Sunday, 22 April 2018

A shaming admission

It’s worrying how irritated I can become when I’m tired.

That struck me after I’d travelled to Italy to do a presentation. Though it wasn’t that which made me tired.

Do you know Padua? I didn’t. It’s a surprisingly short distance from Venice – it took me longer to get from Venice airport to the railway station than by rail to Padua. It’s a beautiful city, with arcaded streets, a glorious central square whose water features and grassed areas make it half a park, and narrow streets leaping across picturesque waterways or opening up onto great romanesque churches. I walked miles around the city in the evening, getting to know quite a bit of the centre.

But it wasn’t that which got me tired either.

Although I’ve been doing presentations for years, I still get stage fright before every one. Which is ridiculous. I know what I’m doing. I know my material. But I hate the prospect of speaking to an audience unless I’ve entirely mastered my brief, which I seldom find the time to do, and certainly hadn’t on this occasion.

What made it worse was that the presentation was in Italian. That shouldn’t really have worried me, since I was born in Italy, and I’m perfectly happy to chatter away in Italian with people I know. However, I feel that a presentation should be given in faultless language, and it’s only in English that I can get even close to that ideal.

That’s a silly concern. Italians are generally delighted with any foreigner who makes the effort to speak to them in their language. You make a few mistakes? You sometimes can’t find a word and the audience has to help you out? No problem. They enjoy helping. And they’re happy you’re making the effort to be understood, instead of expecting them to make the effort to understand you.

I, however, was anxious. That stopped me sleeping well, so I was up at 5:00. Which, given that I’d flown form England the day before, felt like 4:00. At 6:00, I was out for another inspiring, but long, walk through the cool of the near-deserted streets of Padua as they filled with morning sun.

Early morning sun on one of Padua's many canals
Now that did get me tired.

Still, it didn’t irritate me.

The presentation was shared with a colleague. I’d met him several times but never really got to know him, and working with him was a great opportunity to put that right. I quickly discovered someone who was both likeable and competent, making the experience highly rewarding.

So none of that irritated me either.

After the presentation, he and I decided to have lunch together, before he drove home and I headed to Venice airport. Two people independently recommended us to a restaurant on the wonderful central square, but that was at the opposite side of the city and we didn’t feel like walking that far. Still, we decided to head that way; we were bound to find a restaurant that attracted us before we got there. Or so we assured each other.

Well, we didn’t. But again, there was nothing particularly irritating about the experience. Padua was as lovely on my third long walk through its streets as it had been on the first two. And the restaurant, when we got there, proved to be excellent. The temperature – we seem to have moved, across Europe, from a painfully long winter straight to summer – was uncomfortable for a walk, but that made it an even greater pleasure to eat under a canopy outside the restaurant and enjoy a moment of calm after the stress of the morning.

Even though we then had to walk all the way back across the city to the car.

By the time I reached the airport, I really was pretty worn out. The lack of sleep. All that walking. The simple adrenalin drop I always experience after a presentation. That made it all the more painful that I’d only found a late flight home and would have to wait three hours before taking off.

But not even that got me particularly irritated.

By the simple trick of announcing ‘last call’ just as soon as the gate opened, the staff on my flight managed to get us all on board fifteen minutes ahead of time. A cause for celebration. The plane pushed back almost immediately and off we went.

Except that we didn’t. After quite a while, it was announced that we might have noticed that we’d been taxiing a long time (we’d noticed). Apparently, a passenger had been taken ill and we had to return to stand. Eventually, paramedics took her off the plane, so we have to wait again while her baggage was removed from the hold. So though we’d been early, we were now going to be late.

To make it worse, another passenger mentioned that he’d seen her inside the terminal building, drinking beer after beer until she could hardly make it to the plane. It seems the illness wasn’t even a genuine misfortune but a self-inflicted injury. Inflicted on all of us.

Now that really irritated me.

Another half hour struggling with fatigue in here?
I hardly dare admit what shamelessly ungenerous thought came to my mind. I genuinely toyed with the idea that instead of returning to the terminal, we could just have pushed her out of the plane and let her walk back herself. As for her baggage, we could have sent it after her once we’d got back to London.

A cruel unworthy thought. Revealing the very intolerance I criticise in others. But that’s what tiredness does to me.

It seriously limits my capacity for compassion and fellow-feeling.

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