Archive for Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Victorian Pork Fritters’ a sign of the times

December 31, 2008

I think I’m a proficient reader, but once in a while, I misread signs on billboards or other places, with predictably embarrassing results.

I have to say that my wife is every bit as bad at this as I am. Every so often she’ll misread a sign and cause either our daughter or me to mutter, sotto voce, “Victorian Pork Fritters.”

I’ll explain. About 15 years ago we were eating lunch in a café in Durango, Calif., when the wife peered out the window and asked, “What’s a Victorian Pork Fritter?” It seems she had seen the sign on a building across the street as we were eating. Later, when we left the restaurant, we saw the sign, which in fact said, “Victorian Portraiture.” It turned out that she was breaking in a new pair of glasses and just getting used to the distortion caused by the bifocals. We had a good laugh about it.

There have been other cases of this happening; the most recent was just a couple of weeks ago when she thought an ice cream shop was advertising popcorn instead of pumpkin desserts.

We kid her and, of course, she’s a good sport about it, but the difference between us is that she’s been able to keep those gaffes in friendly territory, sort of, among friends and family. When I do it, I seem to manage to embarrass myself in a spectacularly public fashion.

More than 40 years ago, when I was stationed in England during my brief military career, I had earned a few days’ leave and decided to spend them in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I installed myself in a bed-and-breakfast inn not too far from the city center. It was a middle-class lodging on a quiet street, run by a respectable lady of a certain age. As I remember it, she had maybe six or eight guests, including me.

For breakfast, I was seated at a table with a dour old Scottish pensioner who was in town on some forgotten errand. Our places were marked with cards with our room numbers. I think mine was 6 and his was 8.

For breakfast, in addition to our fried egg, bacon and to-mah-to, we had a choice of either porridge, which Americans would recognize as oatmeal, or corn flakes. I chose corn flakes, but my tablemate opted for the porridge, and he attacked it every morning with great relish.

Usually he was already tucked into his porridge by the time I got downstairs but, for some reason, I beat him there on about the third morning. Here’s where things began to go awry. I looked for the cards with the numbers and I will swear to this day that their positions were reversed. The 8 and the 6 were in each other’s places.

I decided to make no fuss, but just to go ahead and sit in the other place. So I sat down, lifted the cover off the bowl and found not corn flakes, but porridge. Oh well, I thought, she’s gotten our orders confused. I won’t make a fuss. So I started eating the porridge.

After a minute or two, the old gentleman came down, muttered something and sat in the other place. He lifted the cover off the bowl and discovered — you guessed it — corn flakes. He slammed the cover down on the table and declaimed, in a voice that I’m sure carried clear out into the street, “You’rrre sittin’ in mah place, and that’s mah porridge you’rrre eatin’!”

In my defense, I tried to claim that the numbers on our places were reversed that morning, but — guess again — closed examination proved that not to be the case. I apologized profusely and our hostess brought him out another bowl of porridge, but I’m sure the poor old gent went to his grave with no particular use for Americans.

I had occasion to think of this long-ago embarrassment just the other day when I misread the label on a door and blundered into the wrong room by mistake. As luck would have it this time, though, I escaped unnoticed. I was never so glad to get out of any place in my life.


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