Most people who can hear have a kind of soundtrack to their lives, including the music of significant moments. I don’t have any of that: living in the Deep Silence for over 30 years, no chance. I mean, I trotted up the aisle on my father’s arm to Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Handel and it could have been Nellie the Elephant for all the difference it would have made to me, though I suspect our wedding guests would have thought the latter slightly odd! As we approached the quire I could feel the organ music beneath my feet and that was about it really, a felt impression.
Nevertheless I was fully involved in choosing the hymns – ones that I liked singing – so between us the Bear and I settled on a decent selection which were appropriate to the occasion and neither Jerusalem nor All Things Bright and Beautiful (both lovely in their own right, but I understand why some vicars struggle with these as they really aren’t wedding hymns!) I’ve always loved singing, but it would be fair to say that it’s just lung exercise on my part and not necessarily to be inflicted on others. Dad always used to say with a smile that my singing would kill a thousand dragons, which was really quite restrained after hearing the Skye Boat Song for the umpteenth time as I committed it to memory for an Essex Schools’ Choir Competition circa 1976.
Dragons were a theme that long hot summer of 1976, I think: we had a plague of wasps and Dad would re-enact what he termed the Battle of St. Dad and the Wasp on a regular basis. SWAT! THWACK! with a rolled-up newspaper. SWAT! THWACK! BASH! Funny thing is that I don’t ever remember hearing the bzz bzz bzzzz of a wasp or a bee, which really shows how deaf I was even with my hearing aid. It was about this time, or maybe a bit earlier, that Dad built a little crane capable of lifting up the front of the car so he could work underneath safely. If I was lucky, when he’d finished he would attach my bike to the crane, I’d get on, and end up pedalling madly in the air. I liked the whish, whish, sound the bike wheels made, lacking resistance in the air, compared to the sound on the pavement or in the garden.
As all little girls do, I was very into doing handstands and the like. We had an inflatable boat and it did double duty when we weren’t at the seaside, in the garden. I used to love doing my handstands from outside into the boat and – I’d forgotten this until now – the slither, bump, as I landed on the plastic tubes. Crumbs – now the cree-eack of the swing in the old laburnum tree comes back to me. The laburnum had a crack in it and the branch would creak protestingly as I swung, with a little rattle from the beads at the front of the seat made, I think, from bits from my old playpen. At school we’d sing rhymes while skipping and listen out for ghosts at a corner of the building where the wind had a habit of making a funny whoo-whoo noise.
We had a holiday on the Isle of Wight that year and I absolutely adored the Blackgang Chine theme park. My favourite bit was re-enacting all the things I’d seen and heard in the Wild West movies – we have some cine footage of me repeatedly bursting into and out of the saloon doors because I just loved the noise. PSST as I pushed them back – CLATTERBANG. CLATTERBANG. CLATTERBANG.
But you see, I was so deaf I couldn’t hear my parents calling me, so Dad rigged up a communications system with coloured lightbulbs, one upstairs and one downstairs, with codes using various combinations of flashes for what they wanted me for, for example, “Helen’s come round to play”, “Tea’s ready” and so on. A home-made Morse code: I think we carried on using it until I went away to university, though obviously, by that time “Helen’s come round to play” was long defunct.
Going a wee bit further back one of my seminal moments was sitting in my grandparents’ living room stroking the cat watching Mum and Nana having a chat. I remember the purring vibrating through her little body – not necessarily then, but as we visited my grandparents every day I knew what it felt like when she purred. We were all eating dark choc ices – quite a treat – and I can still smell my grandparents’ house, just thinking about it. (I loved their house so much I actually wrote a little guidebook to it when I was a couple of years older, which I still have somewhere: see, that’s the trouble, once you start doing an archaeological excavation of your memories.)
Anyway, I must have been about 5, I think, and it was the first time I was really conscious that I had a hearing problem. I tried to listen to what they were saying but I really couldn’t understand: I could hear the sound of words but not make sense of them at all, even though I was sitting right there in front of them. I thought about it for a bit but didn’t come to any conclusion that I was different or had a problem as such. Instead I remember thinking to myself that it was because I was too little to understand and that when I became a grown-up it would all be different and I’d understand everything. Obviously I wasn’t too sure about this, or it wouldn’t have stayed with me all my life.
The thing is now – with all the sounds generated by the leaps in technology since then: mobile ringtones, laptops and the like – the world seems an incredibly familiar place. It’s the same soundscape that I remember. When I heard the phone for the first time it was achingly familiar despite the tonal difference: the rhythm was the same. I’m actually quite shocked by what I DO remember: I thought I’d try a lot of easy-listening music as it clearly had to do what it said on the tin, and dug out an album (albeit on YouTube: those advances in technology!) by Bert Kaempfert, A Swingin’ Safari, a favourite of my parents’ when I was young. WHOOOOMPF. It was visceral. I hadn’t heard anything for over 30 years and one by one every single one of those tracks punched me in the stomach, when I hadn’t even given them a thought for all that time. I’d forgotten them, but they remembered me. All this happened maybe a couple of months ago and it still rocks me to the core that something this random stayed embedded in me after all this time. I even identified the one piece of music I didn’t like then – and I still don’t like it now.
I-pod, here I come: can I have a blue one, please? (Hint to Bear . . .)