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Since Mum died I’ve been thinking about how her voice has been taken away from me so soon after rediscovering it.

Dad and I have been having a mega clearout – something constructive and cathartic for us both, one bit at a time. Sometimes we find something, only to keep it after all (though the charity shop trips have been endless), and into that category falls Dad’s latest find, a 1950s Ferguson reel-to-reel tape recorder. I remember it being around in my childhood in the 1970s: back then we used to exchange Christmas tapes with family abroad, not that I could actually decipher Christmas messages as anything more than an indistinct buzz.

Dad’s Ferguson reel-to-reel tape recorder: 1950s technology

Dad tried out a reel and saved it to play back to me on my latest weekend visit. There was my mother’s voice, immediately recognisable and distinct – we do actually have a recording of her after all, albeit from *ahem* over 40 years ago. Her sweet little voice was chanting out Sing a song of sixpence, and a squawky high-pitched voice was having a go at learning it.

It was, of course, me: and it was evident I was struggling to understand and repeat back each line, with hesitations and repetitions. It was also completely indecipherable. I’ve listened to it several times and cannot for the life of me make out what I’m saying. Neither could the Bear, nor my father. The only thing which is completely distinct is when I clearly and confidently repeat back “when the pie was opened . . . ”

I must have been about two or three, about the time I became deaf. I’ve always had pretty reasonable speech and it was a shock both to hear my childish voice and the struggle I was clearly having at that point. Dad had actually warned me that I would find it quite upsetting – I think he was slightly upset by it too, bringing back their anxieties all those years ago. My parents KNEW I was deaf – that recording proves it – but the medics wouldn’t have it until I was five when I was fitted with a hearing aid.

It now occurs to me that both the hearing aid and learning to read came at the age of five, and were probably the twin keys which unlocked the world to me. I had no problems learning and repeating back things I could see and read, but of course, at the age of two or three I didn’t have literacy as an aid to comprehension. When I was given my hearing aid the specialist told Mum that I was already lipreading, but after two-and-a-half years without an aid, it was a self-taught skill born out of necessity. At the time of the recording, it was yet to be acquired.

I’ve got a bit of Mum back, something of my past I never even knew was missing, and a long-delayed chance to catch up with those Christmas messages, to hear people I could never hear in the past, and who are also now long dead too.

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