There's a certain irony to this post, given that writing a blog is all about choosing the right words, but I guess in real life we've all done it - said the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time.
Sometimes it's just plain funny. Like the time when my Mother, sitting under the hazelnut tree in the garden, turned to my beloved and exclaimed loudly, "Oh Philip, what lovely nuts you've got"
But at other times it’s more complicated.
It was probably my twelfth birthday when my parents' gift to me was a hairdryer and some money. I've never really been a hairdryer person; I'm vain but lazy, so the effort of standing there for hours with aching arms to achieve a perfect hair-do was never my thing, but they meant well. And the money was brilliant - ten pounds was a lot in those days, I remember my friends at school being really envious and I was genuinely grateful for it at the time. Until... until my youngest sister's birthday six months, later when they bought her a Chopper bike.
Choppers were all the rage at the time. I'd never had my own bike, and never learned to ride one, I was horribly jealous.
I didn't stop to think about the reasons behind the gift, or the tight finances that might have stopped them buying me one when I was her age. To me it was proof that they didn't care enough to think about what I wanted and that they loved her more. Complete nonsense, but it rankled. It rankled so much that next time I lost my temper I shouted "Ten pounds and a hairdryer! That's how much you care about me!"
Cruel, horrible words. Since then I've tried to erase the embarrassment that came to me too late, by attempting to make a joke of it, encouraging people to laugh at my mean-spiritedness and over time, my generous family have let it become just that - a family joke.
As an adult I've haven't eliminated my ability to be insensitive or stupid, but I've learned to recognise the tell-tale signs - the raised eyebrow, the polite smile and embarrassed laugh, or the fleeting expression of pain that comes in response to a thoughtless remark. And that's a kindness because it gives me a chance to redeem the situation.
But it only works when you're face-to-face with people. The advent of e-mail brought with it a whole range of opportunities for misunderstandings from hastily sent missives. And since starting this blog, I've uncovered another potential bear-pit - the comments form.
I love to receive comments; at their best, they make me feel proud of what I've written, at their most useful they help me to see how I could write better. So it seems only fair, when I read other people's work, that I should say something in return. And that's where the trouble arises - because it does feel like 'saying' rather than writing. For me, that sometimes means I'll fall into the trap of trying to make myself sound clever, without really thinking through or understanding how it will be interpreted at the other end and I'll press the publish button just a little too soon.
A few days ago I left a comment on a blog I admire very much. When I went back to look at later comments I re-read what I'd said. I winced at the horrible combination of patronising and glib, at words which say more about my character faults than anything about the person they were written to. There's been no response, so I've no notion of how it was received. The simplest thing would be to go back and delete it, but that might also seem odd and spark another load of misunderstanding. So I'm writing this with that slightly sick feeling of knowing I said the wrong thing at the wrong time and not quite knowing what to do about it.
If you're reading this as the recipient of the comment, then I'm genuinely sorry. Given the chance, I will try and make a joke or a tradition of it. In the meantime, I shall just sit here and feel like my twelve-year-old self.