Friday 27 January 2017

Deaf Girly and Jose Gonzalez

One of the highlights of this week – apart from a very lovely dinner with Fab Friend last night – was seeing José Gonzalez play live at the Royal Festival Hall with The Goteborg String Theory.

I've loved José Gonzalez since I first saw him perform live in the mid 2000s – there's something about the richness of his voice, the lightness of his touch on the guitar. In the years since, I've seen him perform twice more. It's spellbinding. And this concert was just that, once again.

One of the things I feel incredibly lucky about regarding my deafness, is that, while I've lost most clarity of speech and indeed, all of my higher frequencies, I seem to be able to really enjoy and hear music. Yes, I only have hearing to an octave and half above middle C, but that still gives me an amazingly rich experience. And what's more, I also seem to have some sort of musical memory – just like when I am lipreading and my brain fills in the word gaps, when I listen to music, my brain fills in the music gaps.

I first noticed this when I was practising for my Grade 8 flute – the two years before had seen my hearing spectacularly nosedive and I was struggling with the pace and emotion in my exam pieces. So I learnt them on the piano – two octaves lower, imprinting the tune and the story behind the music on my mind. This meant that when I played them on my flute and the music missed my ears, I still had it in my head.

Rather helpfully, this concert was brilliantly visual. It started with carrier bags being scrunched and crinkled. I couldn't hear this but I could see it, and my brain filled in the sound effects. The large group of musicians were all clearly visible to me, and I sought each one of them out and worked out what I could and couldn't make out in the amazing music. 

The brass and bass guitar rang clear, the cellos too. And then there was José's guitar playing. When he plays it's like there are multiple people producing the amazing music that my ears can make out. I watched his fingers and while the overriding 'melody' I had was the bass line, I was also able to imagine what was going on out of my frequency. And it was awesome.

Music more than anything else, is incredibly evocative for me. I think it's because whenever I hear something amazing, I am reminded that I must never take that sound for granted. Never take what I am hearing for granted or the fact that, even though I am deaf, it still sounds amazing. I am lucky.

There were moments during this concert where I felt myself welling up. When José played some of his older stuff – it took me right back to the first time I heard it. 

I feel so lucky to have my audio memory – it's like my ears grab on to what they can and my brain stores it away just in case I never get to hear that sound again.

It's so much more than just music for me. José Gonzalez is proof to me that my hearing, while not perfect, is still bloody brilliant. And while I can't hear the radio, or conversations in the office, or the TV without subtitles, or what people are saying in the car or in the dark, I can hear music. Or at least my version of it. And because I don't know what I am missing sound wise, to me it sounds perfect. Or in the case of Mozart chamber music or handbell ringing... completely and utterly silent.

Happy Friday peeps.


Monday 23 January 2017

Deaf Girly and the Gap advert

Yesterday was a beautifully sunny day and so I decided to go for a walk to get the things I needed to make curry that evening.

On my way to the supermarket I walked past Gap's window and – as I am blessed with four fabulous godchildren – I took a look in the window to see what spring offerings were on show and what winter sale bargains there might be.

And this caught my eye.

And I stopped still and stared at it for about 10 minutes, grinning like a loon.

The child is gorgeous. She has those amazing eyelashes that some kids are just born with, the sweetest expression, she also looks lovely in the clothes she has on. But that's not what caught my eye. What caught my eye was the fact that this child was wearing hearing aids. And they looked fabulous.

I wanted to grab passers-by and point this out, and then I realised that actually, all the passers-by were walking past and probably thinking, 'What a lovely child' and not even noticing the hearing aids...

Indeed, when I put my first tweet about it on Twitter and didn't point out the hardware in the the child's ears, even FJM thought that I was getting broody (*blushes).

But for me, it released a wave of emotion I wasn't expecting. It released the emotions of being 10 years old and being given hearing aids and being different. Of wondering if I would ever be as pretty as my non-hearing aid wearing friends. Of catching sight of myself with glasses and hearing aids and thinking, 'Wow, all I need now is the braces and frizzy hair' and sighing sadly at the poster of some Home & Away star on my wall. What 10 year old doesn't want to be someone else though?

Twenty-six years' later, a lot has changed. I spent the best part of 10 years choosing not to wear hearing aids. Not because I was embarrassed but because I couldn't find a pair to help me. Now, I am incredibly proud of being a hearing aid wearer and I will shout until the cows come home about how, while my hearing aids don't give me back my hearing, they add a third dimension that I didn't have before.

But sometimes I still have days where I plan my outfit, tie my hair up and as I'm adding the finishing touches such as earrings or a necklace, catch sight of my hearing aids and think, 'Wow, I wish you were a bit prettier.'

Sure, there are things I can do about this myself. I can get my tubing replaced, newer moulds to replace the discoloured ones I currently have. Or sparkly moulds like the ones in the GAP advert – does the NHS do these? There are also fabulous businesses like Tubetastic Pimps that allow you to cover your hearing aids with patterns and decorations. But for me personally, I guess I never considered that I might still be pretty with my hearing aids in. 

That is something I am a bit sheepish about admitting. But what I am even more sheepish about admitting is that fact that, yesterday when I walked past that picture,  I wasn't actually wearing my hearing aids. 

I had put them in before I was about to leave but then taken them out again. I was feeling self conscious about wearing my hair up and my black thick-rimmed glasses as there're not a lot of room for hearing aids, too and my ears sit differently and I don't like my face anymore.

I chose to go out and struggle to hear what was going on, to make a fool of myself in Waitrose when I couldn't hear the woman at the checkout because I felt self conscious about my looks and I wanted to look like the me I had in my head not the one in the mirror.

*looks at feet shamefully

But I don't even think I had really admitted any of this to myself until I was faced with a picture of someone who looked amazing and was wearing hearing aids.

Looking at that picture yesterday reminded me that hearing aids don't matter when it comes to what someone looks like and that no one else gives a damn about whether my face looks different with my hair up, glasses and hearing aids. Heck, someone might think I look lovely. 

But adding them to advertising and bringing them out into the public eye, in the same way as glasses are completely the norm, and quite often a fashion statement, might mean that a 10-year-old girl grows up feeling confident and happy with her hearing aids in. Bold and clear about who she is and what her needs are. Brave and fearless about what she can achieve and where she's going.

Heck, there's a 36-year-old sat right here feeling all of those things with renewed vigour... wishing her 10-year-old self had had that chance.

So bravo Gap. Thank you for making my day. Thank you for reminding me of a few things I'd forgotten.

I am Deaf Girly. I wear hearing aids. I am fabulous.

And so are you lot.


Wednesday 18 January 2017

Deaf Girly and the emergency sirens

One of the things I really don't hear – not even a little bit, not even at all, not even with my fancy Phonak hearing aids in – is ambulance sirens. I just about hear police sirens, if there's not too much background noise, and I can hear the low honking noise that fire engines make in built-up areas, but ambulances, I just cannot hear.

I've had some near misses with ambulances in the past as well. The time I tried cycling in central London and was at the front of some lights and pulled away when they went green unaware that there was an ambulance right behind me and I was in its way.

Or the time I was crossing a four-lane carriage way as the green man was flashing and an ambulance flew out from behind a lorry at top speed in the far lane and was so close to me, if my feet had been half a size bigger it would have run them over.

I am – most of the time – ultra careful about trusting the flashing of a green man (that sounds weirder than it should). I will always cross when others cross and hesitate with them too, which gets me some weird looks if I refuse to cross until a particularly distracted toddler and irate mother do as well.

But the other night, I was in a rush. I had to get to a shop to pick up a parcel before it closed – it was a ski helmet but they sent me a pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans by accident but that's a whole other story – and I was on the verge of jaywalking the crossing when the lights finally changed.

In my defence I was also distracted by a bicycle who was insistent on cycling through the red light – and in his defence, two seconds later I realised why he had done this.

I crossed the two lanes of traffic facing me and then looked left to make sure the other carriageway was clear. It was, so I stepped out and there, just metres away on my right, on the wrong side of the road, blue lights flashing, clear as day was a massive, fast-moving ambulance.

And it was one of those moments where everything goes into slow motion. It seemed to take me an age to react to the fact that I was seconds away from being mown down, it seemed to take even longer to convince my feet to actually hot foot it to the other side of the road and it seemed to take a painful amount of time for me to reach the safety of the pavement.

I did, by a whisker and the braking of the ambulance. And as I faced the shop window, aware of the entire row of drivers behind me wondering what the hell I was thinking, I felt hot tears sprout from my eyes. The same tears of humiliation I used to get when I tried to make phone calls in one of my first jobs because I was told, I just had to make more of an effort. Back then I used to go and hide in a cupboard, but this time there was nowhere to hide.

I am not the only profoundly deaf person in the world. I am not the only person who has no chance of hearing high and some middle frequencies not even with hearing aids. And yet, ambulance sirens are out of range for me and I wonder how many other people?

But what I want to know is, could anything done about it? Without it costing a fortune? Could ambulances have a siren that was more variable in its frequency like the fire engines? That honking sound they make as they go through traffic lights has helped me on more than one occasion.

I'm just off to do a bit of research and to find out whether more deaf people have been hit by emergency response vehicles – a bit of a grizzly Google. And in the meantime, please let me know via Twitter @DeafGirly or over email if you've had a close shave with an emergency vehicle!

Happy Wednesday peeps!


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