Tonight I meant to write a very learned and useful post; something like how to make you money go further or how to build a pension in ten years.
My good intentions will have to stay just that: work is kicking my b*tt very seriously these last couple of weeks.
What I’ve been doing?
There is all the marking of Master’s students proposals; a PhD researchers of mine is completing her thesis; I am the co-chair of the main international conference in my field; I’m busy with the annual review meeting I do with my colleagues; and, to top it all, I’m giving a keynote at a conference next Thursday.
I still love my life; there isn’t much space for boredom and thumb twiddling.
This aside, some of our readers have been telling us that they’d like to know a bit more about how we live.
And I am not very good at this one. Ask me to research something, to think about it and to give you the essence – I can absolutely ace that! Ask me how do I live and I’m likely to shy away and hide behind some intellectualisation or other.
Given my tiredness and the curiosity of our readers, I decided to do something that may help me open up a bit more: to tell you about the three most embarrassing episodes in my life.
We are talking properly embarrassing here, mega. Not simply the mild embarrassment you feel when you’ve forgotten someone’s name, when you slipped and swore in public or when you had to have a pee in the gents’ toilet (yes, I’ve done this one; it was at the beginning of a race and the ladies’ was very busy – it was more embarrassing for the poor men than for me).
We are talking the kind of embarrassing that stays to haunt you for a very long time.
Episode one: When I choked and couldn’t say a word
I was probably about nine-ten years old; I was cocky, ambitious and I wanted to win.
I still usually want to win when I enter competitions. In fact, I never understood when someone tells me that they are not in the competition to win. Why do people take part then?
I am digressing.
I was about ten years old and I had entered a public contest. It was about the history of the Second World War from the point of view of the USSR (yes, my young friends, there is no such country any longer but it was very much in place when I was ten); there were about 30 questions and we had to research the answers. There were two teams and each member of the team was to answer one question at random; the whole thing was to be broadcast live on the local radio station.
I researched everything. I knew the answer to each and every question. We were going to win big.
Finally the day to showcase our knowledge came. Of course all our relatives were going to listen; my mum and dad had to visit friends to be able to listen to the broadcast and witness their young daughter’s triumph.
It is just that when it was my turn there was nothing to listen to. I simply choked; I chocked so bad that I couldn’t even make a sound and my head was completely empty.
I was mortified! I had failed, brought down my team and shamed my parents. And the whole town had heard my silence!
How did I cope? It was hard but at the end I did what I still do when I gaff big time – I turned it into joke.
When I left the studio and looked around, I thought that the whole two heard my shame. My next thought was that it wasn’t a particularly large town.
This fear that my mind is going to go completely blank is still with me. Which is not too good given that I speak in front of large groups of people all the time.
This has never happened again.
Episode two: My driving instructor called me ‘idiot’
Okay, okay. Before you, my reader, get too excited and start blaming my instructor for losing it a calling me ‘idiot’ hear my driving story.
I was never than keen on cars. Even since I was a baby and had my first episode of motion sickness I hated travelling.
I was certainly not very keen on driving a car either. When I lived in Sofia I was happy using the public transport; mainly trams and trolleybuses (both electric, didn’t smell of petrol or diesel fumes and move smoothly). Most of all I walked; when I was running late or didn’t face a walk I took taxis but the distances are short and by then I was travelling a bit better.
When I was in my early twenties my dad started mentioning that it is time to learn to drive. My response?
“If I am wealthy enough to have a car, I’ll have to hire a driver.”
Silly, I know. Then again, young people are allowed to be silly.
In Manchester I lasted only several months before I was fed up with waiting at bus stop in the darkness, damp seeping through my clothes, travelling in buses that smelled of diesel and unwashed people (I know this doesn’t sound good but it is true – many people on the bus do smell).
It was time to learn to drive. Learning to drive went like this:
First lesson: I get behind the wheel and cross my legs. My driving instructor asked my politely to uncross legs and deal with pedals.
Second lesson: I get behind the wheel and cross my legs. My driving instructor is still courteous.
Fifth lesson: I get behind the wheel and cross my legs. My driving instructor looks at me, shakes his head and says: “Uncross your legs, you idiot.”
And I couldn’t blame him! But was this embarrassing? After all, I was a highly intelligent and educated fast learner.
In everything but driving.
As it happens we did well together. In time, we started joking about things. Every time I was swinging the car from one side of the lane to the other, we sang together this song:
In time I passed. I never drive much though; I can just about drive to my office and back and when the weather is nice I walk (or run). There are some things that stay with you.
And you know what? It seems to me I would have done much better if I went for a residential, intensive driving course like the ones around today. It is just that it never occurred to me to look for one back then.
Now when I sit behind the wheel, I think to myself: don’t cross your legs, you idiot.
Episode three: A plane-full of businessmen cheered when I came out of the toilet
Most ‘normal’ university professors travel couple of time per year to conferences. I see them sometimes: looking casual, travelling with backpacks (sometimes); more importantly travelling economy (coach).
This isn’t me; I’ve always travelled much more and have had to ‘scrub up’ for high level presentation and meetings; still recently I travel mostly economy.
This wasn’t how it was in the nineties. I was doing a lot of work with and for the European Commission and regularly travelled Business Class to Brussels.
I can’t explain this but when on a plane I simply have to go to the toilet.
So once, I was on the very early flight to Brussels travelling business class. It takes less than an hour to get from Manchester to Brussels. So I read some, made last preparations for the meeting and…went to the toilet.
Naturally, I locked the door. When finished I turned the lock – nothing happened. I tried again – it was clearly stuck. I started knocking on the door; the air-hostess started giving me instructions – nothing worked.
By this time we had reached Brussels. There I was: locked in the toilet, the air-hostess getting wound up because the plane couldn’t land while I was in and the whole thing being a complete mess.
Eventually, the pilot came and forced the door of the toilet open with a crow-bar; not very high tech but it did the trick.
I came out and the whole business class cabin, full of men in pinstripe, started cheering.
I suppose my colour was close to that of a ripe tomato.
What could have helped?
Nothing really; this was one of these things that just happen.
These are the three most embarrassing episodes in my life. How have I coped? I think I cope through humour but may a Freudian shrink will have a field day with me.
I keep away; telling all my readers about this may be much better therapy anyway.
What are the most embarrassing episodes in your life and how do you cope?