The saving grace of anonymity

[I’m back-dating in an attempt to catch up on posts not written due to illness. Imagine we’re still in 2010…]

Back in September I was introduced to and very quickly became a fan of the Wittertainment podcast – the weekly film review show on Radio 5 hosted by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. The rather long (2 hours ish) podcast is now my regular soundtrack for Sunday travelling and I eagerly anticipate it every week. While I appreciate the film reviews, what’s especially addictive is the the dynamic of Mayo and Kermode’s relationship and the latter’s superb rants on anything from 3D films, grammar, or projectionists.

Thus, the fact that their Christmas show was to be a specially recorded episode in front of an audience in London presented quite an exciting opportunity – particularly once a colleague had acquired a couple of tickets and offered her spare to me. Watching the show in the flesh was to be a Christmas highlight.

Having listened to a couple of previous shows with audiences I knew that opportunity for participation was high. Often, members of the audience get to provide reviews of the top 10 films, or pass comment upon films generally. My problem was that I’d seen all of two new releases all year (yes, I know, shocking) so if I was going to be able to review anything, I’d need to swiftly go out and watch something likely to turn up in the top 10 – potentially not hard as I still needed to see Harry Potter 7a. However, the onset of the lurgy prevented any cinema going before the big day arrived. Nevermind, I would simply be a silent, enthusiastic observer.

Early observations (while in the bar pre-show) were that the ratio of geeks to non-geeks was high, as was the ratio of men to women – kind of unsurprising I suppose, presumably most film nerds are of a male variety. In amongst such an audience, my level of film knowledge would be towards the lower end of the scale, not to mention the fact that I’d only been a fan of the show for 3 months, so didn’t have all the history either. (In contrast, my companion had podcasts going back years and years – a true fan.) Needless to say, I felt like something of a fraud and resolved to stay silent.

None of this made it any the less fun. As predicted, audience members helped review the top 10 and on reflection, walking up on stage and speaking into a large red mic would have scared the life out of me, so perhaps it was a good thing I’d seen none of the films. There were many laughs, which provided excellent opportunities for me to cough surreptitiously. Then came a moment when I realised that Simon Mayo was stood next to me holding a microphone, poised to ask people for their film picks of the year – and I panicked.

As mentioned above, I’ve only seen two films that were released this year – Toy Story 3 and Africa United. After some quick thinking, I figured I could speak eloquently on the former (after all, I’d only written a blog post about it a few weeks earlier), so that would do – especially as the latter was more of a niche film. One person was asked for their favourite film before me, and what did they say? Toy Story 3 of course. For a few seconds I pondered simply saying Inception (because it’s definitely up there – so I’ve heard) or being dull and repeating the same film. Instead, what I came out with was a slightly pretentious:
“I was going to say Toy Story too, but as he’s just said that, I’ll have to go for Africa United.” 
I’d like to think that in throwing in Africa United I’ll have come across as someone who watches rather more obscure films…wishful thinking?

In typical fashion, I immediately got extremely embarrassed that I’d just spoken out loud in a programme that would be broadcast nationally and turned into a podcast listened to across the world. What if I sounded like a twit? Then I realised, I hadn’t been asked my name. No one would know it was me unless they recognised my voice (difficult, as it was all throaty and non-normal) or if they spotted the rather unusual film combination. Should you be interested, my contribution appears right at the end of the first podcast from Christmas Eve (entitled ‘The Way Back’) available here.

Once I got over my embarrassment, I got on with enjoying the rest of the evening. Though how could you not enjoy an evening spent with Dobby the House Elf, the fabulous Jason Isaacs and the Dodge Brothers playing skiffle style film themes?

Phew! Cringe! And other emotions…

Christmas can officially begin. I have battled temperatures at both ends of the scale and tonight successfully arrived at my parents’ in Belfast.

Since snowcalypse descended last week, holiday travel plans have delicately been in the balance. Actually, at the very moment I booked my flights (back in October) I was already formulating potential back-up plans – one reason why I ultimately flew out of Birmingham instead of London. Then on Saturday night, with impeccable timing, I got sick. The illest I’ve been since Christmas two years ago and making it the third of the last four Christmases that I’ve been under the weather. Four nights of awful sleep and virtually no appetite followed, making panic over meteorological conditions and airline vagaries even worse.

Thus I effectively wasted my first two days of holiday languishing in bed till the early afternoon and then attempting to make myself feel more human by seeing actual people. This was possibly a mistake as it led to an inadvertent evening in a draughty exhibition hall and made me incredibly determined to keep my date with the BBC Radio Theatre on Tuesday [much, much more on this at a later date]. The latter also required half an hour queueing in sleet, which might account for how categorically awful I felt yesterday morning as I began my mission to reach the shire for Christmas.

But enough moaning about my woes. By today, with no further heavy snow showers in the West Midlands and a receding feeling of general malaise, things were better – which is lucky, given the fate that befell me today at Birmingham International Airport…

I’m a fairly patient and moderately experienced traveller. I’ve dealt with the ferocity of US immigration and the terror of Israeli Border Control and don’t generally get flustered if unexpected things happen. However, what I do like is order and effective queuing – something usually typical of airport security. No such luck at Birmingham, someone even pushed ahead of me while I was decanting my laptop into a tray – at Gatwick you’d be forcibly removed for such behaviour.

My belongings were spread across two trays and my rucksack. First my laptop was picked out for a swipe (I quite like this, it means my screen’s now clean for the first time in ages) then my rucksack was lifted out. This did not make me happy, anyone who’s familiar with my handbag habits would guess at what level of junk might be contained within such a tote. Here are some examples:
What’s in a Name? [A book on the origin of tube station names which has been in there since my nerd’s day out.]
– A box of Christmas wrapping paraphernalia – ribbons, bows and what have you.
– Two-thirds of a cinnamon & raisin bagel bought for lunch on yesterday’s train (indication of illness that I only managed to consume one-third of it over a 2hr journey). [I’d intended to throw it away.]
– Rather important letters/documentation relating to my holiday task.

Any item whose contents were unclear was lifted out and opened – swift intervention on my part ensured that my purse wasn’t opened upside down, spilling coins across the conveyor belt. My camera case was easily explained, but less so a velvety Ollie & Nic purse that appeared from the depths of the bag. My conversation with the guard proceeded as follows:
Guard: “Madam, what’s in this small bag?”
Me [cringing inwardly and probably outwardly]: “Er, those would be tampons.” 
Guard [also cringing and hurriedly zipping it back up]: “Ah, ok then.” 

Bless him. I think he was actually more embarrassed than I was – though I wasn’t particularly happy about my belongings being displayed for all and sundry to observe. Had I been feeling more fragile, I might have burst into tears at this point, but instead I accepted his apologies and said that he’d been much nicer about it than the guards responsible the last time my baggage was searched – when leaving Israel.

Weirdly (or not), I was much happier sharing this event on Facebook and Twitter than with my fellow passengers – I guess in these cases I know my audience, or at least my audience knows me. Plus, it gave me something to chuckle over during my hour’s delay. [FYI not a lot to do in Birmingham’s Terminal 2.]

Two videos and two valuable lessons

Last week, when I reviewed Happy Birthday Jesus, I mentioned the St Chad’s Nativity video and said that if it appeared on YouTube, I’d share. Voilà:

Very kindly, Dave Walker linked to my review on both Twitter and his blog, resulting in lots and lots of visitors – making me feel rather warm and fuzzy. (Actually, when I made the latter discovery I was in the pub celebrating the end of work and commiserating with a departing colleague, so some of the fuzziness may have been wine related.) I probably should make my ‘real’ life a little more fulfilling given that gaining validation from blog visits/comments is rather pathetic.

However, there is one rather humbling/cringeworthy aspect of this attention. After some internal debate, I decided to mention in passing an online dating adventure within that review. I guess I shouldn’t be embarrassed by this, but the realisation that it was a component of my second most popular post of all time was somewhat mortifying. Then I realised the individual concerned had without question read the post and I inwardly cringed. Ho hum.

Internet lesson #1: Do not blog about things that you don’t want people to know about. Simple really.

Internet lesson #2: Do not befriend people on Twitter about whom you have said things that you may not want them to know about – or friends of people about whom you have made comment.

This second lesson leads me nicely to the second part of of this post. Last week was our Carol Service – an event of epic proportions and quite easily the highlight of my Christmas (if not the year). It’s always fabulous and singing in the choir is an awesome experience. This year was especially exciting owing to the guest appearance of the legendary a cappella ensemble The Swingle Singers (mentioned multiple times on this blog, not least because of their role in Glee’s incidental music). Showing up at church to sing at 9.15am on a cold Sunday morning is not pleasant, but they stunned us with their beautiful melodies at such an early hour, I think encouraging us to do our best to impress them with our performances.

One highlight was their rendition of O Holy Night (always one of my favourites), which I was delighted to find on YouTube last night – this version being from the morning’s Christingle Service (hence small children wandering around in tea towels):

This relates to lesson #2 because I found it owing to the fact that I follow both the group and one of its altos on Twitter. On the evening of the carol service I may have made some comment regarding the attractiveness of a bearded tenor (who happens to sing the solo above), which was spotted by one of the Swingles when I added them the following day and elicited a rather amusing tweet back. Oops. To quote the lovely Annabelle, I am a nit.

Thinking before posting is always valuable…

Think before you act

Given how decidedly unfriendly the tube can be, it’s only natural that when you see someone you know unexpectedly, you’d be rather excited.

It’s just a shame if having spotted them and poked them in the ribs by way of greeting that they turn to you and you realise that it’s not who you thought it was…

Thank the Lord I was the poked person not the poker!

Earlier this afternoon I hopped on board a train satisfied that in my hour of allotted shopping time I’d acquired both of the items I required, and ready for a few minutes peace in which to prepare for the grilling I was en route to. When the man next to me dug his elbow into me, I initially wondered if I was taking up too much space on the seat, but almost instantly recognised it as a “hello, you didn’t realise I was here” action.

In a matter of seconds my mind flitted to people I hoped it might be and then looked round to see a smiling, complete stranger whose smile very quickly disappeared as he yelped “Sorry! I thought you were someone else!” Bless him. I probably should have struck up a conversation to make him feel better, but I was rather engrossed in continuing to sort out the contacts in my new phone*.

*Incidentally, I feel I ought to mention that the absence of blogging over the last 48 hours hasn’t been owing to this distraction. I’ve been having fun doing things that don’t involve a computer – quite a novelty. 

Embarrassing moments

It has to be said that I’m one of those people who feels embarrassment very keenly. I go red simply at the memory of some of my most cringeworthy moments and the mental scars can take a long time to heal. (Sudden remembrance of a recent embarrassment still has me effectively face-palming myself and groaning.) Should anyone bring up such a moment, I’m likely to get incredibly defensive and offended. Such is life.

It was therefore probably an odd choice to open discussion with my brand new student small group with a question about embarrassing moments – you can’t expect a group of people to open up to you if you don’t do the same. After hearing several stories involving wetting oneself in public (started by my oh so responsible co-leader after he’d decided only to use events that had occurred when sober), I continued the toilet theme by sharing a story I’d come to terms with by re-telling on the blog.

At the time it was rather mortifying, but I’ve now dealt with it and can move on – with the added bonus that it’s not actually taken me too long to get over. Some moments, however, leave far deeper scars…

I think there are various factors that affect the level of embarrassment you’ll feel:
How many people witness your moment of shame
Who those people are
What you happen to be doing at the time
How important the moment is to you

Thus, getting your skirt caught in your pants is moderately embarrassing because your bottom/underwear’s on show and you don’t generally want it to be. Add into the mix crossing a crowded room in such a state and the embarrassment level increases. If you happen to be doing something important and/or the people are important, it gets even higher. 
Last night, while travelling home, I had a sudden realisation that I have finally been healed of the anguish and torment caused by one particular moment that occurred over five years ago. I was listening to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack and was wondering why I’d not heard it for ages; then the Elephant Love Medley came on, and I remembered… 
The choir I spent my late teens/early 20’s singing in had a Moulin Rouge medley in its repertoire for a while and one of my proudest moments was acquiring the main female solo in it. Thing was, I had less than 12 hours notice of the solo and thus, by the concert, I wasn’t perhaps as prepared as I might have been. Add to the mix the fact that the Ewan to my Nicole was a guy I had a particularly complicated close friendship with and you may start to get an idea of how important this moment was to me.
It started off so well, in fact, it only started to go a little wrong at a harmonious moment, but it was ok, you might not have noticed. What you couldn’t help but notice was the fact that I came in at completely the wrong moment after an instrumental, resulting in a rather obvious “You’d think that people…you’d think that people…”. Curses. A potentially proudest moment ruined by stupidity. 
To be honest, it probably wouldn’t have left such long-term damage had it not been for two things:
1. A chance to repeat the solo at a later concert was snatched away when the item was cut about 30mins before the gig was due to begin.
2. My duetting partner knew that I was bothered by my mistake and chose to mention it – regularly – for about three years solid. Random e-mails, sly digs, playing of the recording (oh yes, I’ve got an mp3 of this beautiful moment that occasionally appears on my iPod if I’m not paying attention) at odd moments and generally just being a pain in the ass.
But last night I listened to it (the lovely original, not my slaughtering of it) and enjoyed it. It didn’t bother me and I didn’t feel the need to skip that particular part of the track. Then I came home and wrote this post and the final frustrations and red-facedness ebbed away. That, my friends, is what I like to call closure! 
(Thanks for listening.)