Sunday 13 September 2009

My most embarrassing moments

Embarrassment is generally personal, caused by unwanted attention to private matters or personal flaws or mishaps. Some causes of embarrassment stem from actions, such as being caught in a lie or in making a mistake, losing badly in a competition, or being caught performing bodily functions such as farting. We are all subject to being embarrassed throughout our lives but sometimes, the embarrassment is so painful, we wish we were on another planet. When we are caught in an embarrassing situation, our bodies release adrenaline. This causes our heart rates to increase. We breathe faster and often our blood vessels that deliver blood to our faces open up. More blood than usual flows to the skin of our faces and our faces darken or turn noticeably red. Our thoughts cause these signals to be produced, but we don't consciously think about producing them. That is because our brain somehow sends signals to our faces, based on what someone has said about us or what we have been seen to have done. What follows are twelve of my worst moments of embarrassment.

In 1943, when I was ten years old, I lived in a small mining town in the centre of British Columbia along with my mother and brother and three-hundred other people. My mother bought me a pair of skis two years previous and during the following years; I taught myself how to ski.

Every February when the snow was still very deep, the town of Wells would hold its own Winter Olympics and one of the slalom events was for boys who were age ten. In 1943,I entered the event and was one of only three ten-year-old boys who were competing in this event.

The first boy who slalomed down the ski hill was fantastic. He moved around the ten poles like someone darning a sock. Not a stitch was missed. Then I was next.

I was scared. The possibility of me emasculating myself while I straddled a pole terrified me so I went down the hill like porcupines make love; very carefully. When I reached the first pole, I deliberately let myself fall on my ass. Then I got up and headed towards the second pole and as I neared it, I did what later was referred to as the ‘Batchelor Stopping Maneuver’. I did this all the way down the hill. According to some of the people at the foot of the hill, there was a fear that I would start a snow slide and wipe out the entire population of Wells.

The third boy after watching me was then told he was next. His response was in two words. “No way!”

Two weeks later was the Awards Night. There were only three kinds of awards. The gold, the silver and the bronze. I was to be given the silver medal. When my name was called and I began walking across the gymnasium floor with my head held up high to accept my award, someone yelled, “He should get the gold medal. Although it was the worst form of skiing I have ever seen, it was also the funniest.” I can still hear the uproar of the laughter that immediately followed. To say that I slunk back to my seat after being handed the medal is an understatement. Naturally, the kids at school never let me forget my skiing performance.

In 1946, the Vancouver Children’s Aid sent me to a farm on Lulu Island which is now called Richmond, just south of Vancouver. I and four other boys lived there. I was thirteen years old when I was there and the Children’s Aid decided that because of my potential as a pianist, they would pay for four-hour tutoring by the world famous and highly respected teacher of music, Doctor Charles Findlater. He taught me, piano, theory, singing and composition.

Every Saturday morning, I would take the interurban train for the 20 kilometer (12.4 mile) trip to downtown Vancouver. The train stop ( a wooden platform ) where I caught the train on Lulu Island was right across the street from the farm on the north west side of the junction of Granville Avenue and Number Two Road. The train ran north from Steveston on a railway line ( now gone ) and is now a long street called Railway Avenue; naturally. The line then turned east and then north to Marpole on the other side of the bridge that separates Lulu Island and South Vancouver and finally it ran parallel with Granville Avenue right into downtown Vancouver.

When the four other boys came to see me off at the train platform across from the farm, I should have suspected something was amiss because they had never done that before. Just as the Interurban was pulling in, three of the boys grabbed me while the younger one poured perfume all over me. Then they ran away laughing.

I got into one of the two cars and it was empty. Thank God. But when it pulled into the next station, about five or six teenagers got on board and entered my car. Within a minute, as we were heading towards Vancouver, an older teenager yelled out, "Who’s the faggot with the perfume?” The billions of microscopic molecules of scent from the perfume had permeated the entire car and were just waiting for unsuspecting victims to enter the car and be greeted by the scent of whatever perfume it was I was wearing. I tried to slither down in my seat but obviously that was to no avail.

The older teenager approached me and when he was in the aisle along side of me, he gave an expression of shock and then he clutched his throat and began making gasping and choking noises as he struggled back towards his friends, not unlike Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. When I say gasping and choking, I am saying it was AAAGGHHH, AAACK OHHH, HONK, GAAASP. Talk about a performance. Even I felt some sympathy for him even though I knew he was just giving us a performance at my expense. I won't even begin to tell you what I went through when I entered Findlater's studio with the children’s choir waiting for the scented boy’s appearance.

In the latter part of the 1940s, I was invited to sing at a recital in Nelson, British Columbia. The piece I had chosen was ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. As I stood on the stage in front of the microphone, the pianist began the introduction of the song. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember the first line. I had gone into a state commonly referred to as stage fright. I experienced a total memory block. As five hundred people waited for me to begin singing, I was given three more introductions to the song and still I stood mute at each one. Someone in the audience felt sorry for me and yelled, “Danny. It begins with...Our Father". Everyone began laughing. When they finished laughing and the pianist began the introduction again, it all came back to me and I was later accredited with having given a fine rendition of that beautiful song.

In 1950, I was a resident student at Vancouver College and because I was fairly accomplished as a pianist and a singer by then, it was decided that not only would I play the part of the king in an operetta, I would also assist the teacher in teaching the boys how to sing.

On the day that the operetta was to be performed, my mother attended the performance. My part was a very small part. First, I would walk across the stage while the courtiers all bowed to me. The next thing I was to do was to bow to them in return and then ask, “Where are my guards?”

Well, as fate would have it, immediately after the courtiers bowed to me and I bowed in return; I farted. Unfortunately for me, the acoustics in that gymnasium were so fine, even a whisper could be heard at the back of the gym.

Everyone began to laugh but not as loud as what followed. I remembered that I had a line to say so I said firmly, “Where are my guards?” One of the courtiers couldn’t resist the temptation that immediately came to him so he yelled out for all to hear, “They have all fled the building, Sire.”

As the laughter steadily increased into a loud roar, my face turned beet red. Later when I spoke to my mother, I said, “It wasn’t me, mom.” She responded by paraphrasing a line from a Shakespearian play she performed in when she was going to university. “Thou protest too much, my son.”

In the mid 1950s, I was performing as a pianist on stage and radio and one year I was invited to play one of my own piano compositions at an international competition being held in Winnipeg. After handing the manuscript of my composition to the adjudicator, I proudly walked to the stage and sat at the grand piano to give my performance.

Suddenly, I couldn’t remember how the piece went. I sat there for at least a minute and then got up and walked to the adjudicator and grabbed the manuscript out of his hands and walked back to the stage and after sitting down on the piano bench and placing the manuscript on the music stand, I gave my performance. Despite the rather bad prelude to my performance, he was kind to me. He said to the news media that it was the first time he had heard Sergi Rachmaninov and George Gershwin perform at the same time on the same piano.

On one occasion during the 1960s, I was invited to play the piano at a recital in a school’s auditorium in Toronto. Having previously been a lighting director of a theater group in Scarborough, I decided that I would set up the lighting for my performance. The proscenium was back lighted with a dark blue filter, an amber floodlight lit up the stage and a bright white spotlight shone down on me from above. I sat on the Beethoven seat at the piano and when it was quiet, I hit a base chord of the piano which was the first notes of the piano version from ‘The Theme from Exodus’.

The grand piano was a very old piano and despite that, it was in very good tune but unknown to me and everyone else, the bolt connecting the third piano leg to the end of the rest of the piano was ready to break free from the wood that had, over the years, become rotten. As soon as I hit the chord with the heavy hand I was known to possess as a pianist, the end of the piano dropped to the floor and there I was, sitting at a grand piano that now had a forty-five degree slope.

I can still hear the laughter that followed. I picked up the piano bench and after carrying it in my arms, I walked off the stage and walked to the upright that was right next to the base of the stage. As fate favoured me, it was unlocked and I gave my performance on that piano.

After my performance, a lady approached me and said, “That was the funniest Victor Borge performance I have ever seen.” Victor Borge was known to destroy a few pianos in his piano performances and Franz List was famous for destroying the strings of his pianos when pounding on the keys with his heavy hand.

In that same decade, I was a finalist at the Ken Soble Amateur Hour which was held in his TV station in Hamilton. I shall never forget that day I gave my final performance.

The stage director grabbed me by my hand and said, “Danny. There is a yellow cross mark on the stage which cannot be seen on TV. That is where you are to go when your name is called.” What he forgot to tell me was that I was to go to the back of the stage and not the side of the stage and then when the dancing girls finished their number, they would face the back of the stage and point in my direction as soon as they heard the announcer say, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, our next guest is the young Canadian composer, Danny Batchelor.”

When I heard him make that announcement, I immediately left the side of the stage and walked directly to the yellow cross mark while the young dancers were then behind me and facing the back of the stage while waiting for me to appear.

But to make matters worse, I had earlier learned that the bench for the organ was being fixed and that the bench for the grand piano was being used by the organist. The stage manager had told me earlier that a stage hand, while unseen by the television audience, was going to slip a piano stool under me as I was about to sit down at the piano.

What I didn’t know as I approached the piano was that the stage hand had repeatedly wound the seat up and down and when he was signaled to slip the piano stool under me, the seat had been wound all the way to the bottom and he could get it back up again. It was now only fourteen inches from the floor.

As I sat down where the the piano stool was to be, with those people watching me on their television sets at home that night, they saw me literally disappear out of sight. The last thing they saw at that horrible moment was my two hands as they disappeared below the top of the piano. Suddenly, there was a commercial break while stage hands pulled me up from the floor. Another stage hand worked on the piano stool to get it back up again. When the commercial was finished, I was sitting comfortably on the piano stool ready to give my performance. Mind you, my face was still red with embarrassment.

One day in 1980 while hosting my TV talk show, I had a fairly important guest on my show and within minutes, the director who was in the control room spoke to me via my earphone in my right ear. He said, “We can’t do a long shot with you and your guest together because your fly is wide open.”

I tried to signal one of the camera men to aim the camera away from me so that I could pull up the zipper of my fly but I had no luck. After about a minute of trying to figure what to do, I finally decided what steps I would take.

I turned to my guest and said, “Let’s stand up and face the wall together.” Needless to say, he was rather surprised but after a few seconds, he got out of his chair and both of us faced the wall with our backs to the two cameras.

I then said, “One of us has his fly open.” I began to pull my zipper up and I fortunately, my guest pretended to do the same thing. We turned around and then returned to our chairs.

All through the hour-long show, a smile kept trying to creep onto my face even when he was talking seriously. Trying not to smile under those circumstances is like trying not to pee when your bladder is about to burst.

In May of 1988, Toronto Lawyer, Robert Hopkins and I attended a trial in Belleville, Ontario in which he was acting for a man who was charged with impaired driving. Bob asked me to investigate the circumstances of his client’s arrest and had planned to put me on the stand as an expert witness since I was a criminologist who had written some published papers on the effects of alcoholic impairment on the human brain.

When we arrived at the court, we discovered that it was packed with high-school students who were there to watch how criminal trials were conducted.

My previous experiences in criminal courts as an expert witness and also as an advocate representing my clients in court, had convinced me that if a witness is well dressed, the trial judge is more apt to listen intently to what the witness has to say. For this reason, I decided to wear a dark blue three-piece suit for the trial.

During a lengthy discussion between the judge, the crown and Mr. Hopkins on some constitutional issue, I decided that this was a good time for me to go to the washroom. When I returned, I heard some laughing and chastised myself for being absent since Mr. Hopkins was renown for cracking jokes during his trials.

After I sat down next to him at the counsel table, the accused approached me and then quietly whispered in my ear, “Don’t look now, Danny but your white suspenders are hanging down just above your knees.” It was then that I realized why the spectators were laughing as I walked down the aisle towards my chair.

That last thing I wanted to do was to walk to the witness box with my white suspenders hanging down by my knees. The problem facing me however was; how do I get them back over my shoulders without making too much of a scene doing it? Every eye in the courtroom was on me, and that included those of the judge and the crown attorney. However, it didn’t include the lawyer who hired me because his back was to me when he was addressing the judge.

I tried discretely to reach down to the left suspender and slip it up the inside of my vest towards my left shoulder. The judge saw what I was doing and he gave me a rather sad smile as he nodded his head negatively as if to say, “It won’t work.” His conclusion was right. It didn’t work. In the process however, I accidentally nudged the lawyer’s right leg. He turned slightly and said softly, “Keep still!”

I realized by then that I would have to remove my vest. This of course meant that I would have to remove my jacket first. While in the process of doing that, I again accidentally nudged the right leg of the lawyer and again he turned slightly towards me and this time with more emphasis in his voice, he said, “Will you keep still?”

I finally got the jacket off and let it slip to the floor. Then I began to remove my vest and again, I accidentally nudged the lawyer’s right leg. By now, he was pretty annoyed. He didn’t say anything but I am convinced that I heard a low growl that was not unlike a lion ready to pounce on its victim.

I managed to get the vest off and I laid that on the floor also. By now, everyone in the court room was watching what I was doing. The crown attorney later said that my futile attempts at correcting the rather embarrassing situation I was in was the highlight of the trial.

I reached down to my left suspender and began to slowly raise it up to my left shoulder. When it was about two inches above my shoulder, it slipped out of my hand and made a snapping noise as it fell on my shoulder.

The lawyer immediately turned around and faced me. Then his mouth opened wide as if he was shocked at what he had just seen. I knew that he was exaggerating his facial expression at this time and that I would be the butt of one of his classic jokes.

He turned and faced the judge and with a voice that could be heard throughout the courtroom and beyond, he said, “Your Honour. You can take this man anywhere. You just can’t dress him.”

Everyone in the courtroom howled in laughter. We won the case but all the time I was giving my testimony, the judge had a sardonic smile on his face.

In 1975, I was invited by the United Nations to give a speech at the UN headquarters in Geneva Switzerland. My speech was to deal with the proposal that the UN was suggesting with respect to creating a transnational tribunal to try captured terrorists.

After studying the proposal, I was not convinced that this was a good idea. It was arranged that I would be the last person to speak after having heard all the other speakers from the various nations give their opinions.

I was extremely nervous. Not because I would be addressing two-thousand delegates but rather because it appeared that I would be the only person that was against the concept of that kind of tribunal for the jurisdictional problems that would be inherent if such a tribunal was created.

On two later occasions, I gave my speeches from the dais, but the other twenty-one speeches I gave at UN congresses around the world were from my desk in the assembly halls just as where the delegates and invited experts had been giving their speeches. When our names were called, we switched on our microphones and then gave our speeches. In my maiden speech, I took off my earphones and placed them on the desk since I didn’t need interpretations as I was the speaker.

About half way through my speech, I could hear some laughing in the hall. Normally, when a speaker is giving his speech, all you can hear is the breathing of everyone in the halls because everyone has his earphones on as there are no loud speakers in the halls.

I figured that it must have been something I said so I began to get quite nervous and when I am nervous, I tend to speak quickly.

Suddenly, there was even more laughing and this time it was louder. I began increasing the tempo of my speech even more when suddenly, the entire place exploded with laughter. It came in waves, as each interpreter repeated what was said in the seven languages being used in the conference.

I was completely beside myself. What was I saying that appeared to them to be so stupid that it merited their laughter?

Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the deputy chairman of the Justice Branch of the United Nations leaving his chair at the table on the dais and stepping down the stairs leading to the main floor and then walking towards me. Now I was really nervous. I began really moving along with my speech in hopes that I would be finished before he threw me out of the building.

Every eye in the hall was on him as he led their eyes towards the speaker since sitting in their own chairs, it would be impossible to see who was the speaker unless they were fairly close to him or her or standing up.

He walked up the side aisle and then turned and walked towards my desk. I looked up and he had this big smile on his face. Then he dropped a piece of paper which gently fell to my desk. I read it. It was in bold capital letters. It said; SLOW DOWN. THE RUSSIAN INTERPRETER CAN’T KEEP UP WITH YOU.

After reading that note, I began speaking again. “The problem...with jurisdiction... is paramount with respect to... how the various nations...will deal with the terrorists...who are not nationals of their own countries.”

That night when I was having dinner with one of the delegates, I asked him why everyone was laughing while I was speaking. He asked, “Didn’t you have your earphones on?”

I replied, “Why should I? I was the speaker.”

Then he said with a big smile on his face, “During your speech, the Russian interpreter turned on his mike and said, ‘Mr. Chairman. This is the Russian interpreter. Please ask Mister Batchelor to slow down. I can’t keep up with him.’ That is when people in the hall began to laugh. The chairman then said, ‘Mister Batchelor. Please slow down. The Russian interpreter can’t keep up with you.’ Now obviously, Mr. Batchelor, you didn’t hear any of this because you didn’t have your earphones on. Everyone began laughing again. When it was obvious to the chairman that you didn’t hear anything from your earphones, he then said, ‘If there is anyone close to Mister Batchelor, would you please approach him and ask him to slow down.’ Suddenly a voice was heard by everyone through their interpreters. Someone had turned on his mike and said, ‘I would try and approach him if I could catch up to him.’ And that, Mister Batchelor is when everyone broke into uncontrollable laughter.”

Looking back at that incident in my life, I can really appreciate why the place exploded in laughter. It was a great line. I learned three things from this experience. First, make sure that the interpreters have copies of my speeches. Second, always keep my earphones on when speaking and third, speak slowly.

As an aside, the next day, the delegates voted against the concept the UN was proposing because of the jurisdictional problems inherent with the UN's proposal.

In October, 2006, I was invited to give a speech in Brussels at the request of the International Juvenile Justice Observatory, an international organization that arranges conferences around the world with respect to the treatment and rights of young offenders.

My speech was titled, ‘The bill of rights for young offenders. What has happened since 1985?’

Previously I had been invited to give the same speech at a United Nations crime conference held in Bangkok in 2005 since I am the father of the United Nations bill of rights for young offenders. (the Beijing Rules)

When I entered the assembly hall in Brussels, I seated myself two rows from the dais in which I was to give my speech so that I would have a short distance to go once my name was called. The seats were theatre-type seats and although I weighed almost 136 kilograms, I managed to sit comfortably in my seat even though it was a bit of a tight fit.

Immediately before my name was called, I reached into my left pocket to retrieve my handkerchief when suddenly the supports of the seat buckled and as my wife tells it, I disappeared from sight.

Suddenly, a voice several rows behind me said in a loud voice, “The fat man up front has just busted his seat.”

Three things happened immediately after he said that. Four hundred people began laughing, I was called to the dais by the chairman and at the same time, I was feebly struggling to get out of my seat.

Was I embarrassed? The question is academic.

Embarrassment is an experience that we all have to endure during our lives. Unless we are living alone every day of our lives, this is an experience that will reach all of us sooner or later. It is part of living in a world where nothing is perfect and many things can go wrong. It is an experience that in later years we can, for the most part, look back and smile and say to ourselves, “That really was funny.”

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