Why the name? Because, even though I’m deaf, I’ve always had a huge interest in languages. If I hadn’t been deaf, I would probably have been an interpreter working between the less-numerically strong languages in Brussels. I could see my alternative hearing self translating between Portuguese and Finnish, though whether I could stay awake long enough to convey the finer points of EU directives on lifts I dunno. So, all things considered, I’m probably better off out of it.
I’m about to go in for a cochlear implant and so I’ve been thinking back over my life thus far, and my memories of hearing. It’s almost as if I’m trying to connect with that lost world. I thought a blog would be rather cathartic. I became deaf at the age of three: an illness – not meningitis – wiped out my left ear completely, and my right ear became partially deaf. I lost the remainder of my hearing at about age 11 or 12.
Funnily enough, my interest in language started at the same time as I first lost my hearing. I’m British, and according to my parents, when they read me a fairy story which had a rhyme in French, it captured my attention. Mum explained that French people spoke French, just as we spoke English at home, and the same everywhere else – German in Germany, Italian in Italy, and so on. I was fascinated by the idea that people in different parts of the world spoke different languages and that there were so many WORDS out there. It was a huge novelty and after that there was no stopping me. At infants’ school I remember learning Frere Jacques, but I couldn’t hear the words properly and insisted the teacher wrote them out for me so that I could understand them better. After all, I said, how else was I going to be able to sing them along with everyone else?
That wasn’t even my first attempt at standing up for myself as a deaf child. I didn’t have a diagnosis. My parents realised something was wrong, but of course back in those days the doctors relied on the rather antiquated method of dropping the Oxford English Dictionary behind the deaf child. Of course I could feel it reverberating behind me, and so turned round. It took till that same infants’ school to get a diagnosis, by which time I’d been deaf for two years. I used to sit on people’s laps, and turn their faces towards me, pushing quite hard and quite insistently. It dawned on my mother that I was trying to see what people were saying, and when she looked at me and spoke, I seemed to understand better, so that was another bit of information to go to the doctors with. The teacher who wrote out Frere Jacques for me came with them to the hospital in London to get an official diagnosis, when the consultant stated the blindingly obvious – I’d taught myself to lipread . . .
Probably between pushing people’s faces and the diagnosis, when I got my first hearing aid, I remember sitting in my grandparents’ living-room, and watching my mother and grandmother talking. I wasn’t properly aware exactly what was wrong, but I do remember feeling frustrated and thinking that perhaps, when I was grown up, I’d be able to understand everything everybody said: I thought understanding things came as you got older, simple as that.