What’s your most embarrassing moment? I’ve just had mine

The lovely weather combines, unfortunately, with the continuing loss of the shower in the Hovel. One can run the shower if one sits down with it in the bath, but that is a bore and besides someone, probably me, has finished my bubble bath and not replaced it. Can you have a bath without bubbles? I think not. And so I nip off earlier than usual to the family home before picking the Youngest Lezard up from school.

The family home has been feeling like . . . like, well, home again, as I have been staying with the entire brood while their mother goes gallivanting off to the south of France for a restorative little break. (Actually, it was York. It's the south of France next week.) I am reminded that looking after three children full-time, on your own, is hard work. However, it is also immensely rewarding, as mine are - as I said in my last column - splendid and better company than a lot of adults I know.

Anyway, what with one thing and another, but mainly the thing about there being no shower and everything below the neckline getting a bit sticky, and everything above it a bit greasy, I decide to help myself to a shower in the family home. After all, I reason, I did pay for it.

Unfortunately, the Estranged Wife (EW) had failed to inform me that her new boyfriend was going to be dropping in early, too. Now, readers who have separated from their spouses will appreciate that it is hard not to feel a disproportionate degree of contempt for the ex-spouse's new partner. It is hardly reasonable; after all, it isn't the poor bastard's fault. Perhaps it is a way of not feeling contempt for the ex-spouse, or of drawing your contempt's fire. But one is bound, unless possessed of almost limitless saintliness, to suspect that the new man in the ex's life is going to be a pillock; and I am not possessed of limitless saintliness.

So, in short, I have been treating a blameless man with rather obvious nastiness for about six months now. I know, I know. (Although I could have been far worse, and mentioned his ----- ----- in this column, thus making him a national laughing stock.) But a recent, momentous conversation with someone whose opinion I respect immensely persuaded me of the error of my ways, and I have resolved to act decently from now on.

Rude awakening

It is, though, hard to claim decency when one is wet, bollock-naked, and taking a cheeky shower in a house in which it would perhaps have been best to ask permission to take a cheeky shower. And then I hear the front door being opened and the tread of someone too heavy and too early to be either a 16- or a 13-year-old Lezard on the stairs. Then the phone chirrups, and I see a text from the EW: am I, she asks, in the house?

Well, this is hardly the time for me to reply. A man I have been incredibly rude to for some time is coming up the stairs and is going to be entering the bathroom, maybe suspecting that he has caught an unusually fastidious burglar freshening up after a spot of light burgling. He may be armed. Would he have taken the middle child's cricket bat, or will he have one of the lethally sharp new kitchen knives in his hand?

I see the bathroom door being pushed slowly open. I think now might be as good a time as any to start covering up the more intimate parts of the person, and I manage to haul the boxer shorts just past the knees when the ex's boy­friend opens the door to its full extent.

“What ho," I say. It strikes me that the nonchalant note is the one to go for.

His expression is hard to read and I must confess I do not spend too much time trying to read it. I see horror, confusion, with notes of disgust and outrage. Doubtless we could have prolonged the moment to discern the exact proportions, but we both seem to reach the same unspoken conclusion: that the bathroom door should be closed - and right speedily.

Whenever I read the Guardian's version of the Proust questionnaire in its Saturday magazine, I fantasise about the time when, finally having achieved the recognition I deserve after years of honest toil, I will answer its questions. And the question that has always stumped me is, "What was your most embarrassing moment?"

Maybe the mind puts my own embarrassing moments into some kind of oubliette, but all I can come up with was the time, 40-odd years ago, when Douglas Green, the notorious shit, pulled my shorts down in front of more or less the entire school. As a refinement, he included my underpants in his grip. (And whatever he says, it was not an accident.)

Well, I reflect later over a soothing pint in the sun outside the Duke, I believe I now have a more satisfactory answer to that particular question. l

Next week: Mark Watson

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, GOD Special