Yesterday I gave a presentation, it was a mock one for one that I am doing tomorrow and though I knew the people I was doing it to, fear overtook me. I can talk quite easily to crowds of people, I can have family, friends in the audience but when I am told I have to present to someone, when I know it has to cover certain points, then something of my past creeps in.
It isn’t the fact that I am from a town where a lifetime’s worth of conversation can be said in the time you wait for the bus. It is something that I haven’t really ever got to grips with. I went to school in an age when you were told to stand on a chair, do your times table or read from a book. I always hated it. I hated it because I could never get the words out, my thoughts flowed faster than my tongue and words warped: ‘cousin’ became ‘cushion’, ‘shoulder’ became ‘soldier’ and I will always say ‘dwarf’ as ‘Der-worf’. The problem was in that day and age, some of my teachers were still quite happily slapping such words as ‘slow’ and ‘retard’ on your file. Too many of those stickers and you ended up in a school that became shorthand for Bedlam. They even pulled my Mum in to ask her how long had I been ‘slow’. She was told that I couldn’t read, that I was illiterate. My Mum’s tongue very rarely slips, and what came out was a deluge, they had failed to notice the one thing that gave me away, what I was reading. By the age of eight I was already reading adult books – not smutty or filthy ones but ones that didn’t involve Spot the Dog; by that age I had quite happily written my own Spot series: Spot Ponders The Meaning of Life, Spot and the Accidental Car, Spot Visits the Vet One Last Time and finally, No One Misses Spot. I have nothing against Spot the Dog, I was merely bored of the pap that my teachers were offering me. It was in all essence, holding back my imagination. It didn’t revel in how words sounded in my head. After my Mum told my teacher, they didn’t believe I was such an advanced reader – this advancement came back to embarrass me in later school years but that’s a different story – I was a fat kid, surely fat kids can’t read? It was certainly the view of one substitute teacher I had, who got me a classroom once just to tell me how much she hated me and all fat kids. She was in her thirties, I was nine. Nothing draws the dysfunctional and scared like teaching. The long and short of it was that I was sent to a speech therapist, vocal gymnastics abounded for over two years, alongside with going to the fat nurse – as she was called by the kids, she was the nurse who ruins food for you by telling you to ditch butter and eat Delight instead; it would be over twenty years before I put anything on my bread again. Nothing ruins food like artificial spread being over zealous. Thrown on top was a continued retesting of my ears, for if my speech was off, then surely my ears must be fucked. They’re not, I was in the end told I had narrow ear ducts and an imagination. Yes, after you have heard a beep for the millionth time, you too will think you are hearing them when they are not there. I sat in a speech clinic once a week, my Mum sometimes sat outside the room or in the room with me, willing me to get right the tongue twister as the speech therapist manipulated my tongue, told me I had a lazy jaw and that I need to work harder. I already spoke fast, this set a bloody rocket up me. It is this idea of something being so important that scares me. That words are so damn important when spoken formally. That when I speak in such situations I am somehow doing this to please the people I love so that they aren’t scared for me or won’t be disappointed in me. Still, even now, my tongue, my mind flows faster than it should and I slur words into a thick slick over such events. I am forty plus and it is hard to write this, to even confess it that I am still scared of that speech therapist’s room and I can smell it, the disinfectant, the camphor like charts and the fear of failing to get the thrushes through the thicket bush. How does one overcome such things without platitudes or just being told to relax?