How guilt changed my life

YOUNG READER ELISE CHAN (above) turned 14 yesterday: happy birthday, dear. Her dad, Francis Chan, told me a touching story. Feeling guilty about his serious smoking addiction, he made excuses to his daughter: “Never start smoking; it’s impossible to stop.”

All was fine until one day Elise overheard an adult scolding her dad for sneaking out to the back garden for a quick cigarette.

She fiercely defended her father: “Don’t you know? Once you start, it’s impossible to stop.”

The man shook his head: “Not true. I used to smoke. I stopped.”

Francis was mortified. He put out his cigarette and never smoked again.

“Sometimes children teach their parents,” he told me, his breath fragrant as a baby’s.

Guilt is an amazingly powerful thing.

A charity once sent me a donation request with a free gift: sticky labels pre-printed with my name and address.

Every time I used one, I thought: “I MUST get round to sending these guys some sort of donation.”

But I never did.

By the time I used the last one, I was so burdened with guilt and shame that I could think of little else. I raced home one day to get rid of the bad karma.

To my horror, I discovered that I had thrown the donation request away. Nor could I remember the charity’s name.

A vision of the aggrieved charity workers looking for me with a team of paparazzi swam before my eyes. I could see the headlines: “This man used all the address labels we sent him and SENT NO DONATION.”

In the end, I moved house, and then changed country, and then changed hemisphere. They’re probably still looking for me. As I said: Guilt: a wonderful tool that changes lives.



TEXT OF an ad for a hotel in Spain:

“The provision of a large French widow in every room adds to the visitors comfort.”


SEVERAL SHOPPING malls in Sri Lanka now have lobbies women use to park their men while they shop, Colombo-based reader Priyantha Liyanage told me. “But I do know someone who forgot her spouse,” she added. “She only remembered when she found herself having to reverse the car.”


XIAO LEE, 22, bought his girlfriend Wang Xue, also 22, a US$700 necklace and hid it inside a small cake. She wolfed down the cake AND the jewelry. Doctors put a tube down her throat to retrieve it. Lee told reporters in Qingdao, Eastern China that he spent a long time cleaning it, but “I'm not sure she will ever feel very comfortable wearing it.”

Hey, Lee, if it had come out the other side, you would have spent longer cleaning it and she would have felt even less comfortable wearing it.


THE UK’S World Curry Festival commissioned a survey to see how much Brits knew about their favorite foodstuff. One in ten claimed to have heard of madrasaloo, korfrezi and roghasala, curries which don’t exist. The UK Daily Mirror said: “Curry may be our favorite food—but many of us are meatheads when it comes to its dishes.”


YOUR HUMBLE NARRATOR is still in Ubud, Bali, at the writers’ festival. To tempt you to sign up to visit Bali next year, here’s a three-minute clip of what we did yesterday—I took my daughter to a magical place, the Sacred Monkey Forest.


COMING UP on Wednesday in this space: how metrosexual are you? A grading system for masculinity and femininity...