Since October I’ve been attending an excellent class on Art and Architecture, run by my local University of the Third Age. The tutor, Ian, a retired university lecturer, is knowledgeable and entertaining. A group of about twenty of us meet in a local village hall. It’s great fun, and I’m starting to be able to tell my Baroque from my Bauhaus. (I was starting from a very low base).
About a week ago we had a morning in Leeds, looking at some of the wonderful buildings there. Leeds city centre is a great place – very vibrant and very little affected by the sixties shopping centre monstrosities that are such a blot on the landscape in other towns. It’s well worth a visit. Ian pointed out to us lots of things I’d not noticed before and I had a lovely time.
It did, though, make me aware (again) that you can’t be a shrinking violet if you want to enjoy this sort of thing when you are deaf. Ian was happy to wear the Roger pen microphone, so I was getting his voice relayed directly into my hearing aids. But, as I’ve explained before, I need to see someone’s face to be able to understand speech even with the marvels of modern (personal listening device) technology – so I was moving about constantly, trying to keep in a position where I could do that. Given that Ian was stopping, starting, turning to point out buildings (all the things that a good walk leader does) I was at times prowling around like a restless lioness. When he stood with his back to the group, pointing out the features of a particular building I had to stand with my back to the building, so I could see his face, glancing over my shoulder from time to time to marry up the commentary with the features he was pointing out. It worked fine, but I was aware that I was with a group of people I’ve only just met, who may well have thought my bouncing around very odd. But you just have to get on with it, try to keep out of their way (I’m lucky in that I’m tall, so I can do most of my jogging around out of their line of sight) and trust that people will understand when they get to know me.
Another problem was that I had the Roger pen on the setting that cuts out sound other than from the microphone, to reduce the noise from passing traffic. But that meant that when someone tried to chat to me as we moved from place to place I couldn’t hear them. “Sorry”, I said a couple of times, pointing at my ears, “I’m on the wrong setting – I’ll catch up with you later”.
In case you are wondering, it would have been quite a fiddle to change to a setting that allowed me to hear their voice as well. I’ve met people who can control their hearing aid settings from a smart phone, but with mine I have to press a tiny button on the hearing aid itself. In fact, I have to press it repeatedly as it goes through the various settings in rotation until I get to the one I want. And then, afterwards, I have to do the same thing all over again to get back to the setting I started from.
On the day, it was cold and I had a fleece hat on and my hood up so, you know…….I opted out of doing that.
To their immense credit, as always, people were supportive and friendly. Ian was graciousness personified about wearing the microphone and kept checking that I was doing OK. A couple of people asked what the device was and how it worked. People talked to me when we stopped for coffee and I was back in listening mode. But my point is that you can’t be a shrinking violet about these things – you have to be a little bit assertive and make the situation work for you, whilst (of course) making sure you are not spoiling things for anyone else. And you have to NOT CARE about walking along not chatting to people, because you can’t do that, so there’s no point being upset about it.
In the coffee shop something else happened that you have to just not care about. Coffee shops are fairly easy for lip readers to navigate because the staff tend to follow a very predictable script. You say “decaf Americano please” or “regular cappuccino please” to the first person who serves you, matching your language exactly to the options on the menu. You pay that person. Then you move along to where someone else is actually making the coffees and wait for them to call out “one decaf Americano” or whatever. You know the score…..
But, in Leeds, a fellow group member was talking to me in the coffee queue and I was concentrating hard on understanding him. Ordering and paying for my drink went fine then we moved along the counter to the collection point, still talking to each other. With only one eye to spare for the staff member I was pleased to spot “cappuccino” and piped up “that’s mine, thank you”. But the staff member wasn’t happy. He was looking over his shoulder from the far counter and clearly I had given the wrong answer. He tried again, fixing me with a hard stare. I started concentrating on him properly and, of course, silly me, I had forgotten the inevitable “chocolate on the top of the cappuccino??” “Yes, please, with chocolate on top”, I said. “Sorry”. I had the distinct impression that it was only the rules of the barista training course that stopped a bout of ironic eye rolling. (I’m sure eye rolling at the customer is very much banned at Barista School). You just have to not care. And yes, I’m sure it sometimes happens to people who can hear very well, but it happens to me ALL THE TIME. You can’t let it get you down.