the park during her lunch hour.  Local “characters” are found in any environment, city or rural.

Anyway, speaking of fringe dwellers who are capable of humiliation and intimidation, I’m off to Erotica.