Sunday, 21 April 2013

‘The moment when . . .’

In the year before Gilbert Adair died (in December 2011), we talked about a book proposal he’d sent to his editor at Faber. One of the provisional titles was ‘The Middle of Nowhere’ – alluding to a moment in the book when the train in which the writer is travelling stops exactly there: the landscape offers no clue as to location, no one offers information as to how long the train will be stopped, even the time of day is indeterminate. The book is made up of other such moments: of the dozen in the draft proposal, I’ll offer just two here, as I feel that really they are still Gilbert’s property: ‘The moment you realise absolutely no one is going to laugh at the joke you’re telling’, ‘The moment when, phoning a bank or utility service, and following all kinds of recorded instructions, you hear a real human voice’.

In the proposed book, each moment was to be described (savoured, teased out) in a single extended paragraph of Gilbert Adair’s exquisite prose. Faber turned down the idea. I loved it, and sent Gilbert a list of some of my own suggested moments. Here are some of them. Many have in common the experience of embarrassment – a thing the English do well and on which the Francophile Gilbert Adair would have written wonderfully.

The moment when, after just telling an author how much you liked his book, you realise you’ve just been addressing the author of an entirely other book

The moment when, driving up the sliproad to the M3 en route to a long weekend in Devon, you suddenly can’t remember turning off the gas when you took the coffee pot off the cooker

The moment when, while knowing another drink would not be a good idea, you also know you’re going to have one anyway

The moment when, after several years during which you’ve vaguely wondered why a friend never comes round to visit and have presumed he’s just too busy, he tells you that he can’t bear being in your house

The moment when, after enjoying a piece of music by a composer you love, the radio presenter thanks you for listening to such-and-such by another composer entirely, whom you’ve always disliked

The moment you realise you’re older than you thought, and hurry on

The moment when, getting on the Tube for a journey of at least ten stops, you realise you should have gone for a pee earlier

The moment when, having avoided being knocked over by a bus by a matter of millimetres, you realise that could so easily have been the end, but wasn’t

The moment when, arriving at some social occasion you had presumed to be quite formal, you realise you are dressed completely wrong

The moment when some official tells you that you can’t do something, and although the rule is utterly fatuous and maybe even the official knows this too, you know there is no point in arguing

The moment when, while stuck in a traffic jam on the way to some social event you sincerely want to attend, you realise that by the time you arrive only the drunks and the laggards will be there

The moment you look at a photograph of yourself (which others say is good) and cannot bear to look again

The moment you learn that an idiot you were at school with is now not only earning ten times your income but is married to a beautiful and intelligent woman

The moment when, having slammed the door and gone out to buy cigarettes and a pint of milk, you realise you have left your house keys on your desk

The moment when, without any serious expectation and certainly without any calculated manoeuvres, you find yourself alone with the most attractive person at the party

The moment you’re informed you’re on a shortlist for some prize but you know you’re not going to win, you’re just there for the sake of the spectator sport

The moment, after wandering into some church where you are charmed by the music and ritual and incense and the whole shebang, when you are greeted by the priest who naturally assumes you share his belief in his god

The moment when you realise that a conversation at the next table you cannot help but overhear is really a lot more interesting than the conversation you are engaged in at your own table

The moment when, expecting the arrival of your lover or long-lost friend, the doorbell rings and you open the door to the man who’s come to read the electricity meter

The moment you are given a present and told you must open it now, in the presence of the giver

The moment when sitting on the loo and having just evacuated, you realise there’s no toilet paper


Anonymous said...

Yes, but imagine how much worse it would be if you hadn't taken the coffee pot off the cooker.


charles said...

In fact it was not the coffee pot but the pan in which I'd been cooking scrambled eggs for breakfast. I turned round at the next roundabout, drove home, switched off the gas ring off, set out again. The children not best pleased. Eight times out of ten, when taking scrambled eggs off the burner, I STILL leave the gas on.

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