So Who Put the Water Feature in the Middle of a Walkway

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.

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The Problematic Passenger

I was once on a flight somewhere near Philadelphia when one of the flight crew was performing her safety monologue. I try to listen to the safety stories on the basis that some day when I need it I will recall that one piece of critical information I need to survive. On this day I was assisted when the lady performing her soliloquy said, “there may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there is only one way to leave this aircraft – and it is through this door”. You had to be there but it was funny – she made people laugh. And it was the only time I can ever recall airline staff being at all humorous.

We had checked in our luggage and were headed for the gate lounge. Half way down one of those wide corridors was a short, stout woman sitting at a desk by herself (I would subsequently and ironically label her ‘Princess Charming’). My wife, Leanne and I approached the Princess (in truth, we didn’t actually approach her at all as there was no security barrier just a Princess on a chair in the middle of a corridor and our instinct was to walk around her). But she saw us coming and there was no crowd around, we were like deer which been separated from the herd. She pounced, “you can’t be taking all that hand luggage on the plane”. We were taken by surprise at what she had said and the menacing tone in which she said it, and I said to her, “this hasn’t been a problem previously, I don’t understand what you mean”. “I mean you can’t be taking all that hand luggage on the plane!” she said again but this time with sarcasm and in a louder voice in a deliberate attempt, I believe, to attract attention to herself. I tried again, “my wife and I have been travelling throughout America and Canada and have carried the same hand luggage onto the aircraft on each occasion – we must have had ten flights so far – I just need to understand the problem”. She responded with, “you are the problem, and I don’t care where you been or where you’re going – you won’t be taking all that hand luggage on my plane! There may be other airlines that let you do it but it’s not happening on my airline”.

I didn’t want to inflame an already emotive situation but she was simply showing off by attempting to humiliate us and I just had to say, “it is your airline we have been flying with ever since we arrived in the United States and it is your airline that hasn’t had a problem with our hand luggage until today, perhaps you might be prepared to reconsider and let us continue to our flight”. I knew that it was over by this stage but something about her and her attitude (and me and mine) just made me say it. She looked me in the eye and said, “No”. That’s all she said, simply “No”.

We made our way back to the check-in counter and checked in one small black bag and then hurried toward the gate lounge past the Princess, who I felt had a particularly smug look on her face, and onwards toward ‘Security’. With time now being of the essence, we were delighted to be informed that ‘our airline had selected us for an additional security check’ and we were directed to walk through Row ‘B’, away from where others were queued. There was no queue for Row ‘B’. I didn’t pause at that point to ponder why – but that was about to become apparent.

At the end of security Row ‘B’ stood a large man who appeared, judging by the pained expression on his face, to have had a very bad day. When I approached him, he mumbled some words to me which I was unable to discern but which seemed to be a little different to the standard security patter, and I nervously (he was a very large man) asked him to repeat what he had said and immediately wished I had not. This time he spoke clearly and distinctly
and informed me that an ‘Additional security check’ meant that I would experience a full body pat down while I witnessed my (now reduced volume of) hand luggage being torn apart in the quest for unspecified illicit substances. Those may not have been his precise words but that’s what I heard. However, he concluded by advising me in a matter of fact sort of way that “if he felt the need to touch my private areas he would use the back of his hand”. I did not find this at all reassuring and pondered what scope the words, “if he felt the need”, provided this man!

Fortunately, my new, almost very close friend, found nothing about me that caused him to feel the need to touch my private areas. I wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or slighted!

Once on board the flight it was not long before I had the pleasure of meeting some of the flight crew. It would appear that I was to have a very bad day. It so happened, due to no fault of mine, that my seat was malfunctioning. Having pressed the little silver button to ‘bring my seat into the upright position for take-off’ – which it did, I found that as soon as I put my weight on the back of the seat it gradually eased backwards into a recline position and started to fall away and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Whereas others’ seats performed their roles admirably, mine simply slipped back as soon as I sat back against it. After having noticed this malfunction I was continually pressing the circular silver button on the armrest of the seat to make my seat conform to the rules. But, of course, none of the flight attendants had been watching my efforts to conform and simply assumed that I had not bothered to follow the rules and one of them asked me, curtly, to “bring my seat into the upright position” – and so I did – again – but I also explained to her that my seat was broken. It was clear that she did not believe me and walked away, no doubt consigning me to the ‘another troublesome passenger’ category. As the flight continued and seats were allowed to be reclined, the flight staff lost interest in me and my malfunctioning seat. This changed as we came into land when a different flight attendant came to tell me to put my seat into the forward position. I repeated to him that the seat was broken and that while I could temporarily bring my seat forward it would not stay in position. I demonstrated this to him and his response was to remain silent and quickly move away from the area. I didn’t know where he was going but decided then that this was not going to end well for me. Shortly thereafter the flight attendant returned with (what turned out to be) the senior flight attendant who clearly meant business. The senior flight attendant asked me without humour to bring my seat forward, which I did. And with that he turned and walked away with a self-satisfied look on his face, having just shown the junior staff how to sort out a problem passenger. Of course, to bring one’s seat forward one must take the weight off the back of the seat – which I had done – and so simultaneous with the departure of the senior flight attendant, I leant back in the seat and the seat which surprisingly enough had not repaired itself during the flight, eased back such that it was no longer in the upright position. I am not sure whether the senior flight attendant saw this or one of his underlings reported it to him but he returned to my seat very quickly. He said, “put your seat forward” and I explained that I would do so but that it was pointless because it would immediately fall back again. “Well let’s see” says our man as without further word, he reaches across my wife in the aisle seat and then across me, to press the silver button to bring the seat forward. Of course, the seat again came forward and you could see the smug look of satisfaction on his face. I tried to explain that it wasn’t a malfunction of the silver button (which did its job quite effectively) but what happens thereafter. But again, self-satisfied, he turned and walked away.
And my seat returned to its previous habit of refusing to remain upright. Again, I was approached by the staff – a new recruit on this occasion – to talk about my ‘seat issues’. By this stage I had really had enough of the arrogance of these guys, this was no longer fun and I was set to forcefully explain my position. But she took the wind right out of my sails by asking me to move to another seat for landing. Although I would have preferred to remain seated with Leanne, this seemed like a reasonable solution and I was happy to comply – although I wondered why it was so important to have my seat in the upright position if I was now allowed to wander unsupervised around the cabin as we descended – but I decided in the interests of keeping the peace – I would keep that thought to myself and I moved, with a positive attitude, to the seat number she had allocated to me. My positivity evaporated when it became apparent that she had moved me to baby land – dozens of young crying, whingeing children who seemed to be unparented. This was my punishment for being a problem passenger. I smiled, through clenched teeth, at one of the little darlings who thought it was fun to empty the ashtray (of assorted lolly wrappers and chewing gum) all over my leg. Shortly thereafter we landed but I don’t recall any tearful farewells from flight crew at the cabin door as I disembarked the aircraft. They were, no doubt, mourning my departure privately.