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Bipeuse, n. f., French, supermarket checkout assistant. Etymology: from the scanner beeps. Until I read about Anna Sam’s blog – in French – “The tribulations of a checkout girl”, which had just been made into a book, I had absolument no idée whatsoever (excusez le franglais) that the scanners in supermarkets beeped. That particular facet of modern life just passed me by completely, and no one ever thought to remark upon it to me. This is exactly the sort of thing which will fox archaeologists in years to come in reconstructing the early 21st century world.

But I digress. Thursday 1st April was possibly the most inauspicious day in the entire calendar and I did really rather feel it was a bit of a cosmic joke that was about to be sprung upon me. The Bear practically had to haul me out from under the duvet . . .

So off we tootled to the hospital, collecting the interpreter in the waiting room on the way – hello Laura if you are reading this! – and I was hooked up to the computer. The audiologist went through all the electrodes one by one, for quiet sounds. They were just pulses, which was about what I expected, but I suspected that I was answering them erratically. The loud sounds were next and were mostly beeps, so sounds rather than sensations, and I started to twitch like a little rabbit that’s seen a fox every time I heard something. The audie tried different ranges and then swept through all the electrodes one by one and I realised I was getting more.

Then – activation. I jumped like a kangaroo that’s just hit an electric fence in the outback. I was hearing the audie’s voice, then heard my own voice telling her I was hearing her. I asked Laura to say something and she sounded quieter – but of course she was further away. I couldn’t hear the Bear at all, but this is entirely normal for someone who has had high frequency deafness – apparently your brain just decides to investigate the high frequency noises which are entirely new to it, and files away the low frequencies to return to at a later date. I should say that I recognised the speech as sounds made by human beings, and got the syllables: but I would not have been able to understand the content without lipreading, but I definitely got human noises which sounded clear and recognisable as such. Speech sounded pretty much normal, but everything else was beepy and electronic.

After that, I was sent for a little walk round the hospital, but got nothing of the general hubbub in the waiting room. As I took the opportunity to pop to the loo, however, I was confronted by one of those annoying circular loo roll holders. You know the ones – enclosed and inevitably the end of the roll is right up inside so you have to put your hand inside and scrabble on the roll to tear a bit of paper off. I got that! I got that!!!!! What a funny thing to hear for my first environmental noise! Then I kept getting a loud squealing kind of beeping that seemed akin to the rhythm of speech but I couldn’t work out what it was, until I looked over at the Bear and saw him coughing, which brought on the squealybeep. He really has had an awful cough.

By the time I returned to the quiet of the audiologist’s office I was ready to say that the initial programming was too quiet so we repeated the exercise again so that I wouldn’t be banging on the door asking for extra volume.

I couldn’t make out anything in the cafe over lunch except a constant beeping which the Bear explained was general hubbub, clattering, banging, cutlery, people talking, clink-clink, crash-crash. It sounded almost like tinnitus and not very pleasant – pretty overwhelming. At home I picked up the sound of water – the kettle boiling, a continuous hissybeep, running the tap, beepplashaplashaplashabeepyplasha, swirlybeepyswirl for the loo flushing, beepypitterbeepypatter for torrential rain and tinklywinklytinnybeep for my own wee. Forgive me for mentioning this, but I seem to be in the business of picking up odd noises.

Dicka-dicka-dicka was the car indicator going. Beep, beep, beep, real beeps – which sounded far less electronic than the beepy noises overlying real ones – was a cash machine. We went for a walk in the village. A chattery beep was a flock of starlings – so I’m getting bird noise already – and walking past an electricity substation I got a horrific high-pitched whine which rendered me temporarily deaf again! The Bear couldn’t hear it – but I could. So that makes me the Bat then. Not dissimilar to those noises which are played to move young people on from congregating and creating a nuisance, which can’t be heard by people over about 25. A younger colleague told me she could hear a high-pitched whine from a broken CCTV which wasn’t heard by two colleagues of my own age. I’ll have to go to the same shop with her and see if I can hear it too!!

I could hear planes overhead – we live near an airfield – and began to be able to consistently distinguish cars coming up from behind – an important safety feature! I heard the Bear cough from two rooms away and have since heard him calling my name from upstairs if I’m downstairs, and vice versa.

Two days on the mixture of beep to the sound has decreased and the proportion of “normality” has increased, but there’s little consistency to it. Human speech is much the clearest, still, and never has been beepy. It sounds quite normal. Going to the post office this morning I heard repeated beeping and then noticed a starling flying out of the hedge, and beeps where I used the PIN machine. I’ve been able to distinguish between the sounds of different cars when outside – roaring 4X4s or chugging little cars. My cousin came today with his two little girls and both he and the Bear were GROWLYWOWLYWOWLYWOWL whereas the little girls were piping away merrily. I’ve even recognised the phone – DER-DER, DER-DER, and have been able to repeat back fairly accurately what I’ve picked up – zzzzz-a, zzzz-a, zzzzazzzzazzza for the bread being cut, and so on. Almost too many things round the house to mention now, even little grunts as I walk (oh dear). I was pleased that I seemed to be a relatively quiet eater . . . Also, I’m picking up sounds coming from my left (implant is on my right) and starting to walk into a room and recognise a sound that’s going on without looking at it (like the kettle boiling).

Church for Maundy Thursday – was something else. Owwwwww – it was lovely when the choir stopped, I have to say. I felt quite dizzy at the sheer volume. But I knew I’d have the full service sheet to follow and have the words for the hymns so it was a safe and predictable introduction to words in a different context. It actually helped that after that hymn the organ was not used and won’t be used again until Easter Day – there was only singing thereafter. I was picking up the beginning of each verse with great regularity and singing with much more confidence than I have done for many years. I even picked up the difference between clergy and congregational responses, and could tell the difference in sound between all the readers or between a single clergyman and five men speaking together. So it was a fairly structured introduction to music.

Since then I’ve been revisiting my youth with captioned 80s songs on YouTube – OK, that dates me – Spandau Ballet, “True”, being one. I am getting the difference between vocals and instrumental, especially with “Baggy Trousers” which involved a Bear doing a little jig round the kitchen. Most entertaining. David Bowie’s “Starman” selected from the 70s simply because I saw it once and thought I’d quite like it, I liked the words anyway, and what I am getting is mostly “hazy cosmic jiiiiiiive” anyway!! I’ve also been trying the “The Duckworth Lewis Method”, a paean to cricket, with lots of jolly little songs and easy rhythms, using the lyrics in the printed DVD booklet with the automatically generated visuals on iTunes on the computer. A whole synaesthetic experience.

And to close – here’s one of the readings from the Palm Sunday service in Durham Cathedral last week. Next time I go to Durham – I’ll be able to hear something of their wonderful acoustics! I thought it was a good sign . . .

Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear (Isaiah 50, 4-5, Revised Standard Version)

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