Jez's Blog

The Strange Story of How I Found a New Band

A Salute to My Influences

Celebrating Our Differences

Daring to Use the Four-Letter Word

What Is The Real Olympian Spirit?

Watching The Olympics Opening Ceremony

How Good Service Turned into a Speed Trip

Blurring the Line Between Fact and Fiction

How Creativity Keeps Moving On

How an Artist in the Kitchen Revealed my Inner 'Foody'

Synchronicity - an Everyday Sort of Magic

Does This Make You Laugh?

The Magic of Storytelling

How Good Design Serves the User

Learning to Love Creative Blocks

Creating The CLUB

How a Kiss Missed Its Target at a Posh Do

How Bob Dylan refused the Box labelled ‘Protest Singer’

The ‘Get Back in Your Box’ Syndrome

What’s all the fuss about?

The Third in my Triptych of Entries about Thought

Reflections on Learning and Teaching

Happily disconnected in Cornwall

The Best Way to Sell is to Do Something Well

Life is Good

Zen & the Art of Birdwatching

How a Kiss Missed Its Target at a Posh Do

I go to a rather posh event at Leighton House in Holland Park to celebrate the life of Sebastian Walker (the founder of Walker Books who published my HUG and WHERE'S MY TEDDY series). Lord Leighton (1830-1896) was as an eminent Victorian painter; you may be familiar with his most famous painting - ‘Flaming June’ pictured here. The house’s decor is an eclectic mix of styles including middle eastern tiles (collected on Lord Leighton’s travels), William Morris wallpaper, Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Romanesque pillars. A stuffed peacock (matching the peacock blue tiles on the wall) stands on a plinth at the foot of a grand oak staircase, there are Moroccan metal grilled shutters, floorboards painted post box red (fantastic against a friend’s fancy red shoes) and a large indoor fountain trickles under a golden dome.  All in all the house is totally over the top and yet somehow quite wonderful in its exotic eccentricity.


This house, situated in west London, is where anyone who was anyone in the Victorian world came to hang out and be seen. (Even Queen Victoria herself once visited to marvel at the architectural spectacle). It was the Groucho Club (or the Viper room) of the era. I imagine Oscar Wilde standing by the stuffed peacock at the foot of the stairs effortlessly dispensing witticisms to the poets, painters and musicians of the day. However, it is at this very location that tonight, an altogether more awkward and embarrassing social encounter takes place involving yours truly and a fellow guest.



As I mentioned, tonight is rather a posh do (Mr Walker was from an upper class family) and there is a slightly uneasy mix of people from the publishing world and wealthy looking friends of the family. At these type of functions the accepted greeting is of course the polite kiss on both cheeks. As people arrive in this opulent hall I notice that all around me heads are bobbing back and forward like pigeons as they perform this social ritual. I don’t know when this convention entered into polite society (I blame the French!) but I don’t  remember seeing  grown ups doing it when I was a child. It is quite an intimate exchange but if the recipient of the kisses is a friend it seems rather a charming, almost chivalrous form of greeting. However, a problem can arise when the person you meet is more than just an acquaintance but not quite a friend: it’s hard to tell sometimes whether they fall into the cheek kissing or merely the handshake category. A decision has to be made regarding which route you are going to take and often it has to be made pretty quick. To complicate matters further sometimes you may have decided on a handshake greeting while the other person has put you into a ‘cheek kissing’ category. Your proffered hand then looks rather like an insult when met with the other person’s more friendly leaning forward with pursed lips ready for the cheek pecks! To counteract this potential embarrassment it is sometimes better to err on the side of over familiarity and get in first with the kissing even if it is only paying ‘lip service’ to the convention.


Tonight I decide to take this course of action when, in the shadowy light of the great hall, I spot a designer called Liz from Walker Books who I have known (but not worked with personally) for many years. Liz is looking a little fuller in the face than I remember her but, it’s been a while since we’ve met so I put this down to the passing of time. So there I am, my face is leaning in for my pre-emptive kiss and it is at this point that I realise the awful truth; this is not Liz the designer from Walker Books at all. This is someone who, in the half light, with a bit of accounting for the ageing process, vaguely resembles Liz from Walker Books. This is someone I have never met before in my life and here I am inches away from her face with lips on the verge of puckering. Our gaze is now locked on to each other like pilots in a dogfight; in her eyes I see a mixture of bewilderment and terror – she must be thinking:: ‘do I know this guy? I must know him because he is approaching me with such certainty, how awful that I have forgotten who he is! It will look so rude if I recoil, I must act as if I Know him’. Meanwhile I am thinking; ‘Help! I’m just about to plant two kisses on a total stranger as if she’s an old friend and there’s nothing I can do about it because I’m inches away from her face and it’s too late to abort the mission. I take aim, close my eyes, pucker my lips and plant the deceitful yet well intentioned kisses. With mission completed I decide (probably much to her relief) to say nothing and just keep walking. This probably added an even more surreal note to the encounter; who would come up to you with such certainty, kiss you and then disappear without saying a word? I can only presume it alerted her to the reality of what happened, that it was a huge blunder on my part and that she was correct in not recognising this silent yet demonstrative stranger. For the rest of the evening I made sure that our paths never crossed again lest we be confronted with the full horror of what just happened between us.


This is one of those moments that is so awfully embarrassing that it becomes utterly hilarious. During the piano recital which followed I found it hard to concentrate on the performance, the music became a comical soundtrack as my mind kept replaying the event in all its humiliating glory. I hope Oscar Wilde’s ghost looked down and enjoyed the evening’s entertainment!


Members - we'd love to hear your faux pas stories; if you'd like to share them with your fellow members, please leave your comments below.


22nd June 2011

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