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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 68 - The Speech Contest

…Karyn was now in Standard Four. At school it was time for the dreaded annual Speech Contest. This quaint custom of having every child in New Zealand schools give a prepared speech each year to their classmates is hated by all but the most literate of children. It was, and still is, hated by generations of parents who have to assist their offspring to find speech topics and then listen ad nauseam as the speeches are practised and timed and fine tuned…

Gayle Woodward continues her well-read and enjoyable account of family life in New Zealand. To read earlier chapters of Gayle’s story please click on Life Is Too Short to Drink Bad Wine in the menu on this page.

Jeff had left school but did not have work. Woody was pleased that Jeff had shown an interest in his own trade and at the end of the long summer holidays, announced that a customer of his had an opening for an apprentice. Jeff was asked to come in with his parents for a formal interview. Woody, however, the one who could talk with confidence on such matters, was tied up with an important work meeting. I alone would have to accompany Jeff.

The interview went well and I did not need to add anything to the discussion. He was offered the position on the strength of his sporting and leadership interests. And so in February Jeff became an electrical apprentice. It was strange to find him awake early and making lunch to take with him. The motivation so lacking in his recent schoolwork had suddenly reappeared in his life. He was keen and happy.

Mark moved to the fourth form and continued to do well with his studies. He was happiest though when playing a multitude of sports. He joined the school cycling team, which became the basis of a triathlon team and spawned a world champion Iron Man sportsman in Cameron Brown. He played basketball, cricket and soccer.

He still made me laugh. One afternoon he called out urgently, “Mum, come quickly! Something’s happened to my room!” When I did arrive at his bedroom door, I was met by a sea of clothes strewn over the entire floor surface. There was not a smidgeon of carpet showing.

“Look!” he cried. “Someone has messed up my room like this! Who would do such a thing?” Said with a twinkle in his eye and the smallest smirk on his face and so, with a sinking heart at the messiness of it, I could only laugh.

Our redecoration continued. We tore up the seventies green shag pile carpet and replaced it with new and more modern creamy coloured wool carpet. The red and regimental wallpaper in the lounge and dining area also disappeared and new lighter and plainer paper replaced it. The house was looking lighter and brighter and I felt happy there. We chopped creepers away from the windows and the sun poured in through the big windows and made the pool outside sparkle.

Karyn was now in Standard Four. At school it was time for the dreaded annual Speech Contest. This quaint custom of having every child in New Zealand schools give a prepared speech each year to their classmates is hated by all but the most literate of children. It was, and still is, hated by generations of parents who have to assist their offspring to find speech topics and then listen ad nauseam as the speeches are practised and timed and fine tuned.

Karyn moped and moaned. She could not think of a topic. I offered many suggestions; all were turned down. One homework afternoon, I, tired from a day at work, suddenly blurted out the beginning of a treatise on, ‘Why we should Not have to do Speeches’.

Karyn looked at me astonished. “OK”, she said. “You write it, I’ll give it”.

I was sick of the whining and excuse making. I wrote a speech, humorous and simple, I thought. Karyn read the speech. We timed it and added a bit to take it to the correct length. Karyn thought it was good. She thought it was not too good and so would not win the class contest; she would only have to do it once, until the next year. She made little cards as prompts and took her speech to school.

She was most disgusted to find that her/my speech had won the class contest and would now have to be presented to other classes. She won again and was told that she would have now to present her speech at the graduation ceremony for the graduating Standard Four children. She was further annoyed that it was my speech and I should not have written so good a speech that she would always be winning!

The graduation ceremony day arrived. Woody and I settled ourselves in the front row. Various awards were handed out, choirs sang and all the pupils who would be leaving were presented with certificates. Then it was announced that Karyn Woodward would give her winning speech.

She stood tall and erect on the stage with feet neatly together and with not a note card in sight. Word perfect and with intonation and pause, she presented my speech. My words did not matter as her presentation was perfect. Parents laughed at all the right places and as Woody and I secretly held hands tightly and glanced at each other in astonishment at her aplomb, the speech ended to tumultuous applause.

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