5 Embarassing Moments (9)
Updated: Feb 2
(dificuldade 9 – pode encontrar uma lista de vocabulário no final)
The title of this piece was going to be – ‘My 5 Most Embarrassing Moments’ – but I’m not sure either I or The World is ready to hear the worst of it, so for now we can content ourselves with 5 embarrassing moments that were all truly embarrassing and are not to be recommended should you be attempting to climb the Corporate Ladder, or climb anything else for that matter.
So, here they are, in reverse order, as that is how these things are usually done...
Number 5 – Jason Arrives To Party
I’m 18, and recently arrived in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, where my mother emigrated some 5 years before…
Prince Rupert is a tiny town in the north of British Columbia with a population of around 20,000. I’ve decided to spend a gap-year in Canada ahead of going to university, and am busy seeking work around the town. As I don’t know anybody, my Mum introduces me to the daughter of one of her work colleagues, the same age as me, an attractive brunette who originates from Scotland, so we have something in common already (coming from Britain at least – how much the English and Scottish truly have in common is debatable). The daughter invites me to an end-of-year house-party she and her friends are having. The parents are away and everyone is planning to get a little wild…
As the night comes around and I get into the taxi clutching my bottle of red wine, I’m a little nervous. I’m actually quite shy, after all, and not used to trying to ingratiate myself with a whole bunch of strangers all at once. But as the taxi crosses town, negotiating the frosty roads of a British Columbian winter, I take a deep breath and calm myself. How hard can it be???
The taxi pulls up outside a sizeable detached house, and I can hear some rock pumping out through the windows above the hubbub of what sounds like at least 50 people all talking at once. Sounds fun, if a little intimidating. I pay the driver and watch his tail-lights disappear, a part of me wishing I was going with him. There’s a great holler from inside the house as somebody lets rip and I realize it’s time to make my move. I take a deep breath, the vapor rising around me, and march confidently up the driveway towards the front door. And in an instant, my world is upside down. The ice has tossed me effortlessly onto my face, the bottle of wine breaking beneath me with a sickening crunch.
The first thing I see is blood – lots of it. And red wine. In fact, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins. If I have come out to ‘paint the town red’ then I’ve succeeded. The cuts aren’t serious but are bleeding profusely. I’d been planning to make a quiet entrance and size up the joint, instead the driveway looks like a scene from Friday the 13th.
I’m still picking out the fragments of glass as I ring the doorbell. But at least my new friends are sympathetic. There are oohs and aahs from the ladies, and a ‘hey man, what happened to you?’ from the guys, as they all wonder just how anybody could arrive in such a state.
I feel like a prize chump. And no, I didn’t get the girl!
Number 4 – Harrods Hades
The good thing about being a student back in the day is that, come the summer, there is plenty of work to be found…
I myself am particularly lucky, as I’ve found some cheap student accommodation in West Ham, East London, sharing with a young lady who seems interested in me, and have successfully registered with a temporary employment agency that has more work than they know what to do with. One minute I’m working at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association taking down the courtesy tents, the next I’m in a truck as a ‘driver’s mate’ delivering wine and spirits to various pubs and off-licences around London.
Then one day I bowl up a little later than usual, hungover, and discover the usual gigs have all been taken. The despatcher looks me up and down quizzically, before asking, ‘do you have a driving license?’
‘Of course, ’ I reply.
‘You ever use a taco?’
“Don’t worry. We’ll sort it.’
So, I’m sent off to drive an eight-and-a-half-ton truck (I’m licensed up to seven and a half) to the heart of London – Chiswick, Kensington, Knightsbridge and beyond. But it’s not easy driving a truck in the narrow streets of London I discover. For a start, there’s no air-con and no power-steering and it’s a least 30 degrees outside. I find myself sweating in pulling even the simplest maneuver. After a near-miss with a Mercedes at an off-license, I finally arrive at the famous Harrods department store in Knightsbridge, where I am to offload half-a-dozen boxes of I-don’t-know-what. The problem with Harrods is it’s pretty busy. In fact, there’s a line of delivery trucks waiting around the block. I’ve been waiting an hour and a half and am pretty hungry by the time I’m finally invited to descend into their delivery bay.
Being a store as famous as Harrods, I naturally assume there will be a long series of loading bays with an entrance and exit that you simply drove through… but there I learn my first mistake – never assume. In reality, there’s a space about the size of a penalty area with four loading bays and only one entrance/exit. You come in, you back up and you turn around and exit the way you came in. Nightmare.
A major-domo type character is standing at the entrance in an elaborate blue military-style jacket complete with a Politburo hat and epaulettes, directing events. He indicates for me to reverse up to bay number two. I enter as indicated and immediately run out of room. I have barely turned the wheel half a turn when I have to stop and back up. I pull hard on the wheel again and manage to maneuver the truck forward a little and then back. And then forward again an inch or two. And then back. I’m really sweating with the effort now. Whoever invented a truck this size with no power steering has a lot to answer for. I inch forward again. And then back the same distance. And then there is the terrible sinking feeling in my stomach as I realize I’m not making any progress. I’m stuck. And what’s worse, I’m preventing any of the other trucks from entering or leaving…
As much as I pull on the steering wheel it seems I’m making no progress at all. The truck isn’t moving. And my struggles are starting to attract attention. Suddenly there is somebody in front of me directing me to pull hard ‘left hand down’ then ‘right hand up’, and I find myself wishing they would simply get in the cab and take over, if it’s that easy. But they don’t. I’ve got myself in this pickle and I’m going to have to get myself out of it. The major-domo indicates for me to drive further forward into some soft packaging piled against a wall. I do so, but the extra space it provides is minimal and the harder I try, the less progress I seem to make. I look over my shoulder and realize that the whole of Harrods’ unloading bay has come to a standstill, either blocked by my floundering efforts to move my truck, or simply transfixed by the spectacle of someone so incompetent as to try and attempt a maneuver for which they simply haven’t been trained.
I look in my rear-view mirror to my designated unloading bay, which seems as far away as ever, and see two young men my own age doubled up with laughter at my feeble efforts. If nothing else, I’ve improved somebody else’s day.
I give it one final push, really hauling on the steering wheel with the truck stationery before releasing the clutch and letting it roll. And it seems that finally I’m making a little progress. Some space is opening up for me that wasn’t there before. Another ten minutes of cursing and heaving later and I manage to back the truck up more-or-less square with the unloading bay and the two hyenas are finally put to work. But it is still another fifteen minutes before I have completed the process of turning the truck around and can head towards the exit. I’ve been in Harrods’ underground Hades for a whole hour by the time I leave. As I reach the ramp heading up, the major-domo in the epaulettes approaches my driver’s window shaking his fist, his face puce.
‘I don’t ever want to see your face here again!’ he declares, somewhat angrily.
‘You and me both,’ I agree, with a relieved sigh.
But at least I had a good story. And this time I did get the girl!
Number 3 – Skittled
In one of my earlier jobs after graduating I am responsible for a canning operation in South Wales…
As canning is something I know nothing about I am, not unreasonably, sent to learn all about it in Chipping Camden, a small town close to where I grew up, in the Cotswolds. This entails spending a week with a newfound buddy of mine, Jeff, a former air-force serviceman and winger with Llanelli, one of the leading rugby union sides of the time. He is a good lad with whom I have a natural affinity, which basically means we enjoy getting roaring drunk together. He has taken me into his home and treated me as one of his own. He is boisterous and animated, and his enthusiasm is infectious. So, when we discover that our course includes a bunch of guys from…let’s say…Company X…the industry leader, our competitive spirit is naturally piqued. They are confident and sophisticated…and look like they need taking down a peg or two…
While we aren’t likely to outshine them in the lab, it turns out we do get an opportunity to level things up in a setting much more to our liking – the pub. There is a skittle evening (Britain’s crude equivalent to ten-pin bowling, except there are only nine pins and everything is made of wood, including the balls) – and a competition is organized with relatively simple rules. You have one go to knock down at least one skittle – and if you miss you ‘lose a life’. Obviously, this is much easier when there are all nine skittles to aim at. When there is only one remaining, things get tricky.
While outnumbered 7 to 2, Jeff and I feel we can take down the X-boys and claim the champagne prize, aided by a little help from some of the other non-Company-X competitors in the field who we’ve gotten to know.
There is definitely an ‘us’ and ‘them’ type vibe going down as the event gets going. And as the beer flows and the game ebbs back and forth, as games do, things begin to heat up. Each player has 3 ‘lives’, and every time someone misses the skittles and loses a life the banter gets a little more intense.
For a while it looks like the X-boys will stroll to victory. They have worked out a routine that makes it easier for them to take advantage of their greater numbers, essentially trying to leave as many skittles as possible for when one of their team follows, and as few as possible when it’s anyone else. Players start to be eliminated, one-by-one, and before long, Jeff and I are in trouble, each down to one life.
But then the beer and lady luck step in and even things up a lot. I seem to get a run of good fortune, with more skittles to aim at than I’ve been having. Jeff misses and curses loudly, to a great cheer from the Company X contingent. Suddenly I’m on my own, but I realize there are only 3 of us remaining in the contest, each on one life – myself and two of the X-boys. The time for talk is over. The heat is on.
And I am fueled by beer – in fact I can honestly say I’ve never drunk as much in five days as in that week in Chipping Camden…or had worse hangovers for that matter. I am Homer Simpson, several years before his time. With two split skittles standing, one of the X-boys misses by a hair.
It is down to myself and the leader of their gang, someone who seems simply born to win, because that is his right. And I am next up. Miss now, and it’s over. I take aim, trying to see through the fog of beer. And I land, one of the skittles going down true!
My arch-nemesis shakes his head in disbelief before taking aim at the final skittle, and Jeff whispers in my ear – ‘he’s going to miss!’ And miss he does!
We celebrate like we’ve won something way more important than what we’ve actually won, which is just a bottle of cheap bubbly. We’ve defeated the X-boys! And it feels good, until another of our drinking buddies shouts out – ‘he’s pi**ed himself!’
I look down and realize it’s true! I’ve actually peed myself in the excitement, a wet patch clearly visible around my crotch. Oh dear God, no. Maybe an alternative fuel might have been advisable?
But either nobody else notices or nobody cares, because his shout falls on deaf ears. I grab the champagne and sidle away quickly to sit behind a table where no-one is going to see me. While the one guy, justifiably, continues to have a good laugh at my expense, my blushes are mostly spared.
So, the lesson is – know your limits! You shouldn’t be having bathroom problems at 23-years old!
Number 2 – Technical Failure
As we reach number two, we are going to jump some seven years ahead to an altogether different setting, a phase in which I’ve actually completed 6 years of work with those same sophisticated Company-X boys I’d ridiculed! Who would imagine they would become my colleagues?! But I’ll save that period for number 1. Meanwhile…
I’m in California – in the San Fernando Valley to be more precise. It is a giant area close to Los Angeles filled with small businesses and industrial parks, and it is extremely hot. I have been studying at a business school in Los Angeles, and things have been going well, but you need to earn some money where you can, so I have landed another summer job at a small manufacturing company that assembles hinges, of all things. Ok, so why do they need me? Good question. Turns out they have a few projects that they could use a hand with, so I head over there to get involved with their local suppliers and understand how they do business.
But the reality is, there’s not actually a lot for me to do. Not enough to fill eight hours per day at least. I’ve visited a few local suppliers and discussed how they might be able to change their way of doing business to make things better for our company – ways of bringing some of the processes in-house and improving product handling, reducing damage and cost, that sort of thing. It’s all pretty small beer.
I sit in my office one afternoon, glad of the overhead fan whirring away above, but a little bored. I decide to send an email to my oldest friend back home in England. I tell him all about life in California and how things are going well but I am indeed a bit bored. I’m getting paid for doing nothing, at least that how it feels, but at least ‘it’s an easy life!’ I tell him, that pays the rent but is not going to go anywhere. And then I continue on…
After fifteen minutes, one of my colleagues enters my office. He’s the chief engineer who works in the office next door. He is holding a sheet of paper. He hands it to me.
‘I’m guessing this is yours’, he says.
I look at it, eyebrows raised. It is the email I’m still in the process of writing to my friend.
‘Ah. Thank you,’ I reply, coloring up, wondering just how he happens to have a copy and how much he has read. Then I get it – I had hit the ‘print screen’ button by accident…and it printed off on the printer in his office next door.
I’ve been busted. Queimei meu filme, as you might say here. My credibility is now officially zero. Although to be fair, they continue to treat me as if nothing has happened. So maybe nothing did. Technology is a curse!
Number 1 – Under The Spotlight
So, about my time with Company X…
Yes, shortly after ridiculing their attendees at the canning course, I do indeed land a job at one of their factories in London. And it is a good time. The guys I work with are all first class – young, dynamic and sharp – absolutely on the money. And we get on. These are golden years – we finish our shift at 2pm and then a bunch of us head off to play football at the local rec grounds. And things go well. I won’t bore you with all the details here, as there are more stories than you could shake a stick at, but after a few years I gain a promotion.
I find myself in North-West London as the Operations Manager of a sizeable bottling operation going through tough times. And the challenges are up there with the best of them as we try to implement a £50m company-wide transformation program while keeping the customers supplied using equipment that seems designed to fail, but I’m doing my best and on the whole things are going well.
Then we have the annual management dinner…
Now the management dinner is a strange occasion. For a start, the only people invited are the managers in the company, who are 90% male, so straight-away you have an artificial ‘social’ environment with no spouses invited, so these occasions take on a feel of simply being an extension of work, but with the rules and battle-lines decidedly blurred. Perhaps it’s some kind of test, where those who perform above expectations will rise above their pedestrian peers and be anointed as the true guardians and future of the Company? Or not. But this isn’t the first management dinner I’ve attended, so I know some of the pitfalls to avoid, but clearly not one of the more obvious ones…
On this particular occasion, we are to meet our new CEO. He’s a big shot, a British guy sent back from the USA after having seemingly conquered all before him in Uncle Sam’s backyard. In fact, Big Shot doesn’t do him justice. He’s one of this huge corporation’s leading lights. Running the operation in Britain is just a stepping stone on his way to the top job worldwide. And, as luck would have it, the seating arrangements are published and I am seated directly opposite our new leader…
Oh, whoopee. I make a mental note to find out who has committed this cowardly act and exact full revenge. Clearly those higher up the corporate totem pole are running scared, or they wouldn’t be throwing me into the ring. Seriously?
I hate these occasions at the best of times but having to spend an hour making small talk to our new leader really wasn’t top of my Christmas list. So I do what I always do – which is drink – and by the time we sit down for dinner, my mood is considerably improved. And as luck would have it, some of my ‘direct reports’ (who until recently were my peers) are at the far end of the same large table, beside themselves with excitement to see me squirm in front of such exalted company.
As I sit down opposite Mr. Future of The Company, I’m really not sure what we are supposed to be talking about, so I decide just to be myself and talk about what comes naturally. I tell him about some of the challenges we’ve been facing and how everyone’s done a good job, but things would be better if Corporate would pull their fingers out their ass and fund the things that matter instead of wasting money on all those management consultants and ridiculous corporate circulars that keep coming round…and so on. It certainly wasn’t my intention to be getting all my gripes off my chest, but it seems to end up that way…and frankly it starts to feel pretty good! It’s about time somebody ‘up there’ got to hear how things really are at the coal face.
Throughout my monologue he smiles and nods appropriately, and occasionally probes for more details. Then, after what is probably half an hour, I run out of steam and order some more wine, hoping he’ll find someone else to talk to. But I finish by adding that I hope he doesn´t bear a grudge because I know none of it is really his fault.
And then, as my wine arrives, he does indeed find someone else to talk to. He briefly asks to be excused, and then gets up and walks to a podium that I only notice for the first time. He tests his mic and then as the silence descends among the three hundred attendees, he begins his address.
‘I’ve just been asked if I bear a grudge…’ he opens, looking briefly in my direction, before repeating much of what I’d just spent the previous half hour telling him. I don’t know what he was planning to talk about before I had helpfully provided him with some material, but he’s clearly decided my material was better and got it down it off pat.
To my right I see my two colleagues absolutely doubled-up with laughter, their faces the color of beetroots, but probably still not as dark as my own. I take a long tug on my wine and wait for the punishment to end. It is one of the longest ten minutes of my life, and not one I live down easily.
Did this end my career at Company X? Probably not. The walls had been closing in some time before – corporate politics was never my forte. But did it help? I can say with some certainty that it didn’t. So be warned. As one of my old tutors used to say – ‘never tell your boss he has his head up his ass.’
Never did like management dinners.
gap-year – um ano de trabalhar/viajar antes de começar na faculdade
to get a little wild – festejar / fazer uma loucura
to clutch – segurar
shy – timido
bunch – grupo
frosty – glacial
pump – bomba
hubbub – muito barulho
holler – grito
to let rip – fazer uma loucura
to toss – jogar (neste sentido – ‘to toss a coin’ seria jogar uma moeda)
to crunch – triturar
to paint the town red – expressão meio antigo – ficar bebado / fazer uma loucura
to bleed – sangrar
to size up the joint – dar uma olhada antes de agir
chump – idiota
back in the day – naquela época
courtesy tents – barracas de hospedagem
off-licenses – loja de bebidas
bowl up – chegar numa maneira
hungover – ressacado
gigs – shows
quizzically - interrogativamente
taco – tachograph – tacógrafo
to sort - resolver (giria britânica)
narrow - estreito
power-steering – direção assistida
maneuver – manobrar
near-miss – quase um accidente
offload - descarregar
delivery bay – compartimento de entrega
epaulettes – dragonas
run out of room – acabou espaço
a lot to answer for – tem muito para explicar
stuck – preso
struggles – luta
in a pickle – numa situação complicada (expressão britânica)
packaging – embalagem
floundering (to flounder) – ter muitas dificuldades
transfixed – paralisado
feeble – fraco
to haul – puxar com força
clutch – embreagem
to curse – xingar
hyenas – hienas
canning operation – fábrica para fazer comida na lata
to entail – envolver
newfound buddy – novo amigo
roaring – gritando
boisterous – barulhento
bunch – grupo
piqued – estimulado
to take down a peg or two – tornar mais humilde
outshine – ofuscar / dominar
crude – bruto / simples / vulgar
knock down – atropelar
tricky – complicado / difícil
to take down – derrotar (giria)
vibe – sensação
to ebb back and forth
to stroll – passear (andar devagar, tranquilamente)
to step in – entrar
split – separado
bubbly – champanhe (gíria)
to piss – mijar (vulgar)
to fall on deaf ears – estar ignorado
to sidle away – afastar-se
blushes – coras
to be spared – ser poupado / (forma passiva do ‘to spare’ – mostrar misericórdia)
meanwhile – enquanto isso
hinges - dobradiças
it turns out – acabar
small beer – algo insignificante
to be glad – estar feliz / aliviado
to whir – zumbir
eyebrows - sobrancelhas
to color (up) – corar / ficar envergonhado
to be busted – estar exposto / pegado
sharp – agudo (esperto neste caso)
to get on – dar bem / ter um bom relacionamento
to head off – sair
rec grounds (recreational grounds) – terreno dedicado para esporte
than you could shake a stick at – muito mesmo (expressão)
spouses – marido/esposa (‘spouse’ pode ser masculino ou feminine)
blurred - borrado
peers – pares
to anoint – ungir
pitfall – armadilha
Uncle Sam – os EUA (giria)
leading light – um craque do time
stepping stone – veículo para subir na carreira
the ring – um ringue de boxe (neste caso)
to squirm – contorcer-se / sentir desconfortável
circulars – comunicações corporativos
gripes – queixas
coal face – o trabalho mais árduo (expressão – o origem é que minas de carvão não são lugares fáceis para trabalhar)
to bear a grudge – sentir ressentimento / guardar rancor
mic – microfone
tug – puxar (mas neste caso a ideia é engolir devagarzinho)
off pat - decorado
live down – ser permitido esquecer