Monday, 17 August 2015

Deaf Girly and the tennis

The strangest thing has happened to me recently.

I have become a tennis fan.

If you'd asked me even two years ago whether I liked tennis, I would have muttered something about Wimbledon and changed the subject.

But now, I'm a proper fan. I have an app on my phone – well several in fact – that give me draws, results, news and basically minute-by-minute update on matches and tournaments... day and night. I shout at the TV too, when I am worried that the amazingly wonderfully fabulous Andy Murray won't win.

And I love it.

The reason why? FJM has taught me about it. He's explained the rules, the way the points system works – ANDY MURRAY IS NUMBER 2 IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW YOU KNOW? – and who's who in the amazing ATP and WTA tour and beyond.

He's taken me to see live tennis at Rotterdam, Queens and Eastbourne and last night we got the double treat of watching Belinda Bencic and Andy Murray win their respective tournaments in Canada (on TV sadly). It was brilliant.

Growing up I had an average interest in sport. Top of the list was rounders – possibly because it was the first sport I learnt and I was the least deaf then – and then hockey, netball, tennis and cross country running were all grouped together in the 'things I regularly tried to get out of' category.

Looking back, apart from the cross country running, which is just evil, I think part of the problem with the other sports was that I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea what the rules were – and for some reason it never occurred to me to find out – and I couldn't hear the teacher yelling instructions or the whistle. 

Randomly though, this didn't stop my PE teachers from putting me in the teams. I was goal keeper in hockey and a wing for the year above. I had absolutely no idea what a short corner was (to this day I still don't) and yet I still had to take them, which usually involved the referee yelling something at me until I thwacked the ball in the vague direction of someone on my team and hoped for the best.

With tennis, I really didn't understand the rules and it didn't help that the teacher had the strongest Welsh accent in the world and a beard. It would have been easier trying to lipread a chipmunk on a trampoline. He'd shout and yell at me and I had no clue what was going on. I used to be pushed forward and back in doubles, hit the ball in all directions and gradually – in about two weeks flat – decided that I hated tennis.

Why didn't I say, 'Um, Sir, what the hell is going on?' Well I guess at 8 years old, and not yet aware of the fact that I was going deaf, I just assumed that everyone else had no clue what was going on. Something I did a lot back then. I thought that French listening was meant to be difficult to hear and that Dictation – where the teacher read out a story that you had to write down, was intermittent words so you had to make up the rest.

I did not understand school at all. It felt like one big challenge that I couldn't work out.

Looking back, I wish I had known about my deafness back when I first started to learn tennis. I wish I had been the proactive, TELL ME WHAT I'VE MISSED, person that I am now, as I might have actually learnt it earlier, been able to play it and understand it, and had a lifetime of being a fan under my belt. As it was, I was so completely hopeless that I got moved down to join the juniors with the giant red plastic racquets and yellow foam balls, which destroyed any interest I had in the sport for the next 25 years.

All is not lost however, because I get it now. I understand and love it.

So perhaps now I should see if I can put my knowledge into practice and try actually playing tennis again. Twenty five years later, you never know, I could be alright.

Happy Monday peeps


Friday, 14 August 2015

Deaf Girly and the silent Prom

Yesterday I went to the see a Prom with The Rents at the Royal Albert Hall. I love going to the Proms – there's something about the amazing location, comfy seats and usually excellent selection of music that means that you float out afterwards inspired and happy.

Ondes Martenot (Image from Wikipedia)

Last night Pa was very excited as it was a performance of Olivier Messiaen's TurangalĂ®la Symphony, which features an instrument called the Ondes Martenot – an electronic piano invented in 1928. Even more exciting was that the person playing it actually knew Messiaen when he was alive.

And so, after the first half, which was John Foulds' Three Mantras – wonderful wonderful music – we settled back and waited for the performance to begin.

I was so excited to hear what this funny-looking piano might sound like – Pa described it as other worldly – but as the music started and the performer began to play, I realised that I couldn't hear it at all. Maybe it was because we were sat behind the orchestra and the sound was projected forward only, maybe it was because the brass had very active roles in the piece and I can hear brass better than any other instrument, or maybe it was because it was high-pitched. Whatever it was, I still don't have any idea what the Ondes Martenot sounds like.

I sat there for a while trying to make sense of the sounds I could make out but they lacked structure and being quite modern sounding, I was unable to guess the bits I couldn't hear. This is something with the big classical composers like Mozart and Beethoven I can do – I can imagine the violin parts when I hear the cello and double basses play. And imagine the flutes and oboes alongside the clarinets and bassoons. I'm pretty sure it's not accurate but my head just fills in the blanks for me to help make the music more 3D.

Anyway, as unintelligible noise assaulted my ears, I started to feel my eyes close, which when you're sat behind the orchestra in full view of the rest of the Albert Hall – and known for sleep shouting – is not ideal.

'Must. Stay. Awake.' I ordered myself as I dozed off again. 'Must. Stay. Awake.' and then I remembered I had my Kindle in my bag with Lucy Robinson's new book The Day We Disappeared waiting to be read (which is brilliant by the way). And that's what I did. For the 60 minutes left of the performance, I tucked my Kindle inside my programme, so as not to appear to rude and read. And do you know what? It made the music I could hear more bearable. When it was the secondary thing I was concentrating on, the loud brass was interesting and rhythmic and the bassoons were amazing.

Applauding loudly at the end, I realised that for the first time, maybe ever, I wasn't feeling sad about the fact I'd just sat through a largely inaudible classical performance. Something that in the past would have reduced me to tears of frustration. But last night, I was OK with it. And it made me wonder if perhaps I've laid my sadness about having to give up my violin and flute and any musical ambitions I might have ever had to rest. Finally! Or maybe the grieving period is over. 

I've realised I don't miss my flute anymore. And up until three years ago, I couldn't even open the box without feeling an acute pain in my heart. About the instrument I had begged to be allowed to play and the instrument I did my final recital on where most of what I could hear was in my head not in reality. 

But I do miss music. So I've decided to take advantage of the fact the Proms have tickets left still and go to a whole load. See what I can and can't here, armed with my Kindle just in case.

In the meantime though, if anyone has access to, or knows where I can find, an Ondes Martenot can you let me know as I'd love to see if, in a quiet room, with my ear pressed to the speaker, I could hear the instrument that seemed to capture the whole Albert Hall with complete glee last night.

Happy Friday peeps


Friday, 24 July 2015

Deaf Girly's head of noise

This time last week I was in the Alps. I was about to start a long morning walk. A walk that took me and FJM past a lake, up a hill, along the side of a river and to a refuge where we sat under a sun umbrella and watched the rain pelt down around us while munching on the most delicious cheese baguettes.

One of the things I love about being in the mountains is how quiet it is, especially in summer when you haven't got the hum of the lifts and the swishing of the skis. It's a kind of quiet that means I can leave my hearing aids at home, because the only thing I need to hear is FJM.

But what amazed me last week was that I heard other stuff, too. Except I didn't. In the calmness and the stillness of the mountains, I was reminded of how good my aural memory is. Or perhaps it's my aural imagination...

You see, we saw marmots. Cute, furry, morbidly obese marmots. FJM heard marmots. I did not, but when he described the noise they made, my brain somehow memorised it and forever more, when I saw that little fat furry backside retreating from the human invaders on its path, I heard the noise FJM had told me it made. You see the fun he could have with this right?!

Back near our ski flat, there was a kitten. I haven't heard a cat meow since I was about  8 years old, and even then, it was the quietest thing I'd ever heard. But when this kitten meowed, I heard it in my head. I lipread the damn cat.

And it was the same for the baby crying in the cafe near us. I lip-read that and my head filled in the blanks giving me sound that my ears can't hear.

The weirdest one though was when I was watching my iPlayer downloads on my iPad on the train down through France. Not bothering with headphones, I had Celebrity Masterchef on mute. In my head, I could hear Greg Wallace and John Torrode. As I read the subtitles, their voices were in my head. And the celebrities that I knew, their voices were in my head, too.

So imagine my surprise when, at the flat on the mountainside, I turned up the volume and held my iPad up to my ear and discovered that Sam Nixon – who was apparently on X Factor – had a northern accent. Something my lipreading had totally missed. In my head, he had a cockney accent not a northern accent. And I had watched six episodes on mute with a totally different voice for him in my head. It was completely bizarre.

But also rather brilliant. Having this fabulous fill-in-the-blanks hearing brain that seems to bypass my ears, helps give me another dimension to hearing that my hearing aids cannot do.

I know deep down that there are some sounds that my ears will never hear. Cats meowing, green men beeping, the noise the tube doors apparently make before they close, phones ringing. And in the last 25 years I have totally come to accept that.

My brain it seems has not. It will keep on giving me cats meowing as long as I see a cat's mouth move. I will keep on hearing a green man beep regardless of whether it does. And you should hear what it thinks the tube door closing warning sounds like...

It's awesome, and probably a lot more tuneful than what the hearing peeps get to listen to.

Happy Friday peeps