Monday 19 February 2018

A Deaf Character

A man 'in his prime', as my mum would say, a retired, silver-haired lecturer, is not peering down the top of a woman two generations his junior for reasons of impropriety. This gentleman has a hearing problem. His head is bent in order to fix his ear as close to his interlocutor's mouth as is acceptable in public, to give him the best chance of working out what on earth she is saying. Such is the first scene in the amusing novel, Deaf Sentence by David Lodge which had me chortling, sighing and laughing out loud all the way through.

I'm somewhat surprised I enjoyed it so much because, try as I might, I'm afraid there is very little about hearing loss that I find amusing. It can be peaceful. I do appreciate taking out my hearing aids in a crowded coffee shop for a spot of indulgent, uninterrupted writing. And it's with great pride that I admit I'm the Miss Marple in our house who tends to work out complicated plots and this surely comes from having to focus so completely on the subtitles of the film in question. I do also feel lucky to live in a world where there is so much technology to help us. Without my incredibly techie hearing aids, I would barely be able to function in hearing society and certainly wouldn't be able to do the work I do. 

But generally, I find my ever worsening hearing increasingly sad and isolating and I can't pretend I laugh about the situation very often.

Witty people, for example. I love funny people. I love comedy clubs, stand-up, romcoms, even my father-in-law's ever rolling conveyor belt of punditry. But these days, I can't always tell that funny people are being funny and that's a shame because I think laughter makes the world brighter. It's just not the same when your brother-in-law, second only in volume of wit to said father-in-law, with a Dad Joke thrown in, oh, every two sentences, says: Ahh! Surely your appointment's not at the hairdresser at two thirty but at the dentist? - and as the rest of his audience either groans or rolls around like little Smash men, you're still wrestling with the potential humour in your appointment not being at the bear presser but at the atheist's.

Lodge's main character, Desmond, talks humorously about the blind/ deaf comparison and it resonated with me so loudly (hah! Chance would be a fine thing). It's the truism of counting our blessings that our disability is deafness as opposed to blindness which, surely, has to be more difficult to handle, but recognising that blindness invokes pity, awe and wonder, whereas deafness arouses only an array of reactions along the continuum between mild irritation and full-on screwed up, pained face disdain. It's true, I've never known anybody grab the chin of someone who's blind and say, Just look for goodness sake! Whereas the look of anguish and the shouted irritation in the converser's raised tones – even though we understand the frustration, believe me, we do – sounds like all the world as though you're doing it on purpose. Trust me, nobody would choose not to be able to keep up with the conversation, give the impression of being stupid, not be able to join in because they can't hear the instructions, not be able to get the joke quickly enough, wear themselves out with the sheer energy it takes to focus on every single sound that does make it through their 'cloth ears' to their dulled brain as it tries to piece them together all in a rush, for fun. There is very little fun in social interaction when you can't hear and to be honest, there is very little more depressing than to be shouted at when you can't catch what someone else is saying. It makes me just want to slink away, hide and then slip away home.

But it's good to remember that I'm surrounded by very patient people and that any situation can be amusing if you look for the funny side. Lodge's book reminded me of that and although I'm a little late to the party (it was first published in 2008) I thoroughly recommend it to readers both with, and without, five fully functioning senses.

The novel also plunged me back into the ENT consultant's chair where I'd been referred as an attempt to get to the bottom of my excruciating ear pain which had gone on for months – three months, to be precise, not that I was counting. I've written about that in The Enormous Hearing Aid Dome.

By the way, I was recommended Deaf Sentence by an unassuming, fiercely intelligent, older-than-my-father-and-totally-on-the-ball retired judge and fellow student in my weekly lipreading class. He also told me that the great thing about being deaf is that we will never get Alzheimer's, because our brains are in a continuous state of brain gym, hoola-hooping their way through the jumble of words we have to piece together all day, every day.

There are silver linings in everything, you just have to know where to look 😊


  1. Jackie - i am reading that book (as soon as i've purchased it!)! Love the hairdresser /dentist comment ! My eldest asked for an omelette earlier so i said i can't hear you and repeated what i heard which was something to the effect of 'cadgahoo zoono please' ( i heard the please!!!) Ofwhich he laughed and asked more clearly for an omlette - more clearly because he wanted that omlette!

    1. Hehe! If you didn't laugh... In that vein, I bet he can say, 'money', 'lift' and, 'come back late?' with perfect diction...??? Thanks so much for the great comment :)

    2. The book sounds great and having had it recommended I have bought it and it is the next on my tbr list. I'll let you know when I have read it. Loved the blog and I bet there is a lot of truth in the Alzheimers theory, who needs to do brain training when you are deaf eh?

  2. Excellent, I'd love to hear what you made of it and watch this space on the Alzheimer's ;) Thanks so much for reading!


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