How Radio 4 was the Professor Higgins to my Eliza Dolittle…

by Pseud O'Nym

One of the most depressing features of my brain injury is that it has transformed my voice into something that sounds alien to me. My voice, such as it now exists, is only a dull monotone with no gradiation in tone, meaning that I can’t emphasize certain words. Partly this is due to my inability to adequately control the small muscles in my mouth. Given that I have difficulty enough controlling of small muscles, controlling lots of small muscles that are independent of each other is somewhat problematic. My speech therapist perseveres gamely but after such a period between the injury and now, my motivation is at rock bottom. This is in no way related to the fact that my speech therapist recommends chunking.

Chunking is not an exotic sexual practice like tea-bagging, but rather a device whereby one takes a deep breath and then on the out breath speaks. In my case it has been decided through trial, and quite a lot of error, that my optimum capacity for speech is four syllables before having to take another deep breath. Lends itself rather well to witty repartee, I don’t think. And that precisely is the problem. On my outgoing answer phone message is my voice as it used to sound and it serves as a cruel reminder of exactly how much I’ve lost. Part of my problem now is with plosive sounds, these are the sounds of any word beginning with the letters b or p that burst forth from your mouth in a short explosive sound. As I have trouble controlling my mouth sufficiently this can be something more miss than hit.

Also my speech therapist has drawn my attention to my tongue placement, not that I’ve had any complaints about my tongue placement from women in the past, I was always able to control my tongue and its movements, but now my tongue is a major problem to effective speech. By the same token my speech therapist also informs me that my lack of movement in my mouth is in some way related to my habit of stabilizing my jaw to stabilize my system. In other words the learnt behaviour I’ve built up over the last few years is the very thing that hampers my attempts at normalish speech. How times have changed.

Back when I was in my late teens I had occasion to appear on a TV chat show where I was designated to ask a question. Up until then I’d always managed to convince myself that any recording of my voice that sounded dreadful was due largely to the poor quality of the recording equipment. That fallacy was certainly shattered when I saw the broadcast programme. There in full stereo were quite clearly awful sounds emanating forth from my mouth. I resolved at once to do something about it, so I did what anybody wishing to improve the way they spoke, would do. I immediately turned to the best example of spoken English I could find.

This was of course Radio 4, in a time well before the craze for regional accents plagued the airwaves. I listened to Radio 4 religiously and over the course of 5 years I changed the way I spoke. Quite what my parents or my brother made of this I neither knew nor cared. So successful was the transformation that upon first meeting me people would think I’d been to public school and when I would protest I hadn’t, they would assume I was being disingenuous. That was until they met my brother. He sounds like an Eastend geezer and liberally adorns his speech with swear words. One could almost see the quizzical looks as people thought ‘You’re brothers?’. 

Some years ago, around a dinner table, a friend remarked that she’d never heard me argue. I explained my theory of arguments. That people often said things in the heat of the moment and their opponent was forced to retaliate, so that it resembled more a verbal escalation of conflict. By my remaining calm this also had the beneficial effect of making the opponent even angrier. At this she foolishly said that if I ever shouted at her that she wouldn’t cry but laugh instead because she’d the whole idea of me shouting at anyone, utterly implausible. At this I did what anyone would do. I grabbed a pen and some paper and got her to sign her rash promise, which I then laminated and kept safe. Fast forward a few years later and you can guess what happened. Yes, we were going out, and yes, we were having an argument, or rather she was having an argument. I was merely listening. And then I remembered the laminated card in my wallet, so I let rip! As expected, tears came there many. Impervious to such a tawdry show of emotion I continued, as did her waterworks. I produced the laminated card and told her she should be laughing. For some inexplicable reason this only made things worse. I tell you this as a warning, I am not a nice person and if the person concerned is reading this, I would like to apologise. 

Like being the operative word.

Next time…the almost Scrooge guide to Christmas shopping…