WHILE easily recognisable as a
vortex of journalistic power and intellectual charisma, I have an
impediment - a slight stutter that comes unbidden to the tongue like a
crumb dislodged from a tooth crevasse.
Occasionally, I halt in
mid-conversation to attempt to crack the hard consonantal shell of a word
to get to the toothsome kernels of vowels or diphthongs. Sometimes it is
easy and I can, roughly speaking, crunch through my speech delivery like
vocal muesli but, at other times words stick in my teeth and it is almost
a dentist’s job to dislodge them.
I have it on the unwavering word
of the London-based British Stammering Association that 1 per cent of the
world’s population is estimated to have a speech impediment, and its
Edinburgh-situated Scottish branch, now being established, reveals that
around 50,000 Scots stutter, some, doubtless, sounding like motorbike
engines being kick-started into life.
The heartless sometimes mock the
tongue-twisted but, for those whose attempts at delivering words to the
pithead are about as difficult as scaling Everest in shorts and open-toed
sandals, a stutter can be a teeth-gritting embarrassment.
started in primary school when our teacher distributed books of an
educational and uplifting nature, one of which was Lives of the Great
Scots. We had to read passages in strict rotation and when I stood up and
delivered, all I produced, as a small Scot with stage-fright, was a
clicking sound like a stick being drawn along railings. In further reading
sessions, my stutter and I took the stage under the merciless spotlight.
mother, disliking the double act, took me to a doctor. "Get him to sing,
it will improve his breathing," was his considered medical opinion. My
mother had a large repertoire of traditional ballads and music hall songs,
was a determined soprano and, with my thin, piping treble, we attacked my
stutter with therapeutic renderings of She Was Only A Bird In A Gilded
Cage, Rag Time Cowboy Joe and Will Ye Stop Yer Ticklin’ Jock?
Boy had my stutter on the ropes but Nymphs and Shepherds delivered the KO.
emerged temporarily years later when I had a girlfriend with a severe
stutter. I empathised with her and found myself again stumbling over
syllables and getting entangled with diphthongs. Eventually we parted,
sadly but carefully, spitting out our farewell words like pomegranate
pips. My stutter has emerged again, coyly but ready to retreat at the
first sign of I Love a Lassie.
Stutterers are in illustrious
company. Moses, "slow of tongue and speech" and living a stressful early
life in a series of rushes, probably stammered. The Roman emperor Claudius
was verbally challenged and George VI had a speech impediment that made
his kingly pronouncements a painfully-embarrassing experience. Winston
Churchill had a slight, childhood stammer. Lewis Carroll was utterly
stuttered at times, perhaps when photographing Alice. Sir Isaac Newton had
a stammer of some gravity, while Charles Darwin also had speech problems.
else? Only Somerset Maugham, Margaret Drabble, the TV and radio
personality, Nicholas Parsons, the former Goon, Michael Bentine, the poet,
Philip Larkin, and others, too numerous to mention and, if you have verbal
impedimenta, probably too difficult to read out without sounding like an
outboard engine starting up.
Stammerers, however difficult
the effort, are now speaking up for themselves. The British Stammering
Association (020 8983 1003), which has 1,600 members but does not offer
therapy, will hold its annual conference in Stirling, on 3-5 September.
Norbert Lieckfeldt, the chief executive, said the association provides
information and support services and runs projects for health-care workers
and teachers. The association’s Edinburgh representative, is Jan Anderson
(0131 229 8069). An open day featuring the McGuire technique for
stammering and other speech impediments is to be held in Edinburgh at the
Girl Guide headquarters, Melville Street, on 3 April.
admirable efforts to overcome distressing tongue trips, let there be no
impediments. To fellow stutterers, I say, as a vortex of verbal charisma,