, , ,

Figure Court, Royal Hospital, Chelsea, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, opened to its first Pensioners in 1692.

Last week I found myself at a railway station (what a surprise!) homeward-bound from home to home – that is, from my home town back to where I live with the Bear. I could hear the announcements apologising for the delay to my train, which kept coming: the train kept getting postponed, it seemed. Then, all of a sudden: BLAAAARRREEE BLAAREEEE BLAARREE BLAM BLAM BLOO BLAAAH BLAAAH BLAAH and everyone stood stock still and tried to listen. If you’re hearing, you’ll recognise that ‘trying to listen’ stance. If you’re deaf, you’ll know that feeling of missing something yet again by noticing other people’s body language. This time, we were all in the same boat, as it blared out again and again, everyone on the platform looking at one another in consternation and confusion: no one could make out a bl**dy thing.

Normally tannoy announcements are fairly clear and easy to understand (give or take the odd crackle or three), especially when they’re recorded ones. The live ones usually occur when there’s an untoward event and are performed by panicked staff, who have no idea about volume control. Hello folks, the medium is the message. Can’t you hear yourself reverberating round the station confusing everyone? Why not do a quick test and check the volume, compose yourself and speak without gabbling in high-speed, high-volume panic? After all, when you want the public to act on your instructions, surely you need to make sure they can hear what you’re saying? Hmmm? After all, hypothetical station manager, you have got the gift of working ears, why not use them, plus a smidgeon of common sense?

The platform was woefully understaffed, by which read that there was no-one to ask, so as one we all descended down the stairs to seek information and assistance. The old gentleman on the seat next to me was a Chelsea Pensioner, who couldn’t understand the still-booming tannoy either and asked me. I had to queue up at the ticket desk to ask (where were the other staff?) and for the umpteenth time probably the girl at the desk explained that the overhead cable had been vandalised and our train was stuck, unable to come in. I mean, I would have listened in to her reply to the person in front of me who was probably asking the same question, except I had to rely on my lipreading skills to overcome what seemed to be a loop of noise, and I couldn’t very well barge in, now, could I? (how terribly British!) I asked if they were laying on road transport to London, and she replied it wouldn’t be coming in for a couple of hours. She suggested that we had only to get ourselves somehow to the next station down the line, where different lines join to snake their way to London, and pick up a train unaffected by the chaos. All I could do was snort at their incompetence – ridiculous, two hours to lay on road transport from a firm which made its name originally running coaches before diversifying into trains. Integrated transport, anyone?

Anyway, I passed on all this evidence of incompetence to the pensioner, and said I had a plan. Rather than rushing off to the bus station to fight our way onto the next (and probably mythical, this being a Sunday) service bus to the next stop, I rang my dad. The tannoy was so LOUD that I had to go out of the station to get rid of it, though it was still very much audible outside, but managed to talk to my dad and ask for a lift.

Dad to the rescue! Even now as a fortysomething and with a Bear to lean on, Dad still comes to the rescue! He exclaimed that he had taken all sorts of people in his car before, but never a Chelsea Pensioner! Actually, they hit it off and had a wee chat en route when the road noise wasn’t too bad: at one point I had to facilitate the conversation a little, as I think it was fair to say everyone in the car was somewhat hard of hearing! In fact, we all had a bit of a chuckle at the fact that Dad was older than the old soldier, though they were much the same vintage, representative of a shrinking generation, as the links with WWII fade away.

His uniform alone should have told other people that he needed and deserved a bit of assistance, but I guess that most people would have overlooked his hearing needs and thought instead of whether he might have been fatigued. He wasn’t to know I was deaf too, when he asked me what was going on, but I’d already clocked his hearing aids . . . It takes one to know one, as they say, and, having been too often on the other side, dependent on the goodwill of strangers to keep me in the loop, I’m delighted to be able to help someone else on that score. In fact, I feel proud that I could help this old soldier resplendent in his uniform and his immaculately polished medals. After all, he gave the best years of his life so that, ultimately, really, I could benefit from cochlear implants.

How did I get there, I hear you ask? Well, just think about what might have happened had the tide turned against the Allies all those years ago: medical science might have taken a far more sinister turn.