There are some instances when you quite want the world around you to cease to exist before the shame and embarrassment of the situation engulfs you entirely.
This weekend, as I do quite often if I’m in the Home County of a Saturday morning, I got up at a respectable time and wandered into the centre of our little market town to grab the papers, something from the baker for lunch, and to have a cup of coffee with my mother in the local parish church (clarification: they open it for coffee and biscuits on a Saturday morning: we don’t just grab a Starbucks latte and go and sit in a pew. Mostly, I’ll be honest, because we’re the one remaining settlement in the country without a Starbucks, but you get the drift).
The mother being a stalwart of church activity, she is generally surrounded on these occasions by a variety of people, chatting away at her about upcoming fundraising activities, the flower arranging rota, or just general gossip.
I tend to slink in as inconspicuously as possible, have a quick cup of coffee (and, if I’m particularly lucky, a half-decent biscuit) and ten minutes with the mother before pleading ‘stuff to do’ and slinking back out again.
Not so on Saturday morning.
“Blonde!” one of my mother’s friends hollered as I sloped in through the double doors, doing my best to remain unseen and quite clearly failing miserably. “Hello! Come and sit down. How are you? Do you want a cup of coffee? Pat, a cup of coffee for Blonde, please.”
Middle-aged women scurried around bearing trays laden with dirty cups as they cleared tables; others replenished the plates of biscuits, the chocolate hobnobs leapt upon without pretence of politeness by the regulars who know that there’s nothing like a Saturday coffee morning in church to remind you of the maxim if you snooze, you lose.
I kissed the mother on the cheek and sat down, hoping I was going to be able to get out in time to get to the market before the chap on the baked goods stall sold out of the good cherry slices.
“So, Blonde, what are you doing on the first weekend of December?” the mother’s friend asked as I was mid-biscuit.
“I’m away, I’m afraid,” I said through a mouthful of custard cream, rather glad to have an excuse to avoid whatever the inevitable request for help with fundraising was that was coming my way. “It’s my birthday, and I’m going to Edinburgh for the weekend.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” she said, explaining they were running a Christmas market, the proceeds of which would go into the fund for the new church hall (there’s always something. It used to be the roof; these days, it’s the hall).
“Sorry, maybe next time.”
“Yes, maybe. That sounds like fun, though. Lots of shopping, a little bit of celebrating?”
“I imagine so – although I’m going with the boyfriend, so I imagine there’ll be more eating and drinking than shopping, somehow.”
“Ah, I see!” she said, a glint in her eye. “So it’s not just a birthday weekend away, it’s a dirty weekend away!”
“Damn right it is!” I slurped my coffee, thankful my mother had scurried off somewhere to talk about altar cloths. “And I’m thoroughly looking forward to it…”
Before I could continue, someone behind me gently cleared their throat.
At that moment, unbeknownst to me, my father had wandered in through the doors, bearing the weekend newspapers and other crucial bits of Saturday morning shopping.
And it was just as he sat down in the chair next to me that my mother’s friend had finished her untimely sentence.
I looked from my left, where my mother’s friend was grinning away, taking unparalleled and obvious delight in my predicament, to my right, where my father was quietly munching his way through a Bourbon biscuit, quite clearly trying to pretend he hadn’t heard that his eldest daughter was planning a weekend of drunken birthday debauchery.
“Hi Pa… I, er, didn’t know you were coming in this morning.”
“Hmm,” he said, sitting very still as I leant over to kiss him on the cheek. “Clearly.”