Speak up


Let’s leave the accusations of icy pragmatism to one side, shall we? Hmm? See, after a couple of years of not-getting-the-dates-to-work, I and a media college in a popular seaside resort on the south coast (Hiya Brighton!) had finally scheduled a date to come and address their students. You know the sort of thing, said the course co-ordinator, come down, tell them about your career, give them some advice, take some questions. Which became scrambled somewhere between transmission and reception, and turned into ‘Terror terror terrifying talk silence gibber silence leave’.

Public speaking isn’t really my bag. It’s more a bag I dump under a bench prior to fleeing the city. A friend once asked very delicately if I would make a speech at her wedding, then had to spend an hour coaxing me out of the hall cupboard. I was touched by the request, but also stricken at the torments I would visit on any hapless congregant too weak, drunk or maimed to sprint to the lavs. It’s odd, because I talk a lot, and I love doing stuff on the radio – absolutely love it – but there’s something about being observed that somehow shuts down my central nervous system.

The corrosive sense of personal failure was building up to danger levels (‘Looo-zah! Looo-zah! You a big fat looo-zah!’), and anyway, after 578 years of working in media, I can talk about it forever. So I said yes. But this is where the icy pragmatism comes in: I’ve been so swamped by missing Ma and worrying about the memorial service that I knew I wouldn’t have time to worry too much about the talk if I scheduled them together. And conversely I was so worried at the thought of the talk, I had to dial down the anxiety about the memorial service.

Anyway, after a shaky (and squeaky, dry-mouthed) start, I started actually to enjoy it. What turned it round was one of the students who, as I honked and stuttered, floored me with a smile. It was sympathetic and solicitous and heartbreakingly sweet, but it also said, unmistakably, please don’t fuck this up. And that was it. They wanted me to be good. They needed to know if I had anything useful to say. So, I thought, stop pissing about and help them.

An hour later I fairly skipped out of the place. The exhilaration! It’s done and I loved it! But if I’d done it two months ago, I could have rung my mum afterwards. Damn.


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