I was at a gala dinner, and finding myself next to a reporter’s wife I was suddenly struck dumb. Thinking hard I noticed the telltale bump and so with the best smile I could muster I asked the obvious question –  when’s the baby? No pregnancy, no baby. She had just put on some weight. Oops. Double gaffe. Let’s just say I’m still waiting for the Christmas card.

I’m sure you’ve stumbled into a similar situation. Perhaps not a gaffe quite as high on the Richter scale as mine, but a trifle embarrassing. And sometimes you forget who you are talking to. Or who might be listening. For example – and yes, it’s me again – one time in my teens I took a bus ride to town with some friends. We had a half day off school and I started blathering about our principal, complaining about what a pain in the backside he was, not realising he was sitting two seats in front and had heard every word. To his credit he kept his mouth shut and I learned (for a while) a valuable lesson: look before you talk.

We tiptoe around certain subjects such as separation/divorce, cancer, death, illness, disability, suicide, where a friend/colleague has been directly affected.  We all try to be as sensitive as possible but sometimes we just forget and cause unnecessary hurt.

Now I’m fairly relaxed if someone chats about fire tragedies, plastic surgery and the latest “beautiful” actress or model. You can talk candidly and I’ll scarcely give it a thought.

Which is probably why a colleague one day broached the subject of cremation. Look at the advantages? he enthused; no burial plot, lower costs, etc. On and on he went. And then he asked me a question I could see coming: “So which would you prefer, cremation or a traditional funeral?”

“Eh, Gerry, I think I’ll opt for a burial. I’ve been burned once, I’m not letting it happen a second time,” I responded.

Seconds later the penny dropped with Gerry and we both laughed.

Humour, even about a difficult subject, can defuse most situations.