I walked into the foyer of the theatre, desperately hoping that I could keep my speech slow and measured as I asked for two tickets for the current production. The box-office attendant smiled, seemingly oblivious to my first public attempt at slow, prolonged speech technique and said, "Would you like seats in the stalls or circle"? "Circle, please", I replied, maintaining my speed.
A small victory, perhaps, but one which was long overdue. I was then 45, had been in speech therapy for several months and was learning how to talk correctly for the first time in my life!!
Until that breakthrough, in 1986, I had led a lifestyle that was generally controlled by my stammer. I lived and worked in a way that brought me little contact with other people. Even the early courtship of my future wife was through an exchange of letters via a colleague at the company where we were all employed. I was too embarrassed to speak face to face to Joyce, in case my then severe stutter scared her away. She has, though, been my soul-mate and a rock of support during my introverted years and still today when - liberated in speech and confidence through therapy - my approach to life has changed so much that it might have overwhelmed both of us with me wanting to play too active a part in everything we did!
As indicated earlier, I came late to therapy and at first dreaded what this would do to my introverted and private world. I was having to confront and control my stutter for the first time. After an encouraging period of one-to-one therapy, I was introduced to the therapists' evening group and found myself talking through speech problems with others who faced the same situations. This approach was very uplifting and positive and, when describing your innermost fears and hopes about your speech, very emotional too.
Later, this experience led me to start a self-help group in my home city of Nottingham. At first, it was very like the therapy group, but soon evolved its own ethos with members taking responsibility for the running of the group and the content of the meetings. The evolvement has continued as the group membership has changed over the years, yet some core activities remain constant. Everyone has the chance to express themselves - or stay silent - and a planned programme can be changed if someone has a pressing speech topic to expound upon and wants advice from others on how to deal with a problem.
Speech group involvement, be it therapy or self help, has always been crucial for me. Understanding - and being inspired by - how others have tackled speech problems has always driven me on to stay involved and be aware of everything I should do to make my own speech as fluent as I can.
The feelings of support and mutual encouragement that I experienced early in therapy have remained strong within me during the years since and I enjoy meeting and talking with others who stutter at the Open Days, Conferences and other events organised here by the British Stammering Association. As a Trustee of BSA, I have in recent years expanded my knowledge and involvement in stuttering issues by speaking at European events in Germany, Ireland and Austria; something I would never have believed possible in the introverted, closed world I inhabited for so many years.
I do believe, though, that all of us who stutter want to change - and that that change comes about for all of us at some stage in our lives. Maybe in my case, it was maturity of years and late though I was in beginning therapy, I have made that change. Although I still stutter mildly, I am no longer tongue-tied and afraid to say my piece for fear of ridicule.
On Christmas Eve last year I was doubly blessed by becoming the grandfather of twins, a boy and a girl. Joyce and I are enjoying the early stages of grandparenthood and look ahead with great anticipation and joy as the little ones grow up in the years ahead. If I could have one wish for them both, above all other, it would be that they grow up to be able to express themselves well in speech and deed - but especially speech. To have a love of language and to be able to use it to help, encourage and inspire others will serve them well in what is still an exciting and changing experience for us all - life!