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For the first time on the train this morning, I heard the conductor say “Tickets please!”

Previously it has been very hard to sort out his voice – especially if I am at the other end of the carriage – from all the other hubbub generated by my fellow travellers: people chatting to one another, bellowing down their mobile phones, children fussing (well, it IS the school holidays), typing on the computer, riffling through their Telegraphs and Grauniads in the morning and their Evening Standards on the way home. Sorry I keep talking about trains, folks: I just spend so much time on them, or waiting for them . . .

My ability to hold different sounds in my head together is coming on, which means my ability to distinguish between them is also improving. For example, at first if I heard the birds and a car went past, the car would completely drown out Mr Bird singing his little heart out. Now, if a vehicle approaches, I can still discern Mr Bird’s tweets. If a car comes along from behind I can tell if there is another one following – it’s not just a louder sound but an extra strand of sound, two similar sounds overlapping. If there are competing noises – the kettle, the washing machine, and the radio in the kitchen, I can sort them out and recognise which is which, though one is likely to dominate the other two – usually, for me, strangely enough, the kettle overriding the others. Only a few weeks back, speech through this sort of cacophony was audible but distorted, but now listening to the Bear with all this going on his voice sounds more like its normal self against this backdrop of noise. In the same vein individual voices are much more easily picked out in the swirl of people talking at once. The impossible I still can’t do though . . .  I went out with friends after work and we took a short cut parallel to the railway line. My friend turned to me to ask whether I could hear the grasshoppers and the words were barely out of her mouth when a high-speed train came roaring past.

These little incremental stages are barely discernible as they happen, but they are occurring more frequently and with a wider pool of people.

I started out picking up the odd word from the Bear without looking at him a while back, or little sentences – I’ve been married to him for a few years now, of course I know what he’s going to say! While we were in Cornwall I was able to have a little conversation with him across rooms in the cottage. One day I ran out to find him when I heard an announcement on the radio: “Now here is a favourite from the Sixties”. Assorted random words have been floating out of the ether at me, and this change in comprehension is gathering pace as the days go by: first words, then sentences, then (limited) conversations; first Bear, then my parents, now other people. The gaps between these events are getting shorter and shorter, and are now occurring on a daily basis, or even several times a day. In other words, my speech comprehension without associated context is coming on. As anyone who uses Skype knows, when there’s a lot of traffic, the picture will freeze. If my mum’s lips froze in mid-conversation prior to the implant, I’d have to call the Bear to lipspeak. Now – I can carry on chatting to my mum though I won’t get everything she says, but it’s my mum, she knows me, so it doesn’t matter!

Continuing with the train theme, the other day I was waiting yet again for my delayed train home when I heard an announcement. It sounded a bit strange – an ad-hoc announcement – and definitely wasn’t referring to my train home or the train on the opposite platform: both were so late that no announcement was due anyway. The lack of context threw me but I cocked my cochlea and my cogs whirred and I swore I could make out the words: “steam train”. Being the people-watcher I am (if you live in the Deep Silence you have to be a people-watcher par excellence, so if everyone gets off the tube at Dagenham East, it’s your cue that the train has been suddenly terminated short of the final destination) I saw people on my platform looking the wrong way: normally everyone swivels to look at the approaching train. That is exactly what they were doing, in fact: piff-puff-piff-puff-PIFFA-PUFFA-PUFF-PUFF-PUFF, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-CH-A CH-A CHA-CH-CH-CHOOOOOO, steam and wheels, as the Cornish Riviera Express special thundered past.

In one of my earlier posts I mentioned (http://wp.me/pPBtv-R) that hearing a schoolfriend call me from across the school grounds was the pinnacle of my hearing achievements – and that not long before I went totally deaf. The other day a colleague called me on the stairs to attract my attention from the floor below and I actually recognised my name called by someone who is not a close colleague and therefore with whose voice I’m not necessarily familiar. The wheels just keep turning . . . faster and faster . . .

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