Tag Archives: embarrassment

Missing the Car Wash and the Colour of Nuns – the Traumas of Being the Youngest Child

It’s rubbish being the youngest in the family, and I should know. When I was born, my closest brother in age was already 7, and the oldest was 14. Even Prudence our cocker spaniel was older than me.

This huge age gap meant that my brothers were able not merely to tease me, but to weave elaborate scams that I had no hope at all of seeing through. It was a completely one-sided arrangement because I was far too inexperienced ever to get my own back.

For example…

We were privileged enough to be a two-TV family. We had a colour set in the living room, with a dial to change the channel between BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. It was very similar to this one:

IMG_3577
And we had a black and white TV in the dining room with four separate channel buttons… “In case they ever bring out a fourth channel,” my dad explained to me.

If my brothers and I wanted to see something different at the same time, then of course we argued about who got to use the colour set. On one particular occasion I wanted to watch The Sound of Music. My brother Nick, maybe 13 at the time to my 6,  explained to me that I would be better off watching this particular film on the black and white TV.

“Why?” I asked.
“Because of the nuns,” he replied, completely dead pan.

And I bought it. I trotted meekly off to watch in the dining room. Although I assume that there must have been a tiny suspicion in the back of my mind that I was being had, because why else would I remember the incident 35 years or so later?

A more regular, and possibly even more surreal piece of teasing, happened every Saturday when we would all drive from Sunderland to Newcastle to visit my grandma.  My parents would sit in the front, and the four of us would be crammed into the back (no seatbelts obviously) with the dog across our knees.

Part of the way through the journey, there was a car wash. A perfectly ordinary car wash in a petrol station next to a roundabout. Every week,  my brothers would wait till we’d driven past it (with me invariably looking the other way) and then they’d chant:

“Susan missed the car wash! Susan missed the car wash!”
“AND” they’d add, “it had a white Rolls Royce in it!”

Then they’d fall about laughing. And my parents would tell them off, but you could hear that they were trying not to laugh, too.

And I’d cry.
Every single week.

Now that I’m nearly 42 my brothers are really quite nice to me. And over the years I’ve become much better at making sure I don’t miss car washes.

But still, when our youngest child (who is only 4) gets furiously angry because his older siblings are laughing at something unintentionally funny that he’s said, I empathise. I really do. Though it can sometimes be a struggle not to laugh, too.

***

Do you have any equally traumatic stories of sibling teasing? If so, please tell me about them in the comments section.

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The Perils of Sarcasm

As anyone familiar with Ray from the Mary Whitehouse Experience will know, the propensity to be sarcastic can get you into all sorts of trouble. Ray is the man cursed with a sarcastic tone of voice. You can watch him here.

"What a personal disaster."

“What a personal disaster.”

When I was at university – it was in the early days of email – an Australian friend sent me a message to say that he’d heard that a rare type of walrus had been sighted off the coast of the UK and had I seen any? He was, he explained, a walrus enthusiast.

I replied that while I hadn’t seen any walruses, if I happened to spot one while walking through Cambridge I’d be sure to let him know.

“Thanks – that would be great,” he replied.

He then signed me up to a walrus aficionados’ e-newsletter.

I quite enjoyed reading it, actually. It was a little window into a world I would ordinarily never have known existed.

Of course, it’s well known that it’s really difficult to convey tone of voice in an email, and you therefore have to be extra careful what you say. I’m not good at taking heed of this. The problem is, I also run into trouble when talking to people face to face – particularly strangers.

My husband Anthony suffers from the same problem. A few years ago we were in the Lake District with our four-month-old baby. (This was the same trip on which we acquired All Terrain Pushchair Walks, South Lakeland – click here to read more about that.) Out on a walk, our son began screaming hysterically in his pushchair.

A passing lady said in consternation,
“Gosh, he doesn’t look very happy, does he?”
“That’s because he’s starved of affection,” Anthony replied.
“Oh dear!” said the lady, clearly alarmed, and scuttled off looking as if she were about to call social services.

Having failed to learn from this encounter, I make sarcastic comments to strangers all the time. I imagine I’m being funny.

Given that sarcasm tends to consist of saying the exact opposite of what you really think, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t realise that you’re being sarcastic, it is excruciating. The chances are you’ll come out of the encounter looking stupid or crazy, or quite possibly both.

And yet… it’s difficult to give it up because sometimes – just sometimes – the stranger I’m talking to gets the joke and laughs. And so my comment allows us to make an immediate, genuine connection that no amount of small talk can create.

It is almost never worth trying to dig your way out of these situations by explaining yourself. That just leads to embarrassment all round. I tend to just swallow the misunderstanding, grit my teeth, and accept that this person now thinks I’m socially or intellectually deficient.

Perhaps the answer is to carry a sarcasm sign around with me, like Leonard does for Sheldon’s benefit in the Big Bang Theory.

Leonard

If I hold it up whenever I’m being sarcastic, I’m sure that will solve all my problems.

NOT!!!!!
😉 😉 😉

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Have you ever found yourself in trouble due to being sarcastic? Or do you hate it when other people are? Do let me know in the comments.

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Getting Lost in My Own House – Life With No Sense of Direction

If your sense of direction is as bad as mine,  you may recognise the following facts:

  • When you come out of a shop you have no idea in which direction you’d previously been heading.
  • You see your sat nav as coming after only oxygen, water and food in the order of life’s necessities.
  • You navigate a department store by wandering around each floor completely at random till you spot what you’re looking for.
  • The fact that you’ve managed to find your way from A to B has absolutely no bearing on your ability to find your way from B back to A.
  • You’re entirely capable of getting lost in the area where you live.

I have barely any sense of direction. This is a fairly common phenomenon, and as people like me will know, it’s hugely inconvenient.

A conversation I find myself frequently having:

Friend: You know where the such-and-such place is?
Me: No, I don’t I’m afraid.
Friend: Yes you do. You just go round the Eastern Bypass, and along the A463 past the Old Lion.
Me: I don’t know those roads. I have no sense of direction, so there’s really no point in describing to me where that place is.
Friend: Oh yes, YOU know. You just have to go along Potters Lane, and take the right fork halfway along by the Shell garage. You know where I mean?
Me: No.
Friend: The Shell garage. On Potters Lane. You must know it.
Me: No. No, I don’t know it.
Friend: You do! The one you come to straight after the Easham flyover.
Me: Oh yes! That Shell garage. OK, thanks.

Of course, I still have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, but lying is the only way to get them to shut up. Because people who do have a sense of direction simply cannot get their head round the sheer spatial incompetence of people who don’t.

Not being able to find your way around makes day-to-day life difficult in all sorts of ways. For example, if I’m in a restaurant and I go to the loo, then when I come out again I’ll have absolutely no idea where I was sitting. The open layout of restaurants makes me acutely aware that the friends I’m with can quite likely see me standing there looking perplexed, even though I can’t spot them among all the crowded tables. And I find this embarrassing. So I walk confidently in the direction I hope my table might be, and pray that I find it before anyone realises I have no idea where I’m going.

As a child, I was taken on the same route to school from Sunderland to Newcastle every day for nine years. But when I passed my driving test and was able to travel independently, I had no more idea of which way to go than if I had just arrived in a foreign country. As I approached age 17, I used to say to myself with increasing anxiety, “I have to learn the way because I’m going to be learning to drive soon” and I’d really try to concentrate and memorise the route. But I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t.

Perhaps my most memorable getting-lost incident was at the end of my Cambridge interview. Having spent an hour trying to be my most intelligent, thoughtful, competent and mature, I shook the interviewer’s hand, bid him farewell, and walked into a cupboard.

For an insane second or two, I wondered whether I could get away with just staying in the cupboard. Then I saw sense, reversed sheepishly, and was gently pointed towards the door.

They still let me in to the university, amazingly. This perhaps is down to the fact that academics are not themselves renowned for their practical skills.

So, a question for those of you like me… what ridiculous situations have you found yourself in due to your bad sense of direction?

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How many kisses is too many kisses?

XXXXX

When I was a brand new editorial assistant in my first publishing job, I signed off an email to one of the company directors as follows:

Susan xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The moment I pressed ‘send’ I realised what I’d done and I sat there, frozen in horror.
Once I’d started breathing again, I realised I couldn’t just pretend it hadn’t happened, or she might think that *I* thought this was an appropriate way for a junior to sign her name to a director. But how do you say sorry to someone for having put too many – or indeed, any – kisses in a message to them…?
“I apologise for my excessive epistolary affection”?
“I will endeavour to communicate via a more formal register in future”?

In the end, I put my head round her office door, red-faced, and mumbled somethig inarticulate. Given that she was far older and more experienced than me and in a position of power, this was her cue to be amused and reassuring and make me feel much better.

She wasn’t and she didn’t. Instead she was bemused and condescending, which is why I’m clearly still trying to get over to trauma 18 years later.

It hasn’t stopped me from putting kisses after my name, though, when I’m actually writing to a friend. I’ve noticed that there is a definite etiquette involved in this process. The number matters. One kiss means you’re on friendly terms. It *might* mean that you’re close, but it could also apply to, for example, a client you know well or another mum you chat to in the playground. Three kisses definitely signifies that you’re good friends, whereas an extravagant row of many kisses either means that you’re twelve-years-old (in which case you might intersperse them with circles to represent hugs), or that you’re writing to your partner or very close friend.

In an email exchange, it’s interesting that most people will copy your pattern exactly. For example, two kisses after your name will get you two kisses after the recipient’s name.

There is a gender segregation here, though. Men are definitely less generous with their rows of x’s. If I’m writing to one of my male friends, most of whom tend not to put kisses after their names, I find myself having an internal dialogue as follows: “He doesn’t, so probably I shouldn’t. But if I were writing to a female friend I definitely would. It feels really unfriendly not to. So I will – I shouldn’t let my normal writing style be dictated by someone else.” Then I do so, and immediately feel very slightly silly and childish. And then I feel annoyed with myself for being so insecure.

I write most of my messages on my phone using voice recognition, so if you see me with my phone to my mouth saying “love-Susan-ex-ex-ex-ex-ex”, this will be why. Please try not to cross the street.

Love Susan xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

PS When searching for a suitable image to accompany this post, it was noticeable that when I put ‘kisses’ into Google Images I got lots of nice pictures of pink lips, whereas when I searched ‘kisses xxx’ the results were startlingly different. It probably would have been better if I hadn’t been doing it outside my daughter’s ballet class.

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