Monday 27 February 2017

You don’t know what it feels like! (2)

Having established that I did have a hearing loss, even though it wasn’t significant I decided to bite the bullet and get hearing aids (privately at that stage  – not through the NHS). Modern digital hearing aids can be quite small and as my hair covers my ears, I wasn’t worried about the cosmetic effect.

They took very little getting used to but I only wore them when I needed to (mistake) I also found that if I went to concerts I had to take them out as there was huge feedback (whistling).  It did have a facility for the induction loop – just a light pressure on the aid did the trick.  You would be surprised how few theatres have a loop system installed – some you have to get a gadget from the box office and hang it around your neck and point it at the stage.  I think not!!  I had stopped going to the Globe Theatre in London as they do not use microphones and if characters talked facing upstage I couldn’t hear.  I was amazed some time after I got my hearing aids and went along as it was a group visit (and I knew the play very well) to find that they have a Loop induction installed.  Brilliant.

When I gave up full-time work and the audiologist told me that my aids were reaching the end of their life-span and how much they were going to cost to replace I moved to the NHS which has been amazing.  My new aids even had a programme for music so I could listen without feedback.

How do you know what it feels like? You don’t. If perhaps you wear glasses, perhaps even only for reading as you got older, you put the glasses on and you have normal vision.  Hearing aids are not the same.  You will never have normal hearing again. You have to come to terms with this.

There are unintended consequences too and you don’t know what it feels like.  This is when I would like to have a virtual reality app that a person with normal hearing can use to know what we are hearing.  The hearing aid magnifies the noise of someone turning the pages of the newspaper, eating crisps or crunching a carrot.  As someone who reacts negatively to this at the best of times it is hell.  I once decreed that there shouldn’t be anything crunchy on the table for meetings as the sound of people munching through crisps might drive me to violence.

Of course hearing continues to decline gradually and I am ever grateful to the audiologists and the NHS for their attention, my free hearing aids and batteries.  I also learned that I needed to wear them all the time to retrain the brain.  I can’t listen through earphones to an ipod (there is a Bluetooth gadget you can wear around your neck but it didn’t work for me) so I bought my Amazon Dot with a speaker that I can carry around the house. I read on the train instead of listening to music and I am aware of my surroundings when I walk, as I don’t have earphones clamped to my ears.  The best thing is that, as someone who is noise sensitive, I can take them out at night and it is very peaceful.  Not all bad.

I have no idea what it is like and cannot possibly speak for people with severe hearing loss – mine is not that bad, although a bit beyond “normal for my age”.

Saturday 18 February 2017

How do you know what it feels like? (1)

From the trivial to the serious: this occurred to me when I first tried to learn to ski – and second and third, gave up after that.  I am not naturally athletic (not even vaguely) although I swam and played tennis to an acceptable social standard when young.  So skiing was always going to be a challenge.  There weren’t any slopes in South Africa so my first ski trip was in my twenties after I had moved to London.

Somehow I couldn’t get my body to do what seemed to be required. Admittedly a loathing of being cold and fear of falling didn’t help – the snow might have looked soft but the nursery run was hard packed.  It occurred to me if only there were some sort of suit – sort of physical virtual reality – that I could put on and then it could move my body in the way it was supposed to go. Once experienced then perhaps I would have a better chance of succeeding.

After a few more attempts it struck me that, while the family were all loving it, I was hating it and I didn’t want to spend my very hard-earned holiday being cold, miserable and scared, so I gave up. It was also cheaper to be the non-skier!  The best holiday was in Vail, Colorado where they have the most fabulous public library with huge picture windows, comfy armchairs and a fire where you could sit and read and look at the beautiful scenery. I met the family for lunch and in the evening and had a wonderful holiday.

Now for the more serious: about seven or so years ago I realised two things, firstly that if someone spoke at a meeting of ten or twelve people, I was having difficulty hearing the person at the end of the table.  Secondly at my Livery Company’s annual banquet at Mansion House where the tables are wide and against the background of 250 people talking enthusiastically, I was struggling to hear the person across the table from me.

There are various ways of doing this yourself, but I took a hearing check over the phone. The result was that my hearing was “normal for my age” - most unsatisfactory.  I was furious as it seemed that the assumption was that as I got older I would get deafer and that would be OK.  About two years before that I had experienced deafness in one ear after a bad sinus infection and it still felt “blocked”.  I went to see a specialist and he confirmed that I did have hearing loss – the upper register, and that the infection had caused a narrowing in the ear but this was not relevant.

Whether I wanted to do anything about it was entirely up to me.  The loss wasn’t severe but I was finding it inconvenient.  I have never forgotten his explanation. If you have lost some hearing, the brain makes up for the bit you don’t hear.  If someone is talking very quickly or with an accent or in a noisy environment, it takes the brain a bit longer and the concentration required is greater and that’s when you run into trouble. In a noisy environment you sometimes just give up.  That is why deafness can be socially isolating. 

The next blog will be about how this related to “how do you know what it feels like”.  If you have hearing loss you will understand and if you don’t, please read.

Monday 13 February 2017

Our confused relationship with celebrities and T P-T

The year I first moved to London, 1965, saw the premiere of what was then a controversial play “The Killing of Sister George”.  The controversy was about the assumed lesbian relationship between the characters but my abiding memory is something quite different.

To set the scene – in South Africa there was no television and there were very few radio serials – I have a vague recollection of my mother listening to one in the morning called “Dr Paul” but it did not have the universal following of, say, The Archers or Mrs Dale’s Diary. (The play is supposed to be a parody of the killing of Grace Archer in The Archers.)

Sister George, a “much loved” character in the radio serial is written out and the various motives and relationships play out.  The part I remember most strikingly was the curtain going up on one scene and the stage is full of flowers sent by devoted radio listeners. Yes, this is a parody but surely people wouldn’t actually do this?  It’s a character in a soap opera for goodness sake.  No one died!

Moving on – how can we think we have a relationship with a famous person who doesn’t even know we exist?  It may be the subject of a teenage girl’s fantasies but surely no more?

There is much discussion about whether celebrities should take advantage of a public platform to make political statements – the BAFTAs, Oscars or even from the stage at the end of a play. I am not sure.

However, famous faces can bring much to the discussion and particularly to charities. The producers of soap operas are very careful to work with charities when they address issues such as cancer, domestic abuse, etc so that not only the storyline is accurate but that viewers know where to get help if needed.

Celebrities speaking out on issues, particularly on those that involve them or their characters can make a difference.  Look at the discussion around domestic abuse accompanying the Helen and Rob storyline in The Archers.  If Louiza Patikas spoke out about abuse would we listen?  – but if we knew that she is the actress that played Helen Archer – we would listen to every word even though that doesn’t make sense.

This brings me on to my own ‘relationship’ with a celebrity. In the early 2000s the IT girls were the thing.  Leader of the pack was Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.  She was everywhere, the paparazzi loved her, she had a column in the Sunday Times and her life seemed there for everyone to see.

A PR company that was advising Breast Cancer Campaign persuaded the Sunday Times and Tara to use her column to promote a lunch with her in the private dining room at Mosimann’s to raise money for breast cancer research.  The lunch sold out, we made money (and recruited a fabulous new committee for our major fundraiser the Pink Ribbon Ball) from the guests.

My memory is of someone who was bright, engaging and full of life.  She charmed everyone. She said all the right things and made everyone feel that they were her friends and she was delighted to be there. Believe me not all celebrities are that gracious! We were all caught up in the fun of it and left the lunch feeling cheerful. That is a great talent.

She repeated this at a Pink Ribbon Ball subsequently, although then the strain was starting to show.  So much has been written about her complicated and tragic life, the flame that burned too brightly:  I just hold the memory of that lunch to remember her by.