I’m struggling to think of a recent example of being embarrassed, there are a few “oh dear moments” like when I left a blood stain on a chair during a particularly heavy period, but embarrassment seems to be a thing of the past. There are two possible reasons for this, either I’m toughening up and embarrassment is actually a thing of the past or, and I think this is more likely, I’m half way to senility and can’t even remember what I had for breakfast any more.
When I was an awkward pre-teen I liked to try out all sorts of different activities. I’d read about something interesting in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, pick up the phone and organise a meeting. In this way I became a tenor horn player for the Jaguar Youth Brass Band (and could be found enthusiastically blowing away at Tractor Fairs Warwickshire-wide until I discovered Cinzano) but amazingly that wasn’t embarrassing.
I also became a member of the Coventry Canoe Society which was based in the Coventry Canal basin. I learnt the ropes by falling out regularly in the stinking canal water, which I’d been told by my mother would cause typhus, TB and all sorts of other third world diseases if swallowed. My ability to be mortified at the age of 12 was sky high, starting with the fact that the instructor (who I had a little crush on) was called Robin Belcher.
The kayaks that we used with extremely fast and extremely unstable, it took weeks to even be able to stay upright, let alone let alone pick up any speed or turn around.
I’d just about mastered the ability to move forward sluggishly without falling in when the opportunity came about for our whole group to go away camping for the weekend for Hurst Pierrpoint kayak races.
I’d never been away from home before, let alone with a group of almost strangers, but I was eager for adventure. Mum packed me three days worth of spam sandwiches in an enormous tupperware container and away I went.
The whole thing was overwhelming, we boarded a Variety Club coach (I think Mr Belcher must have worked for them in the week) and headed off singing along to the radio and licking the windows of the coach whenever we passed a car. Listening to Come on Eileen still makes me flinch.
We arrived and I was entered into the beginners race, to the end of the reservoir and back, it might only have been 400 m but having only ever kayaked around the canal basin it seemed like miles. Also there were waves, quite big waves, we didnt even get wavelets on the canal. So I bellied up to the quay, got in the kayak and promptly fell in. I was hauled out and helped, dripping wet, back into the kayak, this time I managed to stay upright.
The starting pistol fired, I was immediately lengths behind the field, my arms felt like lead, my face was burning, I wanted my mum. Everyone had finished by the time I was half way round, so it was just me and the support RIB making our way back at snail’s pace, watched by the world, his mother and all of my team mates.
I took to my bed for the rest of the weekend, hiding out in my tent and eating spam sandwiches, too embarrassed to show my face.
Still I lived to tell the tale, and now I’m older I’m proud of young me. Its true what they say, its not the winning its the taking place that’s important.