Sunday, 5 April 2009

I Can Talk The Talk, But Can I Walk The Walk?

Public speaking is on my mind at the moment. I have been busy learning my speech for my daughter, Kathleen’s wedding in three weeks’ time. It’s the second wedding in eight months so I have a clearer idea what to expect this time. However, this speech is decidedly more difficult than the last one because the first few sentences are in Greek, since the groom’s family are Greek Cypriots and quite a large number of them are coming over from Cyprus especially for the occasion. I don’t actually speak Greek so I am learning this parrot-fashion.

I also heard this week that a school in Essex has won me as a prize, or at least they have won a visit from me as part of a competition organized by a website called Reading Zone.

Some writers are daunted by speaking about their work in public. I’ve got a friend who writes literary fiction for adults. Her novel came out about a month ago and she is utterly terrified every time she is asked to speak about it. I’ve tried telling her that the audiences at book events are generally supportive but she says that I’m missing the point. It’s the whole business of getting up in front of strangers and talking about who you are and what you do that she finds so excruciatingly painful.

I think I had this knocked out of me by being a secondary school teacher in Inner London for ten years. If you’ve stood up in front of thirty stroppy teenagers day after day and tried to control the ravening beast that is their collective psyche, any speech, whether to wedding guests or bibliophiles, holds very few terrors.

I remember one occasion when it had been snowing heavily in London. The roads had been partially cleared but huge mounds of dirty snow and slush were piled up at the kerbs.  In those days I rode a bicycle to and from school. When I set off for home that afternoon, almost the entire class for whom I was responsible was standing at the bus stop. As I drew level with them, the wheels of my cycle began to lose traction, spinning hopelessly on the icy surface. Then, slowly but surely,  I started to fall sideways, landing unceremoniously in one of the enormous drifts of snow.

When I re-emerged, totally soaked and utterly humiliated, it was to a great roar of delight from my students. Shivering, I re-mounted my bike and cycled home in the certain knowledge that in less than twenty four hours I would be facing that same audience, trying to make them concentrate on Shakespeare.  By comparison, delivering a speech in Greek is going to be a piece of cake.

No, public speaking does not worry me. The thing that really terrifies me is public walking. I have this recurrent nightmare that I am proceeding with great dignity up the aisle, my daughter on my arm. A string quartet is playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D. The groom and the best man are standing ready and waiting. The guests are all looking at Kathleen and smiling benignly. And that’s when I step on the hem of her dress. There is a ripping sound, she stumbles and falls forward. The music stops abruptly. The guests give a collective gasp of dismay. Kathleen looks up from the ground with tears in her eyes. Her ankle is broken, the wedding is ruined and it is all my fault. 


Paul Lamb said...

I had such a terrible head cold and was using so much cold medicine at my own daughter's wedding that all of those things you related may actually have happened to me. If so, everyone has been kind and not told me.

I don't know why it is that I don't have a great fear of public speaking. I certainly don't have your experiences to support me, but I just seem to be able to stand up and speak.

Foxi Rosie said...

Brian... get a grip... you will be magnificent... just think My Big Fat Greek Wedding and get your windex ready... just in case.