When it comes to humiliation in the public arena, I like to avoid it. Not that I don't humiliate myself, far from it, but I steer clear of humiliation in the same way that I steer clear of dog poo on the pavement, grannies in buggies, daytime television, stinging nettles, cleaning sieves and post offices on Thursdays.
Q: Cleaning Sieves?
A: Sieves are kitchens' most despicable affront to human sanity. There is nothing worse than battling with thousands of tiny pieces of rice lodged in a sieve's holes. It drives me so berserk that all sorts of puerile thoughts enter my head. I end up secretly wishing the inventor of the sieve has a freak accident, slipping on a tiny piece of rice and jamming a teaspoon deep into his cerebellum. My wife and I have reached a mutual agreement. I keep the kitchen clean and tidy, but she cleans the sieve.
When I do humiliate myself it tends to be fairly minor. Like tripping on raised paving stones. You know when you just catch one, stumble for a few steps and then carry on walking pretending no-one noticed, but knowing that someone behind did notice, and knowing that that someone is smiling like an ape that has just been given a peanut.
There have been other incidents, like the time on my crowded London commute when a pair of boxes in my sports bag inexplicably leapt out of the bag into the aisle. These things are always inexplicable. I fantasise about recreating the scene with a miniature carriage full of mice. One mouse has a sports bag on the luggage rack. I then spend thousands of hours pushing the carriage along to see if the mouse's boxes leap out of the sports bag...
Or the time at work when I spat some gum binwards, and it sailed gracefully over the bin and rolled right up to a standing colleague.
But on the whole, I don't humiliate myself.
Let me tell you about Stephen. Stephen (pseudonym) is a friend of mine. Stephen and Humiliation are old friends. Stephen and Humiliation go way back. In fact, I imagine that Stephen and Humiliation frequently hang out at family reunions.
One day Stephen was walking through Warwick Arts Centre on his way to the bus stop. As he approached the exit he heard someone call his name. The Art Centre's exit splits into two, with one half a wheelchair ramp and the other half a flight of steps. They are separated by a metal railing.
As Stephen turned towards the caller he wrote himself a mental note. Ramp and steps are approaching, it said. Watch out for the railing, it said. Otherwise things could be painful, it warned ruefully.
Some friends were sitting in a cafe a few metres away. Stephen engaged in some small talk while continuing walking. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the railing approaching. Stephen wrote himself another mental note. End this conversation quickly, it said, its tone a little more urgent.
Not that I actually read these mental notes. That would be really weird.
Stephen's nether regions collided with the railing head on, but at enough of an angle to send him over head first. He caught hold of it just in time to prevent him crashing down the stairs. Hauling himself up, and turned to face his laughing friends.
As he raised his arms in a "what can I say?" gesture, his bus pass (inexplicably) flew out of his hand and glided through the air like, well, like a gliding bus pass, hitting the ground and sliding several metres across the floor.
Stephen had to walk the long walk of shame over to the bus pass, and then the even longer walk of shame back to the exit.
On another occasion Stephen was cycling home from a lecture. He took the usual short cut out of the university. The one that took you up a curb, over a grass bank and down into the sports centre car park.
On the descent down the grass bank he was taken cleanly off his bike by a suspiciously low branch. All in front of a class of school girls waiting to enter the sports center.
If there is anything worse than cleaning a sieve, it is being knocked off your bike by a tree branch in front of a class of teenage school girls.
Well, I suppose having a teaspoon jammed deep inside your cerebellum is worse.
I imagine that Stephen's mental note consisted of a scrap of paper featuring a crayon drawing of a stick man falling off his bike in front of a laughing school girl, with the word "disaster" in bold red scrawl.
Stephen got back on his bike, and rode off with his head held high. His dignity was left somewhere on the grass bank.
My wife trumped all of these incidents when she took a tampon out of her handbag instead of her credit card and handed it to a cashier.
I don't know how the cashier reacted, but I know what he should have said.
"Sorry Ma'am, but we don't take tampon."
A helping hand, ca. 1910s
3 hours ago