Speech Therapy

I seem to have been struck by a fear of speaking in public. I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable speaking to more than three people at once but now the thought of addressing large groups brings me out in a cold sweat. The condition even has a name: glossophobia. I think I might be a glossophobic.

Last year, I had my first taste of speaking in front of an audience when I boldly offered to run a training day at school.

And even then, it was only to a classroom full of teachers that I already knew. Still, I was wracked with nerves – spending ages tinkering with my slide show, rehearsing what I was going to say, and feeling irrationally anxious in the lead up to the day itself.

Here’s what happens when I have to speak in front of people: I get really flustered. I gabble, I stutter… I lose my train of thought. I forget key points. I don’t know what to do with my hands (What do you do with your hands?!).


Unfortunately, I was forced into speaking to a hall full of people this week. A small promotion at work means I now have to occasionally address parents en masse.

As the headmaster introduced me, my heart was already beating alarmingly fast. Strange gurgling sounds kept emanating from my throat. I feared that I may actually stand up and be struck with the inability to utter a single word.

I envisaged a horrifying scenario where I just stood gaping like a goldfish, my mouth opening and closing wordlessly. A hushed silence would descend on the room as parents stared agog at the car crash unravelling in front of them. Eventually, some men in white coats would appear and gently lead me away. I probably wouldn’t be seen for some time.

But of course, that didn’t happen. Quite the opposite, in fact. I set off speaking at a tremendous pace, welcoming parents and spouting information at speed.

Despite my haste, I even managed a little off the cuff joke. A few people laughed. Breath… Pause…  Breath… ‘I can do this!’ I thought.

And then it went wrong.

As I turned to introduce my team, glossophobia overcame me.

‘This is our very experienced teacher Mrs G—-‘ I hastened, gesturing a little wildly to Mrs G.

‘And this is…’

I turned to our even more experienced teacher Mrs S and my mind went blank. How does one improve on ‘very experienced’? I was a wordsmith, who was lost for words.

‘And this is…. our… our… old h-h-HAT, Mrs S—–‘ I stuttered, in my moment of panic.


Poor Mrs S looked at me in barely-concealed horror. The assembled throng of parents looked aghast. I let out a nervous titter.

‘I mean… our experienced OLD HAND,’ I stammered lamely. ‘Yes, old hand!’

But it was too late. The damage was done. The word ‘old’ hung heavy in the air.

Mortified, I could feel my cheeks flaming as – ever the professional – poor Mrs S attempted to laugh it off.

Later that night, I lay in bed going over and over the phrase in my head. Old hat, old hat. I don’t think I’ve used the phrase ‘old hat’ in my whole life. Where the hell had it come from?!

In an attempt to make myself feel better, I even googled ‘old hat’. But the definition only made matters worse.

‘Banal… Out of fashion… outmoded ideas… tired and worn out… passe… antique… unstylish…’ The synonyms tumbled off the page accusingly.

Mrs S is someone I have a huge amount of respect for. And I had publicly insulted her in the worst possible way.

‘I’m never speaking in public again,’ I wailed to the husband.

‘You’re gaffe prone,’ said the husband, helpfully. ‘You’re basically the new Prince Philip. You can’t be trusted to be let loose in a public arena.’

The next day I trotted meekly into work, determined to keep my head down and my lips firmly closed.

In the school assembly that morning, I asked Mrs S if she would like to read her class’s poems or would she like me too.

‘Oh, I think you’d better read them,’ she said, with what I hoped was a wry smile. ‘I can barely see without my glasses.

‘I’m just so OLD HAT!’

Skirting The Issue

I’m stuck in a black opaque tights fashion trap. I wear them pretty much every single day. I don’t own a pair of jeans and I don’t feel comfortable in trousers. In fact, I only wear skirts or dresses and tights. I’m weird.

Black opaque tights are the Volkswagen Golf of the fashion world – fail safe and trustworthy. I’ve begun to dislike my ageing knees but enveloped in 60 denier, all nobbles are covered (Marks and Spencer’s Autograph Velvet Touch 60 denier, since you’re asking – trust me, I’ve tried them all); I can’t even begin to comprehend a future without them.

For a couple of years, I was quite happily cantering around at work, 60 denier-clad shanks on display until… disaster! Someone at work allegedly bent over a child in a strappy top and managed to expose an inappropriate amount of cleavage. This led to a lot of serious talk from the powers-that-be, followed by a new dress code thrust into our hands – ironically, on the very same day I had chosen to showcase my rather short pillar-box red Whistles mini-skirt.

The dress code said: No strappy tops (obvs – see cleavagegate); No leggings; Skirts to just above the knee; Culottes acceptable.

Skirts to just above the knee? CULOTTES?!

One stray boob and we were all paying the price.

I trudged dismally home and peered ruefully into my wardrobe. Of my many skirts, 90 per cent fell into the category of ‘above knee’.



I wasn’t alone. A stealth group had formed at work. Let’s call us the Skirt Crusaders. We had one thing in common: hitched up hemlines and a depleted work wardrobe.

For a few weeks, we all played it safe: trousers and pencil skirts being the order of the day. There wasn’t a flash of thigh in sight – 60 denier or not. I even went as far as purchasing a long maroon circle skirt. The husband said I looked like a member of the Amish community. I toyed with the idea of a pair of culottes but then realised that I’d look like a Victorian school ma’am. The threat of only being able to shop at Long Tall Sally hung over us all like a grey cloud.


One Skirt Crusader broke protocol and arrived at work in a thigh-skimming grey number. In my mind, the length of it was okay. But later that day, she was summoned to the big cheese’s office and told that although she had a ‘lovely figure’, she needed to show a little more decorum in her choice of skirts. Can you think of anything more mortifying?

After the hemline hoo-ha had died down, the skirts gradually began to creep back in: an a-line skirt here and pair of leggings there. I began to wear the odd above-knee skirt again but unzipping it slightly at the back to gain a few extra inches. It’s like when you used to roll your skirt up at school – only in reverse. My long legs had become the enemy.

I’ve been on ‘Skirt Watch’ for a while now. The worries of old seem to be diminishing. My fellow Skirt Crusader decided to brave another risqué skirt the other day. I observed it quietly, with a knowing nod of acknowledgement – but later made the following report:

‘Hello Long Limbs. Well, today’s skirt was certainly borderline, with the split at the front flashing the odd extra inch of thigh. It wasn’t quite grey skirt territory but I would describe it as your boldest move yet. However, the length was tempered by the black tights and black pumps, complemented further by the black polo neck. This created a slightly deceiving silhouette. In conclusion, this particular number was passable – just.’

She appreciated my honest feedback.

There’s a new boss at work. Rumours have circulated that he’s already said, ‘I don’t want to be able to see up it or down it’. This might be a myth though.

The black opaques are still going strong.

But, for now, the red Whistles mini-skirt has gone into retirement.