My name rhymes with ‘beamer’. Sometimes they would call me that at school. They weren’t referring to a high end German make of luxury car when they used the word; no, ‘beamer’ referred to that rosy shade of blush-red one goes when embarrassed, mortified by some mild humiliation – a.k.a. ‘taking a beamer’. The funny thing is, I’m not one to take a beamer terribly easily. Yes, I can get embarrassed if the situation is sufficiently cringe-worthy, but I don’t get the heightened colour so readily. It has been well over ten years since I tucked my skirt into the waistband of my tights when coming out of a restaurant bathroom and back to my table on a first date. I took a beamer then for sure when it was pointed out to me. Something similar happened to my friend S. when she was tapped on the shoulder by the lady standing behind her at the Waitrose checkout. She whispered kindly to S., “I think you’ve tucked the hem of your skirt into your tights, dear. I’ll watch your trolley if you want to go and fix yourself.” She gestured to the shop loo. S. had done no such thing and gently pointed out that her asymmetric mini dress was a fashion statement. S. thought it was hilarious and they both laughed, though the heightened colour of the lady who had identified the wardrobe malfunction, signalled her embarrassment. That’s not such an awkward mistake to make, nowhere near as bad as the embarrassment to be had in wrongly identifying pregnant ladies. Have you ever asked someone, “when’s the baby due?” (and you’ve known for sure they were pregnant) only to be told, “six weeks ago, she’s home with her dad.” Hasty congratulations proffered to hide the blunder. I have a beautiful friend O. who was flying from Italy back to Dublin a few years ago when she was taken from the queue at the boarding gate by a member of ground staff and asked if she had a doctor’s letter for flying at this stage of her pregnancy. “What pregnancy?” was her bewildered response, as she looked down at her ever so slightly pot belly.
Flights are ripe for cases of embarrassment. B. tells a wonderful story of almost being removed from a flight from Heathrow to Belfast. She was already boarded and seated when her name was called with the request to identify herself to a member of the flight team. An alien item had been identified in her hold luggage by scrupulous baggage handlers and she could only travel if she would come forward and have it fully checked by security. Some further detail was given over the loudspeaker as to the nature of the offending item. Luckily B. says her fellow travellers were not wearied by the delay but found the description of the offending item hilarious and were roaring with laughter. Determined to set them straight, she stood up and declared to a full plane, “it’s me and it is my electric toothbrush!”
However, there was no beamer to be had, a few years back, when I mistook the Lord Mayor of Belfast for the Maître d’ of a well known bistro in the city centre. He was off duty and wearing black slacks with an open necked white shirt and seemed to be very efficiently organising tables for everyone who arrived in for drinks and food after a business conference. Everyone knew him, and I assumed it was a place they all patronised regularly – what else was I to think? So I asked him for a wine list, and some information on the menu specials. “I’m the Lord Mayor,” he told me, which – to be fair to him – was said simply by way of explanation as to why he couldn’t sort my drinks rather than putting me in my place and asserting his importance. On that occasion, I don’t think either of us was embarrassed.
I’m sure we are less prone to embarrassment as children and it’s something we (unfortunately) grow into with social conditioning. My first recollection of ever feeling embarrassed was when I was about eight years old and asked to take a message from my classroom teacher to the teacher of the older pupils down the corridor. I was filled with a sense of importance and urgency, repeating my mantra as I paced the passageway, drilling myself to remember my missive. I went into the classroom and announced that “Miss M. wants to see P. Squiggly please…..” Everyone erupted in laughter but I had no sense of what I had done wrong, yet I felt overwhelming embarrassment at somehow having made a fool of myself. I never hear the surname Quigley now without wondering how many children mis-pronounce it.
All in all, I think that taking a beamer is probably something we never grow out of. And I hope not too, for as long as it is just a case of mild embarrassment, then it provides us with so many good stories to look back on, and think, “I didn’t, did I?”