Staircase revelations

Morning, here’s yesterday’s Sunday Times Column. I wanted to write something smart and snappy about it, but I couldn’t come up with anything on time. Hope you enjoy and have a great week.



I was on a flight to Joburg recently when I bumped into a client I used to work with. Quite an important man in the big scheme of things. Let’s just say, even his assistant’s assistant has an assistant. We had a chat and just before we had to return to our seats, place them in the upright position and make one click, he made a really rude comment about an advertising job he knew I’d just done for another client.

I was so gobsmacked I couldn’t think of a response immediately, so I mumbled something useless and returned to my seat. Then I spent the rest of the two hour flight coming up with a bunch of fantastically witty and stinging responses.

That’s the problem, you can always think of twelve smart things to say back by next week Thursday. But when you really need to pull out a corker on the spot, chances are all you’ve got are guppy lips and a shrug. These things are notoriously difficult to come up with on short notice.

And to add insult to injury, you’re guaranteed that whatever response you do come up with at some later stage will be the most perfect retort. It will be so sharp, witty and cutting that you have no doubt it would have left the other person speechless, their lips flapping silently in the breeze, crickets chirping loudly in the background with nothing but the sound of your inner smug to be heard for miles.

They’re called staircase revelations, or toilet revelations, because it’s usually while you’re sitting on the loo, or climbing a flight of stairs that the perfect comeback hits you full-on in the face. Neuroscientists say the toilet revelation is directly caused by a phenomenon referred to as ‘The Shower Principle’ (yes, this is all very scientific).

The Shower Principle explains how while the logical part of your brain is engaged in something practical, like cooking, showering, or playing table tennis, it leaves the rest of your brain to mull a problem over in peace. Kind of a while the logic’s away, the subconscious will play situation. It frees up your subconscious to prod at problems with a stick or percolate them off in a back room of your brain, like a mad scientist.

I used to work with a guy who claimed he had some of his best ideas while he was driving. He once wrote a now famous advertising slogan on the back of an old phone bill using a sachet of fast food tomato sauce as a pen, because he couldn’t find anything else in the car to write with.

So while there’s a lot about The Staircase/Treadmill/Pick ‘n Pay Trolley Revelation to be grateful for, unfortunately, as I learnt on that flight, its downfall is that it usually comes too late.

When our flight finally landed in Joburg, and we all filed out down the aisle, I bumped into my ex-client again, holding up the queue, trying to pull his giant important briefcase out of his very important overhead compartment. Unable to stop myself I whipped out three of my five best snappy responses to his earlier jibe, all in a row, one after the other. By the look on his face I can only assume that while I’d been stewing on our earlier conversation for an hour and fifty seven minutes, he had pretty much already forgotten it had ever taken place.

Apparently the window of opportunity on a snappy comeback closes three and a half minutes into a two-hour flight. In hindsight, I should have bitten my lip, pretended my appendix had suddenly burst, or eaten a pie, anything to keep my mouth from shouting out random words in some important guy’s face, like a crazy lady.

I once heard one famous writer say of another, ‘he was so sharp, he could kill you with a comma.’ I forget who said it. Chances are I’ll remember next Tuesday while I’m blow-drying my hair, but by then, no doubt it will be too late.

One response to “Staircase revelations”

  1. Janet says:

    Hello Paige
    Finally! I made the time & found you. Don’t worry, I’m convinced that you will never ever have to stand in the unemployment line.

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