I’m going to come clean straight away: I did come face to face with a skunk’s arse yesterday but that is not what this blog is about. I was just trying to get your attention. Apart from anything else I suspect that you have probably had enough of me talking about arses. (My agent suggested to me recently that I would do well to take out some of the bum jokes in my second novel. If this wasn’t bad enough, I refused to do any such thing. “I like those disgusting jokes,” I muttered obstinately. Still stuck in the mind of a seven year-old, obviously.)
I blame it on the shared house in Islington I lived in from the age of 21 – 28. The conversations that went on in our sitting room… Dear God! We had a spare room which we rented out, occasionally, to itinerant wanderers. I will never forget the faces of those wanderers when they came to chill out with us and found one of ‘those conversations’ taking place. Girls left looking disgusted and genuinely upset; men sweated it out but remained silent and looked very afraid.
Anyway, what I wanted to discuss today was memory.
I recently hung out with a lovely guy who became disconnected from his memory about a year ago. Someone realised he was not in good shape when he started sleeping all the time and started saying odd things and within twenty four hours he was in hospital. Apparently there is some virus which can be contracted by… well, by normal virus-spreading means – which results in the disconnection of your memory.
He has regained 80% of it. I don’t know the specifics because I am a foolish writer, not a medic, but I know that he didn’t have to start again with everything – his memory was (and is) still there: it’s his ability to access it that’s a problem.
Anyway. I was overwhelmed with admiration for this plucky chap. Can you imagine how terrifying it must be to set off round the world knowing that you might at any point wake up with no idea where you are? I mean, really have no idea where you are. Or where you’re going. Or when your bus is. Or how to ask for help. I think he is wonderfully brave.
I made a poor-taste joke about how I wouldn’t mind erasing a few unfortunate things in my memory bank (fortunately he didn’t punch me in the face; he agreed that his problem occasionally had its advantages…) And so, in the words of Carrie, it got me thinking. No, really, it did. It made me think about the most awful memories I have in my repository and how much I’d pay to have them removed forever. That insane stalking/drug taking/misogynist I got tangled up with last year, for example. Or perhaps the moment when I cycled head first into a stationary bicycle after announcing that I was a proficient cyclist when Marge came to stay.
So I thought I would share with you three highly embarrassing moments in my life and invite you to join the party. What would you erase from memory if you could? What would you quite happily never think about again?
Here are mine.
1. I am three years old, roaming around the fleamarket at the Cornhall in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. I am here with my Dad who is wearing cord trousers and talking to someone about books. I’ve got side tracked looking at a luridly-painted penguin and the old woman who runs the stall (I strongly suspect that she is a witch: reams of mad black hair; boil on nose) has started paying attention to me and is speaking to me in that godforsaken stupid voice that childless adults use. I use it with my friend’s children these days actually. Duly noted.
Anyway, I get fed up of the Witch chatting to me so I turn round and crotch-hug my Dad for comfort. Writing this now I wonder how uncomfortable it must be for adults when children crotch-hug them. Can you imagine, as an adult, throwing your arms round someone’s bottom and buying your face in their… their, you know…?
As it goes, this occasion is the first time I begin to feel self-conscious about crotch-hugging. This is because the crotch I have selected is not my father’s. Suddenly this perfectly innocent gesture of familiarity becomes a moment of excruciating horror. I have a sudden sense of things not being quite right and then the owner of the crotch prises me away from it (he has cords on too. How the hell was I supposed to know?) and says “Hello there! You can’t go around doing things like that! Where are your parents, I think we need to have a talk to them!”
I am marched off to my poor Dad and presented to him as a ‘lost and, er, rather troubled child.’
2. I am twenty one and have just moved to Big London. My actor friend is staying in my bed for a few weeks because he is studying at Posh RADA and has made a slight oversight as far as accommodation is concerned (he has none.)
Him and I do not have a history as lovers but I did have a history of being infatuated with him for my first two years at university. I am, by now, long-since over it but of course I still want him to think I am cool.
So you can imagine my severe discomfort when I wake up one morning to find that I am in the middle of the longest, loudest guff I have ever heard. Yes, that’s right: I am emitting gas at such velocity and volume that I have actually woken myself up.
Sadly I am not the only person who has been woken up by this involuntary emission: my actor friend is staring at me with a face of pure horror. Pure, unadulterated horror. He is terrified and upset. And I don’t blame him.
I close my eyes and pretend to be asleep again. “Stop pretending to be asleep and face up to what you’ve just done,” he orders, clearly outraged.
3. I am twenty four, and a young stupid fool trying to impress her new employers in the meeja industry. It’s my job to send a daily update about the goings on of the previous day to the one hundred or so people who are working on this gig. The distribution list is a dangerous one – it contains Senior People in the company so we have to be very careful. Perhaps because I write a good email and if nothing else am professionally reliable, the job has been given to me in spite of my extremely junior position on the team.
A lapse of their judgement, clearly: it’s 9.45am and I receive an email from Craig, who is gay. “Please send me a picture of your breasts,” he asks, without recourse to such pleasantries as ‘hello, goodbye, how are you’ or even an explanation as to why he requires a picture of my rack. Obviously, because I am twenty four and stupid, I take a picture and upload it into my computer. I attach it to an email. Just like him, I do not say hello, goodbye or how are you. It’s just a picture of my breasts and nothing else. I giggle, thinking how stylish and funny this response is.
But then, because every morning at this time I send an email to entire team, my hand somehow selects ‘send to everyone.’
A picture of my breasts is thus sent to the entire team, with so much as a ‘morning, guys!’
Remember: there are Senior People on this distribution list. Very Senior. The seriousness of my error cannot be understated.
Someone said that three floors below they could hear a wail of horror as I realised what I’d done. By the time people come into the office where me and my other junior colleagues sit, I am hiding under the desk. Everyone prints the picture out, of course; it is in the security huts, toilets, gallery and just about everywhere else you could affix a picture of two breasts.
Worse still, one of my colleagues manages to pull it out of the printer alongside an important legal letter of dismissal and staples it into the pile of papers explaining to some woman that she had been sacked. “Dear so and so, I’m afraid you are being sacked, please remember your legal obligations to blah blah blah.. oh, final page, here’s a pair of wangers to cheer you up!”
It will not surprise you to learn that I received a formal written warning. This was bad enough; the true shocker is that even now, nearly ten years later, I meet people who tell me this tale having no idea it was me. “Stupid girl,” I laugh, looking old and wise.
I have more, of course, but one must draw a line somewhere. I invite you to share your own shockers, readers. If you could be disconnected from any memory, what would it be?
NB: Please can at least someone have done something more embarrassing than me.