COLUMN: April 6, 2011

SO THERE I was, Friday night, in a swanky bar, at an after-show party, in possibly the most glamorous circumstances of a life in which, admittedly, the glamorous circumstances bar has been set disappointingly low.

Next to me was one of my oldest friends, a man who left Liverpool over 20 years ago for a glittering career in showbiz. Just beyond him was his improbably beautiful wife, an actress who has starred in some of the most celebrated TV comedies of the past 15 years. It felt like a dream.

But I knew it couldn’t be a dream. Because, in a dream, people wouldn’t have been looking at “the man with the plastic carrier bag” and thinking “Who brings an M&S carrier bag to an after-show party?”

It was my own fault, of course. If I had been able to read a simple calendar, I would have realised I wasn’t double-booked. So I would have obtained a ticket to the Conversation with Peter Serafinowicz at St George’s Hall earlier than on the day of the event. And I would have bought the Mothers’ Day cards and chocolates the day before, meaning I wouldn’t have had to lug them around.

But it could have been worse. After the die had been cast and it was decided I was going to see Peter’s show, I rushed out to town to buy the cards and chocolates I’d planned to pick up on the way home.

I dashed into the card shop. It was busy. To express the busyness accurately would take up the space of this article. The first three words of that article would be “The shop was”, the last word would be “busy”, and the other 671 words would just be the word “very” 671 times.

Somehow, I obtained cards from the racks and joined the queue. And eventually I was served. I paid with my card and my mind wandered. “Your receipt’s in the bag,” said the assistant. “Next!” I stumbled out of the shop. “Receipt?” I thought.

It whirled around my head. Under which series of unlikely circumstances would one need to return cards to a card shop?

Perhaps . . . “I gave my mother this card and she said it was the worst card she had ever seen and that she was embarrassed to have me as a child. I’ve written on this one, is that all right?”

Maybe . . . “My mother was rude about my last column. I have decided against this purchase?”

And what of the tragic reasons? In those instances, I can hardly imagine somebody thinking, “This is the worst day of my life! Still, every cloud, eh? Refund!”

So I wasn’t paying attention in the confectioner’s, when I bought a box of chocolates, and the shop assistant placed it in a bag.

I rushed back to the office. And realised I was going either to leave the goods there, then come back through the badlands of after-hours drunken Liverpool late at night to pick them up, or take the bag with me to the concert.

It was only then I realised the bag was a Christmas bag. Not only would I look like the sort of person who takes a plastic bag to concerts, I would look like the sort of person who had had the same bag for four months. It was double jeopardy.

Luckily, a colleague spotted a spare M&S bag in the office and the worst of the embarrassment was avoided. I took the bag.

And when I got to St George’s Hall, I discovered the after-show party was in a bar a couple of minutes’ walk away from my office. So, late at night, I still had to walk back, through the badlands, etc, but now with a plastic carrier bag.

A group of young men noted my resemblance to the character Egon Spengler, from Ghostbusters. Then one spied my cargo. “Carrier bag!” he shouted. “Carrier bag!” His dunderwhelp friends joined in. They pointed.

But I was one up on them. Because I knew there was a Christmas bag inside the M&S bag. And if they’d known that, it would have been marginally worse. On such small outcrops do I plant my victory flag.

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