I love speech and listening to voices. I know why. Because of my deformity in my feet, I didn’t play sport, but spent hours at my piano practice, alone, but never lonely, as I had friends in books.
I have often wondered what my village accent would have been like, coming from Hertfordshire, if it weren’t for the fact that, at an enormous sacrifice, my parents sent me to a private school. Just a few years ago on a ship ordering a drink, I smiled at the neighbouring couple, his remark, "You haven’t lived in England for a very long time. No one speaks like you do!” Should I have been insulted? His wife was very cross and tried to apologise for him, but he kept repeating himself. All I could do was laugh! I assured her he was correct; I hadn’t lived in England for a very, very long time. But I am still puzzled as to how he thought I sounded, and why?
Sadly, I failed the exams needed to be what I wanted to be, a speech therapist, so a drama degree was the next best thing. My wonderful teacher, Mrs Cooper, pushed me to perform at festivals and to do well. At a very young age I fantasised becoming a famous actress, and I still remember a cousin of the queen, Lady Elizabeth Bowls Lyon, giving me the silver cup for first place. To put me straight, Mrs Cooper – who had been the actress Deborah Kerr's understudy until she contracted polio and her limp – took me to various theatre auditions one day in London, and I had to write what I thought. At the end she asked,
“And how did you perform?”
“Very badly," was my response.
“So teach, don’t act!"
She was not only my speech teacher but my confidante as well, and she occasionally shocked me with her forthrightness, but I was devoted to her until I left the country to study a completely different career.
I have never lost my love for the theatre, and I’ve watched actors performing all over the world with different accents, all aiming for that delicious dream of success. Then one day I made a call to a Mrs Bird. I was living in Canberra, Australia at the time. She was a private speech and drama teacher.
“Do you have any vacancies as a student?” I asked.
“No, I’m sorry, but Mr Williams may. . .wait a moment, can you come on Wednesday?"
"Thank you," I remember saying. “Because if I put the phone down now, I’ll never pick it up again."
“I can hear that," she said.
She met me at the door in slippers, carrying a baby. I was shocked, shown to another room, and told to choose a poem. She reappeared wearing proper shoes and definitely her teacher's hat.
“Don’t call me to say you are not coming, or you haven't done your homework," she said, in the unmistakable voice of Carol Lynne, an actress I adored.
I therefore worked very hard for her and enjoyed the success of my first and only London exams.
“Oh no. You will continue and get your master's in a year."
The joy of walking in to the understudy of one of my favourite actors, Kenneth More, as my examiner, gave me the courage to do my very best and I passed well, though apart from a couple of students – one a mumbling dentist with aspirations of doing some public speaking – I suddenly had divine intervention when asking him,
“What’s the first thing you ask of your patients?"
“Open your mouth. And yes, exactly, that is what I am saying to you!"
I haven’t used this qualification at all except lecturing in my own field, so who would have thought that I would have my drama debut in the town of Almuñécar on the 8th of March, 2020 on the stage of the Casa de la Cultura, for International Women's Day!
Sometimes, dreams do come true.