Monday 16 February 2015

Deaf Girly and foreign languages

I am still grinning from the great weekend that I just had.

I went to Rotterdam (or anywhere) to watch the tennis with FJM, saw Big Bro and also caught up with Fab Friend.

Rotterdam is an amazing city with the most bonkers architecture including Cube Houses that you can actually go inside – a museum one anyway – which left FJM and I feeling more than a little seasick. Your eyes don't know which way is up as none of the angles makes sense.

On Saturday we set off to explore Rotterdam and the first thing we stumbled upon was Markthal – an amazing market hall full of food from all over the world. The building itself was pretty impressive, too.

There I discovered they sold Turkish simit – something I've had a 10-year long obsession with. It's the most amazing bread ever. I love it so much, I even once tried to make it but it went a bit wrong, exploded and started leaking out of the oven while cooking.

But that's a whole other story – and one that's probably in documented on this blog somewhere.

Anyway, one of the things that amazes me about Dutch people is how amazing they all are at speaking English. Everyone can speak English to you. But I feel guilty about this. It seems wrong that you are in another country and making people speak English to you.

So I did try to say thank you and stuff in my limited Dutch, but I have a feeling my pronunciation was so terrible they probably just thought I was saying something random in English.

I love languages and while I find them quite easy to learn on paper, I don't find them easy to speak or understand when spoken. Indeed, my knowledge of French is still quite good, but I cannot lipread it, which means it doesn't matter how much vocab I have, I will still never hear what a French person is saying to me, unless I learn to lipread in French.

It's not impossible. It will just take time. Time to learn how the the different words, vowels and patterns look while at the same time piecing together the different language to work out what is being said.

In my 20s I spent quite a lot of time going to Turkey with Sharkira Shakira. In Turkey, not everyone speaks English, so I thought I would learn Turkish, first with SS's help and then with a book that I worked my way through. And while I learnt the grammar and vocab, I promise you, I could not get to the end of a sentence without the person I was saying it to bursting out laughing.

'What are you laughing at?' I asked SS one day as she wiped away the tears of hysteria.

And apparently, I had learnt Turkish gangster style. My pronunciation of the language made me sound like, as SS put it, a Turkish wide boy. She suggested I added the word 'innit' at the end of my sentences to help. I was not amused.

I persevered with Turkish and on going on holiday to a place where there were no English people at all, I was able to use it a bit more. But still, people burst out laughing at the sound of a blonde English girl speaking gangster Turkish.

I wish there was a way around the pronunciation and lipreading challenge. But the problem is, I have enough trouble pronouncing words from my own language and still don't get the lipreading right either, and that's with 30-odd years of practice.

In the meantime however, it can't hurt to practice. So I'm just off to have a go at some beginners Dutch on the DuoLingo website so that when I am next in Rotterdam (or anywhere) I can give it a go, hopefully without people laughing at me.

Happy Monday peeps.


Thursday 12 February 2015

Deaf Girly and her skiing lover

This week, I haven't been wearing my hearing aids. I've been enjoying the comfort of my new glasses without the additional hardware behind my ears. And mostly I've got by OK.

But there have been some noticeable times when I've struggled – mainly in shops at the till when paying. It's been so long since I've struggled with this that I'd kind of forgotten how hard it used to be – the 'Would you like a bag?' question, the random conversation they've been told to make by management, the payment chit-chat and the where-the-heck-I-want-them-to-put-the-receipt conundrum.

With my hearing aids, I tend not to have too much trouble with this.

Today however, was an absolute car crash of mishearing. In Uniqlo, I'm surprised I managed to get out of there without my face exploding in a big red embarrassed mess, while in Marks & Spencer, I tried to plan ahead as much as possible about what I might be asked and still didn't get it right. And then I started to flap, and I almost walked straight out of Oliver Bonas with an empty bag after I hadn't realised they were still gift wrapping what I had bought. And no one thought my strange behaviour was because of my deafness, they all just thought I was totally bonkers. Which actually is highly probable on reflection.

One good thing to come out of this is that not wearing my hearing aids this week has really made me appreciate what they give me when I do wear them – often without really noticing. They take my 2D world and make it 3D and they also remove a lot of the angst involved in everyday tasks that I experience without them.

And I can honestly say that I will NOT be going shopping without my hearing aids again. There's only so many times a shop assistant can repeat a question without both you and them wanting to curl up into a ball and die.

No more so than a few weeks ago when I was skiing – without hearing aids as I get feedback in my helmet – and went to the ski hire shop to get some skis. The man had a strong French accent and was a bit grumpy looking.

'What's your lover?' he said, as I tried to stay upright in my newly tightened ski boots.

'My what?' I said, looking at him in panic.

'Your lover,' he said, adding a Gallic shrug for good measure.

I looked blank.

'Your skiing lover! Tell me your skiing lover?' he continued, looking at me like I was a complete moron.

I went through the word again and again in my head, replacing bits of it to see if I got a more feasible word and eventually cracked it.

'My skiing level?' I asked.

Yes I'd got it eventually but not before he and everyone around me thought I was a total moron.

So if you ever serve me in a shop and I look like a rabbit caught in headlights every time you say something, I promise you I am not stupid, I am just deaf. And overwhelmed. And still blushing from the skiing lover mix-up thing.

Happy Thursday peeps.


Wednesday 11 February 2015

Deaf Girly and modern technology

Today I was able to do the most fabulous thing – chat to one of my best friends Miss K who lives in South Africa over FaceTime and, with the help of my pink POP phone handset, I was able to follow everything.

Amazing huh?

What I am a bit horrified about however, is that Miss K has lived in South Africa for three years now and that was the first time I had FaceTimed her. You see, after spending most of my adult life unable to use the phone, I still forget that I can call people over FaceTime and actually 'hear' (OK, lipread) them, thanks to the perfectly matched picture and sound.

I am still amazed that I can follow what is going on, after years of simply pretending.

For example, when I was a teenager, one of my good friends used to call me on the phone on my birthday every year for a chat. He was from Kent and had a very strong accent that I found hard enough to understand in person, let alone on the telephone. He'd call up and we'd chat for an hour, with me guessing the whole time what he might be saying. By the end of the hour I was absolutely exhausted and also slightly nervous that I'd said something random, answered something wrong, or he thought I was completely mad. I have no idea why I didn't just not have that phone call with him. But that was back in the 90s when email wasn't the norm and I was still years away from getting my first mobile phone.

Looking back, I cannot imagine how I would have got by as an adult in the 90s. With crap internet and the main form of communication for everyone being the phone. I think there would have been a massive chance that I would have lost contact with a lot of people. Or just had totally misunderstood phone conversations with them a lot of the time.

I feel so lucky that I live in a time where technology makes things easier. Where restaurants and hair appointments can be booked online, where texts can be sent in the place of phone calls and emails are a perfectly acceptable. Where I can call my friend, over the internet and lipread what she is saying for free. Where there are apps for song lyrics, subtitles on most things and a world where I know longer have to fight with plugging in the caption reader.

Anyone else end up in a rage about the amazing puzzle of wires needed to get those words up on the screen?

I can still remember the look of horror on my friends' parents' faces when I showed up for sleepovers armed with my Caption Reader and proceeded to trash their carefully set up TVs just so I could watch a video. And even then you had to make sure that the video in question had the CC symbol on the side, which back in the 90s was also a rarity.

I think that also explains why I don't really watch movies. I forget that I can. They never really became an integral part of my life. I'm missing a huge chunk of movie education. And the last new release I saw at the cinema was Sex & The City 2.

So I've made a pact with myself. I'm going to remind myself that modern technology makes lots of things possible that I forget about. I'm going to FaceTime more, watch movies with subtitles more and generally see if  I can embrace all the things I learnt to live without but no longer need to.

I'm on a mission.

Starting with another FaceTime conversation with Miss K very soon.


Tuesday 10 February 2015

Deaf Girly and the song lyrics

I'm off to Rotterdam (or anywhere) soon and this has meant for the last few weeks, I've had the ear worm (yep, even through my hearing aids) of that catchy song by The Beautiful South. However, the only words I know are 'Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome' and then I am stumped.

I did't even know what the song was about until I found a subtitled YouTube video last night.

I remember realising I couldn't hear song words four years before I knew I was deaf. I was six years old and my grandparents gave me a red Walkman cassette player and a Kylie album for Christmas. The first thing I had to do was crank the volume up to the highest level and even then with those fetching foam covered flimsy 80s headphones, I could hardly hear it – but I assumed that this was just something that everyone struggled with. And then I remember truly believing that pop stars didn't sing song words. I thought they just mumbled the words and that it was your job to guess what was being said.

On a totally separate subject, I actually used to think that was the whole point of Dictation exercises at school, too and often used to used them to creatively enhance the story instead of writing what was being said as I couldn't hear what was being said. And then was totally gutted and confused when I did badly in them.

Anyway, back to those song words. The first time I realised that song words actually did exist was when I started singing my own version of Hand On Your Heart by Kylie with some friends from my class on the rounders pitch and they all started laughing at me. Mortified, I found the words in the cassette cover and memorised the whole lot to prevent it happening again. Assuming that this is what all my friends had done in the first place.

On discovering I was deaf, a lot of things started to make sense – dictation at school was in fact a test of your ability to follow and write down a story without making errors, French listening was actually to see whether you understood the words, not whether you heard them, and the violin – those high notes, well that wasn't guess work, normal people could actually hear them.

And don't even get me started on the fact that birds actually sing.

Anyway, back to those song words. Back in the 90s, there was no internet to Google lyrics on, so instead I spent all my pocket money on Fast Forward and Smash Hits magazines so I could tear out the lyrics pages and learn them after recording the Top 40 charts off Radio 1 onto my pink and white cassette recorder.

For years, my bedroom cupboards were plastered with the lyrics to Chesney Hawkes, New Kids On The Block and most importantly Kylie. 

Next, came a rather amazing school friend who wrote all the lyrics I requested into a book for me and another friend who mouthed them to me with hilarious home-made sign language that I can still remember to this day.

It worked – and it's these songs that I can still remember all the lyrics to.

By university, lyrics websites had popped up and so I printed and learnt the lyrics to the songs that I needed to bounce around to in the Students Union – storing them in a ring binder, creating quite a library. And then all of a sudden came the Sound Hound and Metro Lyrics apps which worked with your smartphone and literally turned it into a Karaoke machine and the rest is history.

To this day however, I still don't really get the importance of lyrics. In fact, quite often, learning the lyrics can actually ruin a song for me. My favourite songs are much more about the chord sequences or melodies than what the lyrics are. I feel quite lucky that while my deafness has take away so much clarity of speech, but I still seem to be able to retain my understanding of pitch and melody. So long as it's not more than an octave and a half above middle C. 

But for the sake of my sanity, I did google the lyrics to Rotterdam Or Anywhere and they're really quite weird, but I'm going to learn them, if only to get me out of the 2-line repetitive rut I am stuck in.

So if you hear someone singing The Beautiful South, horribly out of tune in a check in queue at Heathrow in the next few weeks, be sure to wave won't you?


Monday 9 February 2015

Deaf Girly and the taxman

A few weeks ago I put out a panicky tweet about my self assessment thingumajig for the tax man and the lovely @CazzONeill told me about the 'additional needs' link on the HMRC website. In that section there is the option to book a face-to-face meeting with a tax bod. So I clicked on the link and two hours later was presented with my appointment time and date.

Amazing huh?

And today I went along to it. Apparently, according to the tax bod I met, there aren't any offices anymore for these meetings and instead they book a room in an office space for the meeting that is required and that is what I turned up to. There wasn't a single HMRC sign in sight, which I found a little bit worrying at first, but luckily he had his ID.

And so he talked me through the whole self-assessment process. He answered all my questions, and created an amazing PacMan/Taxman analogy that I've completely forgotten about – and I left there happier but poorer.

I chatted to him a bit about how great this service is and he said that he could put me forward to give feedback on it, but that they would call me to get this feedback – the only mega-fail of the whole service HMRC provides.

Knowing that I can get an appointment to ask about tax stuff is absolutely invaluable. It means I don't have to get someone to lift the phone, or struggle to make the call and worry that I have missed something. I would definitely recommend using this service and am slightly terrified that Government cuts will see it sidelined in the future.

It got me thinking whether there are any other places you can get these face-to-face meetings? I have requested one with the Citizens Advice Bureau before but they actively seem to discourage this and push people towards phone calls or email.

Let me know though what your experiences have been.

I'm just off to start documenting my taxes for the 2014/2015 tax year – after all, I know how to now.

Have a luffly evening peeps.


Thursday 5 February 2015

Deaf Girly Reviews gets up and running

I have exciting news. See that tab just above this blog post that says 'Deaf Girl Reviews'? Well, I've finally got it up and running – and I've posted my first review too, about the Subtitles Viewer app available on iOS.

Deaf Girl Reviews is going to be the place where I write about my cinema and theatre experiences, the latest tech, apps I've found and anything else techy or deaf-consumer related.

Why? Because there's so many things out there that can help that I don't know about yet. And the things I do know about, other people don't know about. It's like that wonderful speech that Donald Rumsfeld gave about unknown unknowns, which later became the inspiriting of a brilliant book by Mark Forsyth about independent bookshops called The Unknown Unknown, which is well worth a read if it's currently unknown to you.

So if there's something I should know about, write about, review, pull apart or try, then get in touch with me @deafgirly on Twitter, where I can mostly be found tweeting about the extraordinarily large amount of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers I manage to eat, or email me at

Happy Thursday peeps


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