I have just returned from Australia, where I had the most wonderful time as a guest of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. If you read this blog, you may recall that I met a beautiful woman one rainy night in the Writers’ Tent of the Edinburgh International Book Festival last August and – when she turned out to be the Director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival – I immediately gave her a sales pitch on what a great book I had written. (She looked bored – this must happen to her all the time.) However, six months later, when Wendy Were had had a chance to read Unimagined, she actually invited me and I leapt out of my chair at the office when the e-mail came in.
I had a packed schedule in Australia. On arrival in Sydney, I flew straight to Melbourne to appear in an episode of Salam Café (which you can view here – I appear after 11 minutes). Then, returning to Sydney, I had three events at the Festival (including one with Australian comedienne Judith Lucy – 'Not Another Misery Memoir'), plus other media appearances and a talk in Canberra.
My main event was on Sunday afternoon: 'An Unimagined Journey' – a combination of my addressing the audience and Bruce Elder interviewing me. The cabaret style location, with round tables, had a capacity of 250 and was absolutely packed. You won't believe me if I tell you how brilliantly it went – please find an independent witness.
When it was all over, I left the sunny blue sky of Sydney’s autumn for the damp greyness of London’s spring – no, that doesn’t make any sense.
It was a very memorable trip, but the most memorable event was for a less-than-satisfactory reason … (See account below.)
My signing queue!
Who's the attractive blonde woman? Is she an official? Where's her SWF ID?
My crowd waiting.
Venue filling up nicely
Yep, I was really here
Judith Lucy and me
"Not Another Misery Memoir ..."
She's got two copies of my book!
"Thank you, I really appreciate you buying my book ... Thank you, I really appreciate you buying my book ... Thank you, ..."
"I'm having a great time."
"Excuse me, where can I get the ferry to New Zealand?"
A magic moment on Sydney Harbour Bridge early one morning
A big rock
The best airport pick-up ever
What an amazing place
On Saturday evening, I was invited to a reception for the international writers at Government House, hosted by the Governor of New South Wales – Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir.
As we walked in, we were each greeted by the Governor herself, who kindly spent a moment welcoming each of us individually. I presented the Governor with an inscribed and signed copy of my book, which she seemed to greatly appreciate. She thanked me generously for the gift.
I appeared to be the only writer who gave a copy of his/her book to the Governor, but I don’t think this is the main reason I made an unforgettable impression on Her Excellency. That was to come later …
I was standing with the Governor and her Chief of Staff, Brian Davies Esq LVO, as Her Excellency kindly recounted a fascinating story about the First Fleet. The Governor was on my right and the Chief of Staff was opposite me – we were huddled quite close together. I sipped nonchalantly from my glass of orange juice.
A tray of canapés came by …
[Note to self for future reference: Never, ever, eat a canapé whilst standing in distinguished company.]
To show how at ease and relaxed I was standing in the company of the Governor (I do this sort of thing all the time, you see, keep the company of Captains and Kings), I reached for a canapé. I noticed it was topped with a creamy white blob of sauce.
This was a substantial two-bite canapé, so I took the primary bite. The magic of this dignified private moment with the Governor seemed to suddenly evaporate as I felt the blob of white creamy sauce miss my mouth, and slide down the side of my chin, and fall into oblivion.
The Governor stopped talking.
The Governor, the Chief of Staff and I all looked down to the floor. The large creamy white blob had landed on top of my right shoe. I had the orange juice in my left hand, the other half of the canapé in my right hand, and it seemed a long way down to my right shoe. There was silence. Time stood still.
I had a vague awareness of Her Excellency’s voice: “Brian …”
Suddenly, the Chief of Staff was addressing me: “Don’t worry Imran, we’ll take care of this” and simultaneously he was crouching in front of me, wiping the creamy blob off my shoe with a paper napkin.
I apologised profusely to the Chief of Staff, but he dismissed it as nothing to worry about.
Words cannot express the embarrassment I felt. Idiot, idiot, idiot! Never, ever eat a complex canapé in front of distinguished company.
Her Excellency finished her story, but somehow I felt that the dignity had gone from my private audience. She moved on.
When something really embarrassing happens, I believe that the best way to overcome the pain of the humiliation is to recount the incident as a funny anecdote, as many times as possible. The pain is then anaesthetised by humour.
A little later, I was chatting with an officer of the Australian Airforce. He was a Squadron Leader, his blue uniform emblazoned with medals – a very distinguished gentleman indeed. So, I thought I would begin the self-healing process, by telling him the anecdote.
“Something really embarrassing happened to me this evening,” I said, by way of introduction.
His reply was swift.
“You mean with the Governor and the canapé? I already heard about that.”
[Update: The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Unimagined ranked 11th in the Festival sales.]
Unimagined in Australia: http://www.unimagined.co.uk/Australia.htm