Embarrassing? Who, moi?

The actor Douglas Henshall is quite a distinctive-looking man, whether he is starring in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal or sitting three seats from me in the first-class carriage on the train up to Edinburgh. I was taking Cost Centre #2 to the Fringe – this year I was a spectator rather than a performer.

The following day I saw Henshall again, this time as a guest on Hardeep Singh Kohli’s show Chat Masala. “Was starring in Betrayal hard work?” he was asked. “It is Pinter, it is the West End, it is only 90 minutes long, and I was working with Kristin Scott Thomas – how hard is that?” he replied. Indeed.

I had deposited CC#2 in second class for the journey north, sticking to my belief that children should only travel up front when they can pay for their own ticket. So at least he was spared the embarrassment of my ogling Mr Henshall. Far more mortifying for him, though, was having to hang out with me in public. One evening we were killing time in a bar at the Gilded Balloon, one of the main comedy venues, when he informed me that being seen with his mother in a bar was social death. To put him out of his misery we went to the box office and asked for tickets to whatever was on then – perhaps being in the audience of a show, albeit with me, would be less embarrassing for him.

A few minutes later we were being entertained by Vikki Stone, a musically talented comedienne. Her material was somewhat earthy. It contained very little that I can safely repeat in a family newspaper such as the FT. The least offensive song in her repertoire was about thrush. And, to make sure that CC#2 really squirmed, she put on a cheerfully graphic slide show that illustrated, among other things, her choice of sex toys. “How,” I whispered to CC#2, “is this less embarrassing than sitting in a bar with me?”

Mind you, I embarrassed myself the other weekend. I had agreed to review the newspapers for a satellite TV station, and sitting in makeup I found myself next to a cheerful man who said hello. He did look vaguely familiar but I could not place him. An old boyfriend? I have been married almost 23 years so cannot be expected to remember previous intimate encounters.

So I smiled and introduced myself. “Angus Fraser,” he replied, shaking my hand warmly. This really was embarrassing. I have never had an intimate relationship with the former Test bowler (177 wickets in 46 Test matches, according to Mr M) but I did serve on the committee that raised funds for him during his benefit year in 1997/98. For more than a year I saw him almost every week. How could I have forgotten what he looked like?

The cricket theme continues for me at Nottingham Playhouse later this month, when I attend the gala performance of The Ashes, a play by Michael Pinchbeck. Running until September 17, it is about Harold Larwood, plucked from a Nottinghamshire coalmine to spearhead the England team’s controversial “bodyline” bowling attack. Larwood tore the Australian side apart in the winter of 1932/33.

If you live near Nottingham, do join Mr M and me; I will be going with (among others) Mike Gatting (Gatt – I promise to recognise you). The event will raise funds for an initiative started by my Ducal Girlfriend to bring cricket to rural communities between Nottingham and Leicester. She has come a long way since our lunch at the Bradman Oval in New South Wales a few years back, when she asked, quite loudly, “What is an over?” Then it was my turn to be embarrassed.

On the train home from Edinburgh, I spotted that I was sharing the carriage with another distinctive-looking man, this time Brian May, the Queen guitarist. At this time of year the Edinburgh-London route really does have a pretty high celeb count. And, with CC#2 safely ensconced in second-class, I didn’t have to hear my son complaining about how much I embarrass him.



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