Friday, 20 January 2012

Not the ideal way to spend Christmas Eve

I was asked recently, while playing one of those silly board games after a couple of glasses of very drinkable Rioja, to describe the most embarrassing situation I've ever found myself in. I imagine we could all dredge up something from the past, but in my case, there were only two incidents that immediately sprung to mind.

The first was when I took a summer holiday job while at school as the mail-room assistant in a fairly stuffy firm of solicitors off Fleet Street. On my first day, having delivered mail to all the senior partners, I distinctly remember, to my embarrassment, hastily making an exit through a rather large broom cupboard. This was probably the funniest thing that those solicitors had ever witnessed, judging from the guffaws and bursts of uncontrollable laughter that ensued. To be the focus of attention for all the wrong reasons feels utterly humiliating if you're a spotty adolescent with very little self-confidence. It was, I have to admit, a horribly embarrassing experience.

But possibly less embarrassing though far more surreal, was the Guy Norris Christmas Eve episode, which took place the following year. Guy Norris was the name of a record shop I used to frequent in Gants Hill where I lived as a teenager with my parents. Unlike most kids who were into The Stranglers or Sex Pistols, I was into Joseph Haydn, and had set myself the hair-brained mission to collect every one of his 106 symphonies on vinyl. And it was over one particular Christmas Eve that I found myself riffling through the record shop's entire collection of classical music in search of the maestro’s early works - a search that turned up very little. So disappointedly, I trudged to the entrance and pulled the door, and in the process nearly yanked my arm off. The door wouldn't budge for good reason; it had been locked and the lights had been left on, along with the Christmas tree lights which twinkled away merrily.

When you are 15 years of age and locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve, you are faced with a difficult dilemma: do you knock manically on the glass window to attract the passers-by who may just think you're part of a rather novel Christmas display, or do you spare yourself the embarrassment and just sit it out until New Year? It was a tough one, but thankfully, I was saved by a third option in the form of a telephone, which sat on the counter.

Having spoken to my father, who then spoke to the police, who then spoke to the manager, who then went in search of the caretaker who was no doubt in his local boozer knocking back a pre-Christmas pint, it took another three hours before I was released from my temporary prison.

Funnily enough, I didn't listen to much Haydn after that.

Alex Pearl is author of Sleeping with the Blackbirds 

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