St Mary's church, Upton on Mersey

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Stammering

Clive Upton

 


As far as I remember, I started stammering when I was six or so. It’s thought that it’s an inherited predisposition which can be ‘brought out’ by stress. My mother stammered in her teens, and her father had the problem also. And then I had several frightening stays in hospital in my early years – probably easily enough to bring out my stammering.

 

Through secondary school it grew gradually worse and reached its all time low when I was at university, where I wrote:

 

Looking through the grey-green bars

that are eyes

Gazing up to the free blue sky

of faces

struggling

to be free

Looking through the bars

and the cracks in the door

am half-free

But freedom only lies

through the door

once open

now locked

and the key lost amongst the long grass of years

 

Sometimes through the bars is seen

beauty and kindness

with hair blowing in the wind

Then

calling through the silent bar

spasms shaking the thick door

homesick

But smiling passes

with hair blowing in the wind.

 


The fluency of anyone’s speech would break down if they were under sufficient stress. With the person who stammers it seems that the stress threshold is much lower than for other people. Stress comes and they put the punctuation in all the wrong places:

 

When I stammered much more than I do now,

it was because I put the punctuation

in all the wrong places …

after every couple of words

I made a dash,

and then shuddered to a full stop

as I ceased breathing,

shut my eyes, pulled a face,

became practically comma-tose,

and did everything most unlikely

to produce any speech –

no breathe, no talk!

 

Punctuate my life

that I may pause to breathe,

oxygenate me to colon depths;

make fluent sentences of my days,

let love be my continual parenthesis,

semi-colon me tender and sensitive,

power me to fly with joy along the line

to each exclamation mark!

And make what may seem my final full-stop

to be but a comma

in the paragraph of your purposes!

 


Over the years I tried about 25 therapies, eventually finding one a few years ago which really helped, and another since then which has helped me to take the improvement further. This has enabled me to do things I once could only have dreamed of – reading my poetry in all sorts of situations, including to several hundred people at a carol concert, to airwave audiences on the local Christian radio station; and managing to say ‘I will’ to my wife on our wedding day!

 

P-plagued from my early years

w-with not being able to get out my words

as easily as I w-w-would like to have done,

particularly if, like my surname,

---------------- U-U-U-Hupton,

they began with a short vowel,

and especially if I was talking to a g-g-girl,

like the one who, when I opened my eyes

after struggling to speak with grimaced face,

was no longer there!

 

But I’ve received great help in recent years,

duly continuing, and one day,

when the eyes of the blind are opened,

when the ears of the deaf are unstopped.

when the lame leap like a deer,

then the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear,

and you’ll need to

w-watch out for the chatterbox in the corner!

 


But it’s good that God doesn’t stammer, isn’t it?

 

I used to find it so difficult to get my words out -

they were clear in my mind,

but imprisoned inside me,

as my face contorted and my eyes shut,

and those who listened patiently

could only guess at what I was trying to say.

 

I’m so glad that God doesn’t stammer

but has spoken clearly to us –

to our forefathers through the prophets

at many times and in various ways;

and that in these last days

he has spoken to us by his Son:

his Word made flesh,

in whom his glory shines

and who represents him

exactly.

 

I’m so glad that God doesn’t stammer

or I’d have never known

that for those with faith in Jesus

there’ll be a new earth

where the eyes of the blind will be opened,

the ears of the deaf unstopped,

where the lame will leap like a deer,

the mute tongue shout for joy,

and where the stammering tongue

will be fluent and clear!

 


The film The King’s Speech has brought stammering into the public eye.

 

The King’s Speech –

I really enjoyed the film –

especially the moment the therapist’s wife

came home and found the Queen

in her front room

and then the King in her back room!

How difficult for him to have to speak

to such huge numbers of people!

 

Probably I won’t end up living at Buckingham Palace,

but I have been adopted into the Royal Family,

and now my aim is to give,

as expressively and as fluently as I can,

wherever I have opportunity,

the King’s Speech.

 


Do contact me if you would like to – about stammering, and for details of the two therapies I have found particularly helpful. I’d be happy to talk , please contact the Church Office 0151 677 1186 and leave your telephone number or email and they will pass it on to me. I’m not ‘cured’, but I’m so much better than I was.

 

And so we end my stammering story told so far

in words of metaphor and rhyme,

and here, with you, I stand within the potter’s hands,

and pray that he may make from this rough clay

someone from whom his beauty more may shine,

til come the day when we shall see him face to face

and in that place completely be as he.

 


For those interested in finding out more, I can recommend

  • The British Stammering Association
  • .