Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Into The Void : Part 2 The Void

Despite what I thought that day when I turned the car around and set off home, deafness did not fall like a heavy velvet curtain, suddenly and hopelessly : it was a more pernicious process than that. Like a grey muslin veil, it fell slowly. During the first few months I had my residual hearing levels measured daily as the doctors tried to work out what was happening. I became fixated with my own audiograms as I translated each minor variation into either hope or fear. I worked my way through a succession of ever more powerful hearing aids as I tried to cling on to my ability to hear : to hear music, to hear speech, to hear doors bang and to hear bells ring. With what little hearing I had left I tried to make sense of the range of signals I was getting. Some of them were noises, some of them were sights : if you worked hard you might be able to work out what was going on, but by then things had probably moved on and you were left exhausted by the effort. Being deaf is like reading half a script, in a foreign language, whilst you are drunk.
I tried alternative approaches. I went to lip-reading classes and I don't think I have ever hated anything so much in my life. I would sit there watching exaggerated lip movements feeling confused and excluded. The experience was not helped by the fact that I became convinced that the teacher - a delightful and respectable middle-aged lady - was mouthing sentences that verged on the pornographic. The shock on the faces of my classmates (all rather refined elderly ladies) when I would hazard a guess at the sentence in question soon persuaded my to keep my interpretations to myself. I tried sign language but I was as bad at that as I was at lip-reading. Despite a term of lessons I only ever learnt one word in sign-language : and there is a limit on the number of conversations you can have using the word "sausages".
During these years as I travelled into the void I kept my spirits up by putting together a list - a list which started out life as "ten good reasons for being deaf". Number 1 was "I will never have to listen to Margaret Thatcher speak again" and number 2 was "I will never hear "The Birdie Song" again. Eventually the list grew and eventually became "54 good reasons for being deaf". But what really kept me going were two things. Firstly, I felt sure that deafness was a disability which could, at some stage, be ameliorated by scientific and technological developments. This was the early period of computer-based communications and I embraced it with enthusiasm. The written word was the currency in this new computerised world and it was a currency I had equal access to. Also, pioneering research was being undertaken into ways of creating "sound" using electronic stimulation of the cochlear - the very first cochlear implants were being developed.
The other thing that kept me going was the support of friends and family. My wife Isobel was tirelessly patient, endlessly comforting and ceaselessly active in her attempts to try and find medical solutions to my problem. My son Alexander, born during this period of deafness, refused to acknowledge that there could be any barrier to our communication and within months had developed a series of strategies for attracting my attention and getting whatever he required. My friends wrote things down in a series of "hearing books" I would carry around with me. Two good friends developed a unique sign-language based entirely on puns : a language we would use as we sat in the pub of an evening to the bewilderment of neighbouring drinkers. I know I have called this phase of my deafness "the void", but it cannot be a void when it is filled with such loving and supportive people.


  1. Alan - absolutely hilarious and priceless! I feel the start of a book coming on.

  2. This brings to mind the scene in "There Will Be Blood" when the son, who lost his hearing in the oil well blast, is obsessed with trying to hear himself make sounds.

    Good to know your sense of humor is still intact. And I totally agree with Bill. Your experiences would make a fabulous book. Thanks for the Tuesday morning giggles!

  3. I third the book idea, & I also agree that your sense of humor, mixed with your candor, makes this story very powerful.

  4. This is so well written...yes, a book would be wonderful! I love your sense of humor...and your list!

    I have a son, Alexander, too!

  5. Brilliant Sir!
    Yes Your Strength Shines Through.I guess you could have gone 2-ways? Either into yourself or (as you did) Grew A Support Network Around You. Well done You + Well done Your Friends & Family.

  6. I keep hoping Ali will write a book on whatever theme he prefers for having superb writing style...

    But will he listen? No, not even though he can hear now.. I hope and trust he will relay the resolution of the problem - his report at the time had me in tears of delight!

  7. Thanks all for your kind comments. I will post part 3 tomorrow (hopefully)


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...