All happy experiences are alike; each embarrassing experience is embarrassing in its own way.
I recently described an embarrassment for my dad, falling downstairs as he delivered our Christmas presents.
That story was recalled and recounted with affection. I never had anything but deep love for my dad – even though he overshadowed me. He was a local footballing celebrity, captain of Yarmouth and Norfolk. Eventually he turned down a top-flight professional contract (this will tell something about the date) because the pay was no better than teaching and the job offered less security for his young family.
So apart from being the owner of Patterson the cat, I was always “Eric Lewis’s son” rather than Stewart. I didn’t mind a bit.
My own embarrassing experiences have been rather different.
I’ve only ever pranged a car once – entirely my fault, while I was a junior executive. My boss was in the car. And his boss.
I also feature, not for the best reason, in the folklore of my wife’s American family. On one of my first visits, I warmly recommended a movie we’d seen on the flight over: A Fish called Wanda. So the video was rented and the entire family sat down to watch – at which point I realised that the airline had edited out all the (considerable) bad language and sexual references.
Possibly the longest 90 minutes of my life – though with characteristic generosity they seem to have forgiven me.
I trust you didn’t laugh at any of the above. One of our less attractive human attributes is the propensity for schadenfreude – pleasure in the embarrassment or suffering of others. Forgivable when felt towards Jose Mourinho or [insert your least favourite politician], but generally not our noblest emotion.
In contrast, though, we can have genuine sympathy with others that Fate seems to single out for embarrassment. Especially when it’s a near-miss for us.
One “there but for the grace of God” moment still sticks with me from school. As a class of 14-year-old boys, we were taking turns reading an unfamiliar French text aloud to the rather attractive French assistant. The passage that one of my friends had to read included the word brasserie – except he didn’t read it like that.
As she gently corrected him, he turned a shade of red that I don’t think I’ve seen again to this day.
While recalling things that make us shudder, a word of advice: if you’re ever dealing with the media, don’t let vanity get the better of judgement.
Early in my career I got a call at work from a journalist. He conned/flattered me into saying more about my work than I should have. A distorted version of what I’d said then appeared in his paper, to my horror.
I felt honour-bound to offer my resignation, and I’ll always be grateful to my chairman – yes, the one who was in the car crash – for backing me and helping it to blow over. A painful lesson, though.
If some of the above score high on the Richter Scale of embarrassment, other experiences are disconcerting rather than embarrassing. I once followed City to a Cup game against Sheffield United. Looking across the pub at a group of Blades fans, I did a double-take: there, in his colours, was someone I instantly recognized. And he did the same.
It took a minute, though, for either of us to put the recognition in context. He was one of my clients; we’d never discussed football, and never seen each other in anything but suits.
From that day, our meetings were more about football than work.
I’m sure you all have equivalent stories to tell.
So to Norwich City. Even the most determinedly negative City fan would have to concede that Saturday was fun to watch, but of course one win doesn’t fix everything. The previous month was so poor that it’s fair to remain cautious, and to question whether it’s a case of papering over cracks.
On the other hand, it could be the first turn in an upward spiral of confidence and results. There’ll be a spring in the step of the players this week; their Christmas shopping in the city will be a happier experience for that performance.
Let’s see what happens over the remaining five games of December.
Two things for sure. First, it’s good to have Jonny Howson back. Players like him aren’t always fully appreciated, but the warmth of the standing ovation told us (and him) about his status at Carrow Road. If you sit in the Barclay, you’ll have probably missed a lovely moment: the broad grin on his face as he and Alex Neil embraced.
Second, Alex Pritchard is a quality playmaker, the rightful heir to Wes. His Ozil-like through ball to Robbie Brady for our third was an absolute joy; nice to think we have on our books the two best Number 10s outside the Premier League.
Pritchard seems to have a special relish for the Norwich-Brentford fixture, having run it for Brentford two years ago and for us this time.
PS The eagle-eyed of you may have spotted a bit of plagiarism in the first sentence of this article. Respect – but no prizes – if you know which novel I nicked the idea from. But no cause for embarrassment if you don’t.