It’s finally my round, there’s no more hiding. I scan around my friend’s drinks to try and gauge what they might ask for. Firstly, “Fosters.” Fosters fills me with confidence as the two syllables “Fos” and “Ters” have always felt very solid and tangible. No complex verbal gymnastics. Also, it’s on tap so the very worst case scenario is I point and the barman will know exactly what I want. “Fosters.” Easy.
The same go for the next two drinks. Strongbow and Stella Artois. “St” has always been a kind sound to me, I like how I can feel the vibration against my teeth. Also, on tap, next to Fosters. Maybe this won’t be so bad.
Then I get to the wine cooler at the end of the table. This is when I realise this isn’t going to end well. This cooler belongs to Joey, my newly-London friend, who in a bid to look cultured in Bedworth’s Wetherspoons had not only ordered a bottle of white, but had also asked the staff to blow the cobwebs off their winecooler. There’s no chance he’s just going to want a pint.
I’ve always hated rounds. When my stammer is behaving itself they’re okay, however, when I’m going through a more disfluent phase they can be a source of great anxiety. I always know if I will be able to pronounce something fluently, and often will avoid words I know cause me to stammer. If ordering for just myself I’ll sometimes adjust my order to something I know I can pronounce with minimal fuss. I drank Fosters for years, despite it being a truly horrendous pint, purely because I knew that in general I could say “Fosters” fluently 9 times out of 10.
I scan around the table, there are nearingly empty glasses everywhere. Joey is sipping the last of his wine. It’s time. Here goes nothing.
“Right then, my round. Who wants a drink?”
As supected, the first few orders were Fosters, Stella and Strongbow. A holy trinity of pints on tap. Simple, no nonsense nouns. Then I get to Joey.
“Get us another bottle of Sauvignon Blanc please mate. I’ll give you some money.”
Sauvignon Blanc? You must be joking. I think I’d struggle to get my head around that even without a speech impediment. What a mess of syllables. This is going to be a disaster.
“Yeah sure, no problem.”
It’s almost my turn at the bar and I start to playout what’s going to happen next in my head. I can feel my chest tighten, I try to ease the tension by inhaling big gulps of air. I imagine being stuck on a syllable for what feels like an age, desperately trying to manually tell my mouth what movement to produce. Feeling like there is a total lack of air in my lungs needed to produce the correct sound. I imagine how the barman may react. Will he try and finish my sentence? Will he try and contain a smirk? Will he crack a joke? A gap emerges in the crowd, I’m now stood at the bar. Any second now.
It’s my turn.
“Ermm, a pint of Fosters, Stella and Strongbow please.” So far so good…
“No problem, anything else?”
It is in that moment I decide to roll the dice. Maybe I can dodge avoid this after all.
“A bottle of white wine, please.”
I knew I’d successfully put off the stammer for a few seconds. Maybe the barman will just assume I mean Sauvignon Blanc and this whole ordeal will be over.
Ah. Well that’s not gone to plan. I can feel my chest tighten at the thought of trying to tackle “Sauvignon” so instead I try and verbally escape.
In that second I thought one of two things will play out. Either Joey wouldn’t notice I had brought back the wrong bottle, or I could play dumb and say they’ve given us the wrong one. The latter happened, with Joey going back to the bar to swap it and claim his Sauvignon. I managed to complete my round unscathed, and felt relieved that I had avoided embarassment. Not today, stammer.
Although I had saved embarrasment at the bar, it’s hard not to feel disappointed in myself. This and the countless other experiences my stammer has thrown at me will often ruminate through my mind for years.
There’s an old saying in storytelling, “write what you know,” and I’ve been toying with ways for years how to summarise my experience with stammering. When working with other ideas I sometimes found myself feeling underqualified to discuss whatever subject matter I was working with, or wary that I wouldn’t do the subject justice. That’s when I turned my attention to my own experiences, and tried to tell a story which I did feel truly “qualified” to tell.
“Cappuccino” is the product of that thinking. It’s a short film featuring a man with a stammer about to go on stage and deliver a speech, and my mission with the film is to show audiences an insight into the mind of someone with a stammer.
Creating this film has been more challenging that I ever thought it would be. I’ve never found my stammer very easy to talk about, and much prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. “Cappuccino” has forced me to face that anxiety, and invite an entire team of people (and soon the world) into my world of stammering. Teaching our lead actor Ross Cooper how to stammer was a particularly surreal moment. Everyone has their insecurities, and putting my biggest under a magnifying glass hasn’t been easy. That being said, I feel like the experience has been very rewarding.
The source of my anxiety around stammering is the fear of reaction. I stammer because I’m worried how the listener will react to the shock of my stammer. It’s a very vicious circle, to say the least. However I hope that talking about stammering and bringing it into the public eye will help those who stammer feel more at ease knowing that they’re not alone.
Also Joe, I’m sorry for ordering you the wrong wine.
Cappuccino is now streamable on Channel 4’s Random Acts Platform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8QO2PFioLE