Remember the chihuahuas? I had a couple of chihuahua-free days and then one night just before I went to sleep a wolf bit me at the base of the skull where it meets the neck, just behind the jaw. I’d had a niggly knot of tension there since the op, and the painful spasms which suddenly flared up were clearly related to the ear pains, but definitely wolf-grade. He just kept trying to snap my neck, but in the morning I woke up and found that I was able to turn my head right round, so something was unlocked there. I suspect it might be a symptom of the post-operative jaw pain/stiffness which seems to be pretty standard. It’s getting better every day, but it still hasn’t quite gone. I can’t eat a doorstep sandwich – but then I wouldn’t often do that anyway.
So back to the memories. I just feel at the moment I really need to try and capture some of those memories on virtual paper to give me something to work with. It’s surprising how few of my memories are aural – as opposed to visual or olfactory – but they are there. I can’t remember, for example, what my Mum and Dad sound like at all, although I have retained a generic impression of the male/female human voice. I remember going to a mainstream Church of England junior school with a very strong music tradition, which involved hymn practice twice a week and more on special occasions like concerts or the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. We deaf children in the Partially Hearing Unit were encouraged to join in everything where at all possible – dancing, singing, playing instruments. Now I didn’t do too badly at learning the recorder, though that’s relative: one child making piercing piping wheezy noises amongst other children making making similar sounds isn’t necessarily anyone’s listening of choice. I gave up the recorder, not because I couldn’t cope at that elementary level, but simply because I kept running out of puff. I’d start off with the other children OK and then gradually lag so that I was perhaps two or three notes behind. I could hear myself losing touch with them, but I never did improve so I stopped, and I rather suspect my parents secretly cheered.
I managed fine in the anonymity of the school choir and as I had the words it wasn’t difficult to learn, though I’ve never been a singer. My dad has had an aversion to the Skye Boat Song ever since though, though we did more sophisticated matter such as Flanders and Swann (which went a bit over my head at the time). As I said, we were hot on hymn practice, and as a result I still have most of Hymns Ancient and Modern in my head. One of my favourites from the ‘other’ hymn book, which was more up to date than the Modern bit of H A & M, was the jolly tune of God is love, his the care, with its even jollier refrain of Sing aloud, loud, loud! Which I have done ever since, in the bath or when ironing – I do loud quite well, and can hold the time, and even try a descant, but not necessarily the full rounded tune. I remember how exhausting it was to hold a full Glooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooorria hosanna in excelsis (running out of puff again) or almost whispering the first line of the chorus O come let us adore him while giving the last line the full lungful. I rarely give it the full lungful these days unless I’m in quite a big congregation and familiar with the hymns, but one thing I am quite good at is actually working out the rhythm of the hymn – it can only scan a certain number of ways, and you have the option then of dirge, medium dirge, über-dirge, or mildly jolly, very jolly, or the horrific gabbling scansion of a lot of modern hymns, with more syllables than notes, in an effort to persuade you that the worship is VERY JOLLY INDEEDY. Under these circumstances I literally pay lip service . . .
And here’s a funny thing. I remember being able to whistle a sharp little whistle, but as soon as I lost all my hearing I lost my ability to do so. I had high-frequency loss, of course, but whistling is one of those sounds you can’t really make by feel, as all you can feel is the air rushing through your lips. The phone ringing – der-der, der-der, der-der (do modern phones do that now, and please can I have the Crazy Frog ringtone?) and my little dog barking. She used to gather her breath and do a little kind of growly prelude to the actual bark: rrrrRRruff-ruff-RUFF-RUFF, but it’s hard to disentangle that noise from my memories of feeling her bark like that, a noise that filled her little body and felt rather larger than you’d expect from such a small dog. She’d do the twilight barking thing, which sent my mum and dad insane, but she was DETERMINED to make a noise because she was only little.
I’ve talked previously about how my interest in French was awakened at a very young age. Well, I was disappointed to find when I went to that junior school that I wouldn’t be learning French: they were hotter on music than anything else, methinks! The stuff about audiobooks for post-CI rehab reminds me of something else. Well, at the age of about 7 or 8 I spotted an advertisement in a magazine or paper for Linguaphone language courses. I pestered my parents to investigate that possibility as I realised you got a book with the cassettes (state-of-the-art in the 1970s) and I would be able to follow the words as they were spoken (the nearest thing to subtitling in those days . . . ) So Mum and Dad made an appointment for the Linguaphone salesman to come round. I think he was rather discombobulated to find that his client was a little deaf girl – now I’m an adult, I would love to be a fly on the wall and watch that conversation with my younger self. I rather think that was probably the first occasion in my life when someone looked at me and thought: “We’ve got a right one here.” Anyway, my parents did buy the set, and it gave me quite a leg-up when I finally started learning French at big school. Being quite a serious little girl, I bought an exercise book and carefully made notes on pronunciation. I can still remember switching the cassette on for the first time and hearing the words: Leçon un: première partie. If my parents still have the cassette recorder, I might try and listen to that, that’s assuming the CI works, which I’m not taking for granted, but after all these years the tape might have degraded.
Thinking about subtitling also reminds me that Ceefax was rolled out in the 1970s but remained out of reach to most people for quite a long time. Everyone we knew rented their televisions (anyone remember Radio Rentals?) and it simply cost more to have Ceefax, which was, at the time, more useful for rapid text news services than for subtitles (one programme a week, if you were lucky). We didn’t get subs until, I think, 1981 and I have a feeling that the Royal Wedding was subtitled live (and not very well). One thing I do remember is the canned laughter suddenly roaring out and cutting off abruptly in programmes like Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, so I’d realise then that someone had made a verbal joke, which I’d missed, although I’d occasionally lipread the catchphrases, “Oooh, Betty . . . ” , and of course I got all the visual gags and how everyone’s appearance and body language told you most of what you needed to know about the character. Arthur Lowe looked cross all the time – and he was, in Dad’s Army: and for my money the end credit sequence, as the cast make their way across the field one by one, remains a work of art in conveying the psychological truth behind each character. The first programme I ever watched with subs was an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, which left me literally ROTFL. My parents watched me giggling helplessly on the floor and not for the last time thought, “We’ve got a right one here.”