Friday, 2 October 2015

Speak into the mike, Lucy

It's surely not hard to guess that the lack of posts on this holiday speaks eloquently of sunshine and socialising, the former leading to a lot of photography (and therefore a big commitment to hours and hours of processing) and the latter to hours and hours spent talking with all the people I encounter or meet by arrangement.

This afternoon, for example, a conversation developed between the lady sitting next to me at an Appledore Book Festival event and myself, and, stopping for tea afterwards, I found myself in the company of her friend (now mine too) and six other friends from the day before, or recent days, or even last year. All of them to be greeted and spoken to. This sort of thing eats up time, for them and for me, but not one of us was in a hurry. That's North Devon for you. Warm, sincere friendship and genuine interest on offer. I'm telling everyone that I come to the Appledore Book Festival not just for the events, and the chance of meeting famous people (though I have indeed done that, as photos to come will show), but for the pleasure of seeing people I know, and catching up. I do hope it is a great pleasure for them too.

This afternoon's event included two huge 'firsts' for me.

I had been listening to a chap called John Bradbeer, who was telling us about a new guidebook on North Devon archaeology - the first such book for forty years, and the first to present comprehensive information for an area hitherto mostly ignored: the secret countryside centred on Holsworthy, a small town in the north-west corner of Devon. Unlike Exmoor and Dartmoor (both very well-documented archaeologically) such areas as this receive very little attention. That's why (for instance) knowledge about the Roman penetration of the land far west of Exeter is so thin. Did they establish forts and villas all across North Devon? The evidence is so far scant or conjectural. And the story is much the same for other ancient cultures. John Bradbeer and the North Devon Archaeological Society would, if permitted, lobby for a modern excavation of Clovelly Dykes, a large ramparted earthwork near Clovelly. But the necessary permission is not going to be given under current rules, not unless the Dykes are threatened with natural or man-made destruction. The rationale is reasonable: it's better that such sites remain undisturbed until a dig is forced upon the team entrusted with unearthing and recording the evidence there - because it pays to wait. In years to come, new techniques will get much more from the dig than is possible now. But, of course, that kind of restraint is frustrating!

It was a very interesting talk, not least because John went into the pitfalls of publishing. He succeeded in generating an amazing number of hands up at question time.

And this is where I came in. Lundy (the small rocky island in the Bristol Channel) is usually regarded as part of North Devon. But it hadn't been mentioned. So I stuck my hand up to ask about the archaeology there. I didn't really think that I stood a high chance of putting a question to John, considering all the competition. But the host for the event - local historian David Carter - said 'This lady next,' and handed me a cordless microphone. And I took it. Just like that. As if I handled these things every day. Whereas the truth was that I'd not held one in my life! There is a picture of me apparently doing a bit of stand-up at the Brighton Komedia last year, but it was a soundless spoof, faked for a photograph, in an empty auditorium. This was for real, with a hundred people within a few yards, all giving my question their full attention. An Oh-My-God situation if ever there was one!

But there was no time for embarrassment or wondering what everyone would think. I held the mike in front of my mouth and said, 'What's the position, please, with archaeology on Lundy, the lump of rock out in the Bristol Channel?' Then I handed the mike back to David. Lump of rock? Not my best phrase ever. I hoped it was a sensible question. Apparently it was.

I was shocked to hear my voice, though. I had no idea that my voice would sound like that, when speaking into a modern, high-tech microphone. And I had to accept that this was an authentic rendition, because I knew how some other people I'd met and heard in Appledore sounded with the same equipment. It made their voice louder and fuller, but hadn't altered the pitch nor anything that especially characterised it. Therefore what I heard in the hall, what everyone present heard, was my true voice, and not the version I heard in my head when talking. A purer voice, not muffled or altered by skull bones and cavities; and detached from the physicality of my tongue, teeth, lips, palate, and nose.

This voice was high and clear and almost musical. A silver voice, not a brown one. Not what I normally heard at all when speaking. Was that really me? Is this what other people heard when I spoke to them?

It wasn't completely different. It was still a carefully-spoken, normally-educated voice, and without any accent. In fact, without any definite character that would label me - unless possessing a vaguely 'middle-class' voice was a label.

It was all oddly fascinating. The very first time in my life that I'd heard my own amplified voice. And the very first time that I'd spoken to strangers in a public hall. Two firsts.

Perhaps you can see why this might be huge for me. Even though everyone else must have thought 'That's just Lucy, but louder.'

Well, I've gained a little more self-confidence. One less thing to hold me down.


  1. 'Lump of rock' indeed! When do we get to know John's answer?

    I remember well my only visit to Lundy. On the way back to Ilfracombe, I remarked that all aircraft overhead, with their distinct vapour trails,were going in the same direction - up the Bristol Channel. It was September 11th 2001. When we reached land we soon discovered the reason.

  2. I was pre school age when my neighbour bought a tape recorder, a rare device in the 50's.

    Memories of the refusal to speak because it would not record the voice which I already knew I should have.

    When you are happy to be heard in public you know things are going right...

  3. I am reminded of that scene in the King's Speech where Lionel provokes King George to shout, "I have a voice!" From the conversation with the little children a few weeks ago, to the elderly woman on the bench in Sidmouth(I hope my memory serves me correctly), to a lecture in Devon with a microphone in hand, you too have a voice. It's wonderful! All the best, Kati


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