The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch…my foot

March 5, 2007 at 11:58 am | Posted in embarrassing moments, public speaking, the horror of it all | 34 Comments

Public speaking terrifies me. This is not a good attribute to have when it’s your job, but I like a challenge.

I know plenty of people who don’t like public speaking, and avoid it like you’d avoid Mary Harney in a thong. I’ve inadvertently gone the other route and always seem to end up being the one nominated to do the presentation or whatever other shite is going on.

To all those cunts who say it gets easier the more you do it: fuck off. It does not. I’m best man at a wedding coming up in August. There are 300 – that’s right, three hundred! – guests, and already I’m giving birth to a faeces-foal every time I think about doing a speech in front of them. It has legs, I’m telling you.

Most people I speak to about it can’t tell why they don’t like public speaking. You get vague responses like “I’m too shy” or “I’ve never been any good at that sort of thing”. I, on the other hand, can remember exactly why I feel like a loose-limbed leper when I stand up in front of a load of people…

*cue strumming harp music and screen going blurry to signify I’m taking you back in time*

Picture an 11-year-old Kav. A shy, dorky little bastard, skinny and small for my age. Hand-me-down clothes. Hasn’t had a haircut in two months. Poor social skills. Thinks friends are those two guys, one of whom kneels behind you while the other shoves you over him and sends you flying into the muck. A little gobshite, in other words. Here’s a handy visual reference:

me age 10

Sixth class, the final year of primary school. Our teacher decides to put on a class play in “An Taibhdhearc” – you say it “thyve-yark” – a local theatre that specialises in plays in Irish. He seeks out volunteers. After the multi-talented gays and the neglected attention-seekers have been selected, there are still half a dozen places to fill, one of which I am unwillingly drafted into.

I forget what the play was about, for the most part. Mine was a relatively small role – I was on-stage for one key scene and the rest was mostly me in the background, which suited me fine. Myself and a big lummox of a lad called Jimmy played a classic little and large duo – I was the clever conniving little fecker constantly up to mischief, and Jimmy was my lumbering sidekick, easily tricked into carrying out my devilish deeds.

My big scene involved the use of a tape recorder. My plan (in the play) was to record our voices – we made loads of spooky sounds and such – then press play and hide when everyone else came into the room. Cue much hilarity as they are all terrified by the sounds of beings from beyond the grave! WooooOOOOooooOOOOoooooo.

That was the theory. It isn’t what happened.

The tape recorder was one of those children’s Fisher-Price types – all chunky buttons and garish colours – and was powered by a whopping eight size C batteries. Remember this detail, it’s important.
fisher-price tape recorder

In an audience of a few dozen (mostly kids my age, which somehow made it worse), I stood up and did my scene with Jimmy. It went fantastically well. An odd feeling stirred within me – I was too young and stupid to realise that it was confidence and pride in my abilities. Besides, that was soon to be snuffed out, replaced by the well-worn jacket of fooly-eyed inadequacy I was accustomed to.

The tape recorder sat on a table in the middle of the stage. On our cue to run and hide from the others, Jimmy pressed play on the tape recorder to start the spookiness and then hid behind a chair. I joined him, running across the stage, overjoyed that the biggest thing I had ever done at that age had gone off without a hitch.

As I ran past the table, in front of dozens of my peers (girls! there were girls watching me!), I kicked one of its legs and sprawled oblong across the stage floor. The tape recorder teetered, tottered, then crashed to the stage, ejecting its enormous cache of batteries upon impact.

I froze. The silence was horrific. Time stopped, then started again in time to the audience’s laughter. They were laughing at me, I’m almost sure of it! I could not move. I was burning up. I looked at my teacher over on stage left. He fixed me a look of utter malevolence and snapped his fingers “Pick the fucking thing up!”. I couldn’t do it. The laughter dried up and was replaced by pity, as thick and tangible as toffee.

Since the tape recorder was critical to the following scene, I essentially destroyed the entire play single-handed. I was so rooted to the spot that eventually the rest of the cast had to come out, tidy up the mess, and pretend to ignore me (since I was supposed to be hiding and playing a trick on them). Sweet irony, pretending to be a ghost and then being treated as one.

I’ve never gotten on a stage since. Not even when the lads were begging me to play bass in their band back in college. These days I just force myself to be the one to do the presentations, as a kind of penance.

After all the talk about how great the blog awards were on Saturday night, I was almost tempted to go next year. I know deep down that I’m full of shit, though. You can blame Mr. McInerney from St Michael’s BNS for my warped social skills. The cunt mocked me mercilessly for the rest of the year after that debacle.

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  1. What ARE you holdiing in your hand?

    I remember, when I was about 11 y/o, I took part in a piano playing feish type thingy. I only knew 2 tunes, one called ‘Fanny’s Power’ (yes, really) and ‘The Boys of Bluehill’. The judicator asked me to play Fanny’s Power, much to the amusement of the other kids who started skitting. Hence, I went as red as a tomato and got all mumbled jumbled up and started mixing up the only 2 choones I knew. I was never so mortified in my life. The whole room of people sat looking at me with puzzled faces while my drunk of a teacher looked like she was going to kill me.
    Needless to say, I stopped going to lessons after that.
    I feel your pain Kav.

  2. I don’t know what that is in my hand. At a guess, I’d say it’s a snowball.

    It’s funny the stupid shite that scars you. The way I look at it, if I can laugh about it now, it can’t have fucked me up that much.

  3. School plays. God I hated them. And what was it with fucking primary schools and putting on plays – especially the bloody CBS schools.

    I used to be the same. Shy, no way would I get up on stage, nor do any public speaking or presentations.

    Until I was asked to be best man at a wedding a bunch of years ago. And had a hoot. Since then – even though I still get nerves, I do enjoy (?) it. Somehow.

    Just keep off the gargle before the bestman speech.

    For my own wedding though… I was so wound up on the day that a few shots of brandy were pratcially forced down my neck by my brother before I had to say “my few words”.

  4. You’re like a wee cartoon.

  5. That’s horrendous – and at a sensitive age too.
    You poor wee thing.

  6. AM: Well, maybe this wedding will be like that for me. It’s all about perspective.

    plimco, just watch me leap off a cliff and land safely at the bottom.

    sam: No, no, you were meant to laugh. Fuck, I’m going to need to revise this to remove the self-pity from it.

  7. Will you please give up blogging and start a book, you have the most wonderful natural prose style. Your talents are wasted on plebs like me.

    PS – I always played God or Jesus in the school plays which has left me with a bit of a deity complex.

  8. Yes, start a book. Write about……..oh I don’t know……lemme think……….picture frames. Cos, I know you would make it interesting! You can start…….now!

  9. Kav, you must have been the cutest little boy.

    I had a similar moment in a college play I was drafted into assisting with.

  10. It would be great, you can write about growing up in the west of ireland, raining all the time, dressing up in bin liners – oh wait I think that has been done already. Back to the picture frame plan.

  11. flirty: Thank you very much, you just made my evening. Sincerely. My wife’s always (dare I say it) nagging me to do that too. I was telling Sweary before, blogging’s ideal for me because I tend to lose interest in my characters very quickly – with this I can chop and change after a few hundred words. Consistency’s unnecessary! I would love to get something finished some day though. And by finished I mean started.

    flutt: Picture frames: Christ in a Transit, give me something with a bit of spice will ya.

    Sassy: You’re absolutely right. I don’t know what happened to disfigure me along the way.

  12. I hate speaking in public too. I get flustered and flushed. I’m a mess.

  13. I love your writing too, Kav. Just do it, gwan! Make a start.

  14. Kav,

    I think it’s a shell, you eejit! Where would you find snow next to the ocean, unless you were in Iceland or something?!?!?

    Great story! Waiting for the book…………

  15. Snow next to the ocean? Canada!

    You should have been locked up for the crime of wearing those socks with sandals.

    I didn’t recognize you without the bar across your face.

  16. How on earth did so many dreadful things happen to one child? Those sandals, the play, being premature, the penis hanging out, the list goes on. Surely it’s now time for things to be going right, so good luck with the speech!

  17. Look at you, though – you looked like everyone else in our generation. White socks, sandals, and are those pegged pants I spy? If I can find the picture, I’ll trump you with a photo of yours truly at about the same age, wearing a peasant blouse, wraparound skirt, navy blue knee-high socks, and brown sandals very similar to those you’re wearing above. And quite likely striking a pose while wearing said travesty. A product of our times, my friend …

    The wedding speech in August will work out fine – you’ll get up there and float along with good humor. And since it would be exceptionally odd if you had to speak into a Fisher-Price microphone set, you can cross that off your worry list.

  18. I had a choice when I was seven either go Irish Dancing or Go to Acting class. I figured there would be less of a slagging if I did not have to wear a skirt every week and so Choose Acting. I did not know about having to pretend to be a washing machine before I made my choice. Anyway I did acting until I was seventeen, I have been on many stages, I debated in School and in college and since I started working I have attended many meetings where I had to voice opinions in front of peer and have given speeches and talks at a number of events so you would think I would have learned to cope with the panic. Not Even A little, To this day even when I am confident in what I have to say I get panic attacks, My heart palpitates, My palms start sweating and I get a pain in my head.
    At its worst I used to forget what I had to say or Started speaking like a machine gun so that nobody could understand me.

  19. Debbie: It’s a bastard. There are those who are comfortable with it, and those who will never be. Unfortunately we’re in the latter group.

    Mairéad: Thankee ma’am. I might. I need a serious kick in the hole really.

    Orfhlaith: Welcome to you. Are you a blogger, perchance? And I know it’s probably a feckin shell, I was only joking. I’m far too subtle, I realise that now. And thanks.

    MJ: Yeah, my dad made me take the bar off my face for the photo. It went right back on after though, I can tell you.

    Carolyn: Welcome to you. Well, I’ve been collecting stories for nearly 28 years – I’m sure everyone’s got funny shit like that that’s messed them up! And just for the record, I wasn’t premature…I was just stupid. 😉

    Melissa: Hah! You know, the only original item of clothing (ie bought for me as opposed to handed down from stepbrother or somesuch) is the hideous jumper. At least it fitted me though. The trousers were tracksuit bottoms for a seven-year-old, and I was ten, hence why they looked like that. If I could go back I would slap young me upside the head and tell him to get a bit of cop-on.

    Fingers crossed on the speech. I’d better start practicing.

    MacDara: I’m quite relieved to see someone with your level of experience saying you feel like that too. One of my biggest problems is the machine-gun chatter as well – I speak faster and faster, as if that will get me finished quicker, when all it does is make people stop you to repeat what you just said. Of course that ends up making me more flustered…

  20. Hey Kav, how’s it going?

    Now, here’s the thing about a crowd. They aren’t a group. They’re a load of individuals. They’ve only just walked in and sat down together and they don’t know each other, so they’re mostly feeling as alone as you are.

    What’s more, they’re each feeling a little intimidated by you, up there talking down to them, and relieved that it’s you doing it, not them.

    So therefore, what you need to bear in mind is that, if one of them stood up and said “Fuck off Kav, you’re only a useless cunt”, you’d have no problem walking up to him and telling him to get stuffed. And here’s the most important bit. Not one of them would back him up, because they’re all a bit afraid of you.

    You’re in charge and they all know it. Individually.

  21. Howya Bock, not too bad now. That is an excellent way of looking at it. And especially good because I have, ahem, a bit of a history with some of the guys who’re going to be at this wedding. Let’s just say we share mutual friends but we never saw eye to eye. I know I’m going to get ribbed mercilessly, but thinking along those lines may help. Cheers.

  22. Kav, I know you have probably heard this thousands of times before but Take it from someone that still gets the Palpitations, Before speaking Take Deep Breaths, Tissue in pocket to keep hands dry Look up when speaking and remember everyone in the room wants to listen to you and are interested in hearing what you say. Also when finished you can sit back knowing your bit is over and others are going through the same thing.

  23. Thanks MacD, it’s the kind of thing there’s no harm in hearing again and again – maybe it will eventally sink in that way! I just hope they do the speeches before the meal so that I can enjoy it, rather than afterwards.

  24. No, Kav, not a blogger, just a blogger-wannabe with not enough hours in the day!

  25. Ah well, you should start one. I don’t have enough hours in the day either. That’s why I’m going to get fired one of these days.

  26. I feel sorry for you, Kav; I know what that feels like. I’ve never been in plays – thank God I was never drafted – but I do read at Mass and have done for a while, so that’s where my public speaking begins and ends.

    One day there was a psalm with the words ‘fields of sensual delight’ in it. I don’t think I need to tell you what I said instead of sensual, but I was almost as embarrassed as you were.

  27. And as for not having enough hours to blog, I should really be studying for a test I have this week.

    Ah screw it, I’ll do it next week.

  28. Jaysis Dario! At Mass? That would’ve been worse than my one, what with everyone trying so hard to remain serious.

    Procrastination is an art form.

  29. Yes, my laziness has unfortunately reached new peaks in UCD. I now have to force myself to get up in the morning sometimes.

    It’s a beautiful thing.

  30. By the way, and while we’re on the subject, what about this McInerney prick? Is he still around?

    Here’s my view on this asshole. He was the adult, not you. It was his responsibility to make sure, as far as possible, that nothing could go wrong. He failed to do that, and then, instead of being man enough to admit it, he blamed a what? a ten-year-old?

    What a jerk. Sufficient grounds for a good punch in the gob if he’s still alive. A good, firm, healing punch in the mouth.

    Blaming the victim? Now where have we seen that before?

  31. Not so long ago I was looking for new blogs to read and I stumbled across your site. I keep coming back, You’re a wonderful storyteller.

  32. Dario, that reminds me of the time when I was a naive young thing and worked at Bord Gais (remember when they were switching from “town” gas to natural gas in Cork? I was there…) Anyhow, this fine young fella comes in and he was in rental accommodation. Most rentals back then (I know, I know, archaic) had a meter that you put coins into, and if the meter got stuck, they had no gas, so this constituted an emergency and must be duly reported. I pick up the phone, dial the depot, and proceed, in my most articulate and helpful voice, to tell the guy on the other end this young man’s personal details (name and address, you filthy mongers) adding at the end, “Yes, his dick is stuck!” There are STILL people in Bord Gais who remember that one! Sigh…….

  33. Dario: I remember those days well. UCG in my case.

    Bock: The thing is, he was mostly a sound teacher. I don’t think he even realised what an impact his mockings could have.

    Nina: Thank you very much!

    Orfhlaith: Nice work. Did the guy expect a shag afterwards? I know I would have.

    Only joking.

  34. we both have those traditional picture frames and digital picture frames at home. both are great for displaying family pictures *`;


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