Paul Howard: My top 20 Larry David Moments
My lockdown project has been to catalogue my experiences of excruciating embarrassment
Paul Howard with his dog, Humphrey, at home in Co Wicklow. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times
Worried that he might have been suppressing some things, Paul Howard made it his lockdown project to catalogue what he calls his Larry David Moments, all of the moments of extreme discomfort and excruciating embarrassment he’s ever experienced in his life. Here are 20 of the publishable ones.
1 One Saturday afternoon, back in the 1980s, I spotted Christy Moore walking down Grafton Street. My uncle Fran was a huge fan and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without getting his autograph. I bought a pen and a notebook from the newsagent at the top of Grafton Street, then hared after him and asked for his signature. “My uncle listens to you all the time,” I told him. “Morning, noon and night. He’s your biggest fan.” He smiled, thanked me, then signed the notebook. I looked down at the signature. It was Larry Gogan.
2 I handed a taxi driver a €50 note to pay a €48 fare and I didn’t hang around for change. He was shocked. “What are you doing?” he asked. I told him, “it’s a tip”. He said it was way too generous and I was being ridiculous. We argued back and forth for a few minutes until he eventually agreed to accept the money, sticking it into his shirt pocket while telling me he wasn’t comfortable with this. I was thinking, “A €2 tip? Way too generous?” About six hours later, I realised that I’d already paid for the taxi through Hailo.
3 For two years, on and off, I wore an aftershave that turned out to be women’s perfume.
4 I once chaired a debate in Trinity College. Afterwards, I went to the bathroom. While sitting in one of the stalls, two students came in and had a conversation about how “surprisingly unfunny” and “actually boring” Paul Howard was in real life. To avoid any awkwardness, I decided to remain in the stall until they left – about 20 minutes later.
5 In October 1992, while working as a sportswriter, I was in Italy to report on the European middleweight title fight between Steve Collins and Sumbu Kalambay. Minutes before it started, Paddy Byrne, one of Collins’ cornermen, rushed over to the press box and told me, “There’s no water in the corner! Can you get me some?” I ran to the shop at the back of the arena and shouted, “Acqua!” one of about five Italian words that I knew. “Senza gas?” asked the man behind the counter. “Con gas?” Keen to return to my seat, I nodded my head and replied, “Si.” Collins lost on points. After the fight, he spoke about sinister forces trying to nobble him. “I went back to the corner after the first round,” he said, “took a drink of water and it was fizzy.” I said absolutely nothing.
One local resident told me that no one would talk to me unless I got the blessing of 'Wee Willy' and he pointed me to the house where 'Wee Willy' lived..
6 One night, while friends were around for dinner, I noticed a mouse emerge from behind the sideboard. Not wishing to alarm our guests, I didn’t mention it, but I kept an eye on him out of the corner of my eye. When I saw him slip out of the room, I excused myself and followed him up the hallway and into the bathroom, then closed the door, locking him inside. I returned to the table. Thinking on my feet, I told our guests to avoid using the main bathroom as we were, em, storing our emergency chairs in there. Even as I said it, I knew it sounded like I’d just done something unspeakable in the toilet. As everyone contemplated the strangeness of my request, my wife said, “What are you talking about? We don’t even have emergency chairs?”
7 It was my first time in America. I was in New Jersey and I was trying to find my way back to my hotel, which I could see in the distance. I asked someone for directions and they pointed the way. What I didn’t mention was that I was making my way there on foot. I followed the directions and found myself walking up the middle of a dual-carriageway, which very quickly turned into 12-lane freeway. Totally green, I kept walking, as motorists screamed at me from their cars: “Are you f**king crazy? This is the New Jersey Turnpike!”
8 When I was five, I was saved from drowning by a nun after I ran into the water in Clacton-on-Sea, unaware that swimming was a skill that had to be learned in advance.
9 In 2017, I was in Rome. My wife and I bought tickets for a European Champions League match between AS Roma and Atletico Madrid. There was a carnival atmosphere outside the Olympic Stadium. A smiling woman walked towards me with her arms outstretched. Instinctively, I hugged her. My wife said, “Paul, she’s trying to search you.”
10 A phone went off at a small, registry office wedding while the bride and groom were exchanging vows. I spent 30 seconds looking around me, wondering who could be so stupid as to not switch their phone to silent, before I realised that the ringing was coming from, yes, my pocket.
11 I was trying on a tuxedo in a very expensive men’s store in Hong Kong. I was debating with myself whether I could justify paying €1,100 for something I would probably only wear once a year. A very pushy shop assistant kept insisting that I was worth it. I told him I’d take it, but then I realised that I’d miscalculated the exchange rate. It was €11,000. The difficulty then was how to reverse out of the purchase without losing face. I told him I’d walk around the block and have one final think about it. He’s still waiting for me to return.
12 In 1996, I went to Portadown to write about an incident in which local Loyalists had blockaded a road to prevent the Cliftonville FC team bus from getting to a match in Shamrock Park. One local resident told me that no one would talk to me unless I got the blessing of “Wee Willy” and he pointed me to the house where “Wee Willy” lived. I knocked on the door. It was answered by LVF killer Billy Wright. I went into shock and found myself unable to speak. Billy Wright told me to “f**k off” and slammed the door in my face.
13 I once started queuing at 2am to buy tickets for a Billy Joel concert in Croke Park, having slightly overestimated the Piano Man’s pulling power. When the Ticketmaster booth opened at 9am, I was the first – and only – person in the queue. “Do you mind me asking how long you were standing there?” the man asked as he processed my credit card payment. Not long, I told him. He said: “It’s just I was coming home from a night out at about half two this morning and I wondered was that you I saw standing outside.”
14 In the early 1990s, a Dublin badminton club decided to make a presentation to me to say thanks for featuring them regularly in a free newspaper I was working for at the time. In a south Dublin community hall, in front of about 12 club members, I was given a beautiful wall clock with the words “sports personality of the year” engraved on it. For some unfathomable reason, someone decided it would be a good idea to order a stripagram for the occasion. A woman, wearing thigh-high boots and a leather bodice, read out a poem about me, replete with double entendres on the theme of shuttlecocks, while hitting me about the thighs with a leather truncheon. It was 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
15 When I was 15, I was walking through Parnell Square when two girls smiled at me. I smiled back and walked into a parking meter, which left me winded and lying on the flat of my back on the wet street.
16 In 2000, I was staying in a bed and breakfast in Earl’s Court, London. I was having a shower one morning when I had a sudden fear that I’d forgotten to bring with me a notebook that I needed. I left the bathroom, no towel, dripping wet, and stuck my hand into the pocket of my bubble jacket. I was relieved to discover that the notebook was in there. I pulled at it and the metal spiralling ripped open the pocket, sending hundreds of feathers into the air. At that precise moment, with the comic timing of someone from a Carry On movie, a woman knocked on the door, shouted “housekeeping!”, and then entered the room. I don’t know what she thought was going on, but she screamed, covered her eyes and then backed quickly out of the room.
17 Working from home, I regularly receive phone calls from scammers. One day, a woman rang to tell me that my computer had a virus and I subjected her to an angry, 60-second tirade that may have contained some swear words. Five minutes after I hung up, I received a phone call from a man who identified himself as the woman’s “supervisor”. He said I had really upset his “colleague”. I said, “But you’re trying to rob me?” and he replied, “It doesn’t matter – she is still entitled to be spoken to with respect,” and we proceeded to debate this issue for at least 10 minutes.
18 When I was in my 20s, my mother sent me to the fruit and vegetable shop to buy “two pounds worth of broccoli”. She meant £2’s worth. I returned with 2lb’s worth. You’d be surprised at how many bags you need to carry 2lbs worth of broccoli. “Did you not get suspicious when you saw how much there was?” my mother asked. Shamefully, no, I didn’t.
19 I was 18 and I was doing my very first shift in the Sunday Tribune newsroom. I was in awe because I was surrounded by all my heroes – Vincent Browne, Paul Kimmage, Gene Kerrigan, Gerald Barry, Aileen O’Meara. I was handed a phone number and told to ring Sister Stanislaus Kennedy for a quote on a story. I rang the number and said, “Could I talk to Sister Kennedy please?” The answer came: “This is Sister Stan – how can I help?” I brought the entire newsroom to silence by confidently telling her, “I’m sorry, Sister Stan, I was told to speak to Sister Kennedy and Sister Kennedy only.”
20 I was in Dubray in Blackrock Shopping Centre, signing their stock of the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress. A customer tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I’ve just realised who you are! Oh my God, I am your second biggest fan in the world!” I thanked her. She said her husband was actually my biggest fan and was totally obsessed with my writing. She asked me if I’d be happy to talk to him on the phone. I said I’d be delighted. She rang him and said, “You’ll never guess who I just met in Blackrock Shopping Centre! Mark Haddon! ” Mark Haddon was the author of the similarly titled The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Before I could explain the error, she had pushed her phone to my ear. Her husband said he had so many questions to ask me, including: “How do you know so much about Asperger’s Syndrome?” To spare everyone’s embarrassment, I pretended to be Mark Haddon for the duration of the call.
Braywatch, the new novel by Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, is published on September 3rd at €18. You can preorder a signed copy with an exclusive Ross O’Carroll-Kelly Tactics Notebook for delivery from eason.com