As I proceeded down one of the exhibition halls within the British Museum I was following a large crowd, and in truth probably not watching where I was going, when my right foot struck something quite solid on the floor in front of me. Instinctively, I lifted my foot up to avoid whatever object I had contacted but I was in motion at the time and had momentum and was unable to simply stop instantaneously with my foot perched in mid-air. I had to bring my foot down to the floor. When I did it landed on what felt like a step of some description. However, I didn’t know what I had stepped onto and became immediately concerned that I may be crushing some priceless Egyptian relic, (they do have priceless Egyptian relics in the British Museum), so I shifted my foot forward to remove it from the obstacle and immediately felt a cold sensation running up my leg.
Having just visited the Egyptian mummies, it fleetingly entered my mind that I had perhaps desecrated one of their tombs and this cold sensation in my leg was the spirit striking back. It became immediately clear that it wasn’t. I had instead, clumsily planted my foot into a pond of water with a depth which completely enveloped my shoe and ran partly up my leg. I was aghast.
The first emotion I dealt with was the embarrassment of it all. My head said; “don’t draw attention to yourself” – as if that ship had not already sailed! However, my leg, acting independently, jumped out of the pond drawing with it a substantial amount of water. The movement of this water did not occur silently. There was what I would describe as a ‘whoosh’ as I withdrew my leg from the pond as the water followed it and a loud ‘slap’ as the water hit the concrete walkway of the museum. Very discrete I was I not. I had not managed my first emotion particularly well.
The next thing to go through my head was, a return to a previous thought, that I may have damaged something of significance and my eyes were starting to dart around looking for a curator or security guard, who was going to tell me that the water which was now squelching from my sock within my waterlogged shoe was the only remaining water from the spring which fed the hanging gardens of Babylon. Now, putting my hopelessly inadequate recollection of ancient history and knowledge of the environmental sciences aside, in truth, I didn’t hang around waiting to be told.
But then I saw the face which elicited greater fear than any security guard or curator. My youngest son, Chris, had seen the whole event unfold and was now laughing so hard he could no longer breathe. And I knew that his next move would be to share his latest hilarious story about his father’s misadventures with as many people he could find. Fortunately, in this instance, that likely restricted him to just three persons, since he was in England with his family of five at this point. He raced to find his mother, brother and sister who were all looking at different exhibits in different locations, which was perfect for Chris because he got to tell his story three times embellishing it on each occasion.
Soon the five of us were together, providing Chris another opportunity not only to re-tell his new favourite story but to take questions and answers. No questions were directed to me because they all knew that the answers Chris provided would be a much funnier ‘take’ on the events which had unfolded. I guess it was also true that as I squelched along the corridors of the Museum leaving a wet trail in my wake, I wasn’t the pin-up dad with whom one wished to be closely associated. Sarah, who was 17 years old, repeatedly said; “How embarrassing” not just to family members but also to passers-by – total strangers, whom she felt may be in danger of forming the view that she and I were somehow related – “how embarrassing” she would say and shake her head in disbelief. Some of those passers-by were now less in passing mode than loitering nearby in order to listen to the crazy stories being told by this twelve year old boy who still hadn’t stopped laughing despite the event
having occurred thirty minutes previously. I am sure some felt this was part of a new Museum exhibit – an attempt as museums are wont to do to keep pace with the millennials and ensure they have a service offering to suit all tastes. To my absolute horror there were now complete strangers laughing at my ineptitude.
Yet the ignominy which was to be visited upon me that day was incomplete. I had a shoe and sock which remained saturated and could not continue my day in this condition and so I had to wring the damn things out (which was an appropriate allegory for what my son was currently doing as he was squeezing the last drop of value from his stories about my misadventure). I could not exit the museum to rid myself of this problem since it was mid-winter and without being too melodramatic about it all, my toes would potentially freeze and frankly that was an altogether different kind of pain that I could do without. The alternative was to find a seat beneath a garden inside the museum and remove the offending shoe and sock and wring as much water from them as possible (into the garden). And so there I sat, alone, looking for all the world like a homeless person who had been caught in some peculiar rainstorm which affected only one part of his body, taking refuge from the elements. I am sure kind people would have thrown money into my hat if only I had removed it from my head – but it served as camouflage and I had no intention of doing that. With the leg of my jeans rolled up and otherwise sock and shoeless, I am sure I looked pitiful. And despite all of this, with the job complete, oddly I didn’t feel much better – my foot remained wet since there is a limit to the amount of water one can squeeze from a leather shoe!
The pond turned out to be just that – a pond or water feature – in the middle of a walkway in the middle of an exhibition in the middle of the museum. Why on God’s earth would you put a pond in the middle of a walkway? That said, I think I escaped the incident without too much public ridicule – as far as I am aware there was no story in the Times, although Chris took great joy in telling us all about the other couple who saw the event and apparently received entertainment well worth the price of admission. And as I left the Museum later that day I am sure the security guard at the door had a wry grin on his face as I passed.