My nephew, Mark, aged about 10 years old, embarrassed his parents at a family gathering and silenced the restaurant. Taking advantage of a lull in the adult conversation he announced “The other day I saw mum and dad wrestling”. Then with the timing of a seasoned comic he paused. My mother, unaware that her eldest son, my brother, had an interest in the sport, smiled indulgently. My father, certain his eldest son didn’t know a half nelson from a crotch lift narrowed his eyes. “They were in bed” he added mischievously. Another hiatus, then, sure that he had the full attention of his pink faced parents, his grandparents, other assorted relatives and the diners at nearby tables Mark delivered the coup de grace; “and they were naked!” Many years later my mother, then almost 80, in a second childhood and mildly unhinged, embarrassed me in a restaurant.
Soon after the death of my father we had moved my mother from Scotland to Holmewood a sheltered retirement home near to us in Leeds. One Sunday we took her out for lunch to The Mansion, an extinct country house, at the time a restaurant with pretensions of fine dining.
“Do you remember Doctor Sommerville?” enquired my mother in her loud Scottish accent.
A memory of Doctor Sommerville swam into my mind, sitting on the edge of my bed crying, my father consoling him. I was 9 years old ill with bronchitis and he had called one morning straight from attending a car crash with two fatalities, two local brothers.
“Yes, mum, I remember Doctor Sommerville.” I said, confused, blindsided.
“Know what mum?”
“When you were a child”
“When I was a child, what?”
“What he said about you”
The chit chat and the chink of cutlery was suspended. Everyone within twenty yards wanted to know what Doctor Sommerville had revealed about me.
“He said you had very large bowels”
The lady at the next table quietly choked. Further afield there was a muffled sniggers and suppressed guffaws.
I frantically racked my mind for a change of topic. “How are you settling in at Holmewood mum?” I asked confident that I was skating on thicker ice.
“It’s a grand place” she said, “there’s a nice library. It’s in the conservatory.”
“That’s good.” My mother enjoyed reading. I tentatively skated further out onto the ice. “Any interesting books?” I asked.
“The book I’m reading is about two women.”
“They’re lesbians.” She smiled, menacingly. “And you know?”
My world tilted. The restaurant again stilled. The refined lady at the next table spasmed, choking violently, her face the colour of the wine, slowly spreading on the table cloth as the astonished waiter missed her glass. The maître d was staring across the room, possibly considering asking us to leave but more probably trying to recall the Heimlich Manoeuvre.
“Know what, mum?” I asked recklessly in the silence.
“They were licking each other’s prrrivate parrrrts!” Her clearly enunciated Scottish ‘r’s rolling across the restaurant.
“The bill please!”