Wednesday Word Tangle: Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Did you ever have to make a speech?

It’s something that we did every year at my Secondary School. In the First Year it only had to be one minute long – that’s not really a lot of work when you think about it. I could talk for more than a minute on how irritating it is that chin hair dares to grow back when you’ve taken the trouble to pluck it, let alone something that’s actually interesting, like dragons or the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.

And it’s not as if you had to abide by the BBC Radio Four show Just A Minute’s rules, speaking  for sixty seconds on a given subject ‘without repetition, deviation or hesitation.’

We could be as repetitive, hesitant and deviant as we wanted. Well, you know what I mean.

Granted, the task became more difficult. In the Second Year, the speech had to be two minutes, in the Third three and so on until you had to write a full five minutes in the last year of school.

I dreaded the thing, every single year, even though I only had to speak in front of my own class, filled with best mates, worst enemies and a fair smattering of kids whose existence elicited nothing more from me than a ‘meh’. Still, it was a chore. It was a chore to write, a chore to learn, a chore to deliver and it never got any easier.

My son has had to do a similar thing throughout primary school, though it’s only been a minute speech each time. And he’s had the same approach to it as I had – do the least amount of preparation as possible, turn bright red the moment it’s your turn, gabble the words out in a monotone, scurry back to your chair the millisecond you’re done, sit back and watch with smug satisfaction as the next victim steps up for the ritual humiliation.

And yet …

I actually think the school did us a disservice by not making us do more public speaking. Shall I tell you why?

When you see MPs and PMs talking on the news and in the House, it’s clear even when they’re pimply bottomed newbies to the benches that they’re used to talking in public. Often this is because they were privately educated and private schools encourage rhetoric and debate. All that practice in debating societies gives the young oiks a tremendous sense of confidence when it comes to voicing their own opinions.

I envy such training.

I like to think I’m not too stupid. I’m no Stephen Hawking – I’m not even the marvellous Stephen Fry – but I have got a brain. However, when it comes to debate and argument … I can and have been beaten into a gibbering mass of twitching, gulping, inarticulate spasms when faced with someone who can speak with confidence.

Now, I know this failing has something to do with mental agility – my brain must be clogged with silly putty for the speed my neurons fire. But I can’t help but think, if only I had been forced to use my rhetorical skills more often when my brain was still a bright and shiny mass of growth, not the calcifying lump of dead coral it is now, then maybe, just maybe, I could win the odd argument.

Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is brought to you by the word

APOLOGIA, a form of rhetoric used to defend actions or opinions.

And next time you read one of these written by an MP or a PM, explaining why they started an illegal war or cut disability benefit or closed another mental health unit, remember – an APOLOGIA is not the same thing as an APOLOGY.  The clever public speaker has to show no remorse at all to present an APOLOGIA, merely an explanation.

See, I knew I should’ve worked harder at those speeches.

And now, an actual APOLOGY. Ahead of me lies six weeks of summer holidays, in which I somehow have to entertain an eleven-year-old boy enough so that neither her nor I are driven to the sharp knife draw in desperation. There are weeks of climbing, cycling, swimming ahead – not an easy ask for a woman more used to exercising her fingers on the keyboard than her biceps and quads.

So I’m sorry, dear fellow bloggers, if I don’t visit, read, Like and comment over the summer as much as I usually would. Normal service will resume in six weeks.  

To visit the originator of W4W, go to the super Kittykat-bitsandbobs.


Fasten your seatbelts- it’s going to be a bumpy write


I’ve just signed up for WordPress Writing 101 and the very first challenge is a twenty minute free write, no subject, just a ramble through the inside of your own head via your fingertips.

I’ve set the timer on my phone, so here goes.

When you say the words ‘Free Write’, for some reason I think of the radio programme ‘Just a minute’. Now, for all of you under 45 and those who don’t live in the UK, ‘Just a minute’ is a panel game where the contestants have to speak on a given subject without pausing, deviating or repeating themselves for sixty seconds. This is not as easy as it sounds. Have you ever tried to riff on one subject for sixty seconds without repeating yourself? It makes you realise how limited your own vocabulary is.

During the game, other contestants can challenge the person talking and take up the baton themselves, so that they then have to continue talking for the rest of the sixty seconds. I guess it’s a parlour game but transferred to the radio.

Obviously, the best parlour game is charades. When I say best, I mean best and worst. I’ve spent many a Christmas with family, half of us half-cut, forcing ourselves away from ‘The Great Escape’ on the TV to show that we’re more educated than the stereotype couch-potatoes that we actually are, trying to come up with a mime for ‘Dumbo’ without actually being able to think of anything that rhymes and still being politicly-correct enough not to pretend to be stupid.

Half of the time you’re playing charades, you have to explain what’s going on to the older, deaf members of the family, though you’d think they’d understand it better, as you have to use a lot of sign language to compete. The other half of the time you spend trying to explain the rules- again- to young members of the family who don’t remember ‘Give us a Clue’ with Lionel Blair or don’t know how to mime a cine-camera because they’ve never seen anything take footage that doesn’t have a microchip inside it.

There are so many things that I grew up with that my son would not understand- ice on the inside of my bedroom window because we didn’t have central-heating, black and white TV, only having three channels,Sunday closing for shops, the total lack of internet, Ipods and everything else that he loves and takes as part of life, part of life that has surely always existed.

I guess it’s the same for every generation. My mum grew up without any TV at all, only radio. Mind you, she also grew up above a grocers shop, making paper bags for flour and sugar out of flat sheets of paper and having to cut the mould off the cheese before weighing it out for the customer- a different age.

Memory is a weird and diaphanous thing. Once my mum’s generation’s gone, no one left will know what it was like to live that kind of life, that hand-me-down, making do, having the same-stew-pot-on-the-stove-for-the-whole-of-the-winter kind of life.

Is that necessarily a bad thing, though? My son recently did a project at school called ‘Has there every been a better time to live?’ They looked through several centuries with their varying technologies, lifestyles and living conditions and almost unanimously voted that today is the best time to live. For all the worries and problems and there are many, who could argue with them? Certainly in the developed world, anyway, we have better nutrition, life expectancy and entertainments than in any other period in history.

Try living through the fourteenth century- nothing but war, famine, civil unrest and Black Death, for pretty much the entire one hundred years. Truly brutish and short existences. I mean, people lived the whole of their lives, pretty much slaves to some over-fed warmongering lord, toiling on the land, breaking their backs to die at thirty of malnutrition or the ‘flu.

Do you think they were resentful, do you think that they thought ‘what the hell did I do to deserve this life? Surely being a slug or a butterfly would be better? At least they don’t know that there’s a king or a lord or an earl down the road how’s living a more comfortable, better-fed, more privileged life.’

I mean, are slugs jealous of birds because they can fly? Do moths get jealous of butterflies cos they can go out in the daytime and look at the sun? I dont think so. Jealousy or envy is a purely human and rather corrosive trait.

How much better off would we all be if we didn’t have ‘Cribs’ to show us how crappy our own lives are compared to the rich, famous and smug? Wouldn’t we all be happier without TV, without the media showing us all the awful things in the world and the internet enabling us to slag the next person off just because their hairs not great or they’re carrying a few extra pounds?

But then, if there was no internet I wouldn’t be able to do this challenge and meet all the people I’ve met since I’ve been blogging and that would be a very sad thing.

Firstly, my I say that yes, I have gone through, sectioning the text (it was too much of a block and unreadable, man) and I’ve corrected the misspellings (many) and added punctuation the odd word for clarification. I’m sharing this with the world- it’s gotta be slightly legible.

Interesting how much I can write (badly) in twenty minutes. I usually write so little, drafting, redrafting, copy and pasting. If people just wanted to lap up my BRAIN VOMIT (ooh, nasty), then I could’ve written fifty novels this way by now.

Nice exercise, though.