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.


Books in the blood # 1


The reluctance to put away childish things may be a requirement of genius.  ~Rebecca Pepper Sinkler

Ooh, let’s hope so, because I’ve been meaning for some while to write a regular post about books I loved as a kid, books that hooked me, inspired me, and maybe I’ll sneak in some books that peed me off too.

I’m talking independent reading here, so I won’t include anything that involves flaps, is made of fabric or stars caterpillars with eating disorders. Or anthropomorphism in any form.

Truth is, I’m curious to know if the books I read as a child and young adult informed my writing preferences and style, or if I was drawn to these books because I was already inclined to The Dark Ways. I’m not sure if I’ll be any clearer by the end of this thread, but it gives me the chance to rattle on about some books I love.

Now we have the ground rules covered, let’s begin.

First up is Charlote Sometimes by Penelope Farmer. (That’s the book, not the song by The Cure. The song is based on the book, though the video stars a VERY grown up, saucy, make-up-laden version of Charlotte!) 

Now, I was no reading genius. I was not devouring the words of Homer at my mother’s breast or quoting Plath at nursery school or discussing the merits of Dickens over Austen whilst eating my fish fingers and chips. In fact, part of the reason I won’t be including many books for very young children, is I don’t really remember many. I don’t know if that’s because I have a terrible memory or because my parents didn’t read to me – I’ll leave that for my shrink to work out.

But the first book I do clearly remember is Charlotte Sometimes. In fact, I think it was the first book I read entirely alone.

Picture the scene. It’s the late seventies, so there was a lot of brown, big floral prints and the smell of Findus Crispy Pancakes hanging in the air – I guess I’m about eight-years-old. If you want to imagine mini-me, think of a moon-faced, knock-kneed barrel on skinny legs with a huge gap between her front teeth, with long, tangly reddish hair and B.O. (All kids had B.O in the seventies in the UK, as most of us were still only having one bath a week and an occasional scrub down at the bathroom sink in-between. I’ve asked lots of other people of my age and we were all the same – delightful.)

This little barrel is being encouraged to read by her teachers. There is a school library and on the shelves, wrapped in a thick plastic cover, with its dog-eared pages, is this book. Imagine my sticky little fingers grabbing it to my chubby little chest. I open the cover and read…

The book is about a young girl called Charlotte who is sent away to boarding school. On arrival, she finds she can travel back in time, swapping lives with the girl who slept in her bed during the First World War. Charlotte has to be clever, deceitful and resilient, especially when she’s in danger of being stuck in the past forever.

I don’t know what it was I loved so much about this story.

There was the pride of reading a book alone.

There was the whole boarding school genre, popular with generations of children and authors (see Harry Potter, the Malory Towers books, The Worst Witch etc, etc etc) though, as a parent, I’m not sure what it says about home life that many of us find the idea of dormitories and shared bathrooms so alluring.

There was the fiesty heroine, of course – always a lovely thing when you’re a plump no hoper with low self-esteem and bully issues.

And there was the time travel. Now, those of you who have read my previous posts or my About page will know what a weird, obsessive personality I am when it comes to history. It snakes into my own writing – including my YA novel a lot.

It’s an open secret that on the day Stephen Hawking invents a time machine (and he will) I’ll be at the front of the queue, wearing a ruff, a doublet and a pair of hose I’ve had made especially for the occasion.

And, of course, when Charlotte goes back in time, she is effectively talking to ghosts, girls who are dead in the present.

So, there you have it. The first book to spark the flame of reading for me, full of history, time travel, the supernatural and plucky young gels in pinafore dresses.

Do you have a first book? One that sticks in your memory as triggering a love of the written word, that made you read under the covers at night?

Let me know.