Signs of Love for Sochi

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year! I hope 2014 is going fantastically so far, and yes, I know it’s been a while. What finally got me off my arse to update my blog?

Sochi. The Winter Olympics. The Olympic flag being hosted by a country with homophobic laws, does little if anything to prevent homophobic attacks and whose president said, apparently in all seriousness, “Gay people are welcome but leave our children in peace.

What the hell?

Leaving aside what the IOC may or may not have been thinking, and the reporter’s assessments of Sochi preparedness so far, if I was an athlete due to compete at these Olympics, I’d be feeling very, very nervous indeed. So big kudos to these openly gay athletes who’ll be flying their flags and I’ll be supporting them from afar, irrespective of nationality.

I object to what is happening in Russia and Sochi on several levels and wanted to do more than sign a few petitions. Then I saw Lush’s #signoflove campaign and was inspired – they wanted pictures, but why not a poem? Specifically, a British Sign Language poem about Sochi. It’s perfect.

So I got some pink glitter sticky stuff – probably the only time I’ll ever wear pink glitter, but we’ll see – drew a triangle on my face and performed a poem. It was composed after I saw this video from Human Rights Watch showing the suffering of gay people in Russia, victims of vigilante groups who lure gay men into meetings then subject them to vile abuse, filming it and putting it on the net, because who doesn’t love a good gay-bashing? Seriously, only watch that video if you have a thick skin.

I’m lucky to live in a country where discrimination on grounds of sexuality is illegal and I’ve watched the rise of gay marriage equality with glee. The timing of the latest success as Scotland passed its Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill mere days ago seems especially ironic.

I’m also dearly hoping that athletes who are able to protest, will; I’m not asking for them to carry a rainbow flag across the stadium, just the odd pink triangle here and there would be great, just as much as I’m hoping that those, if any, who do protest in some fashion, don’t face too many repercussions because let’s face it, they’re in a bloody difficult position. There’s a lot of armed guards between them and the border, so I’ll understand if nobody switches a national flag for a rainbow one as a lark.

Although, if they all wear pink triangles, they can hardly arrest everybody at the Games. It wouldn’t look good, PR wise. Just a thought.

Anyhow, with all this in mind, I composed this BSL poem, which I’m calling ‘Flags of Sochi’. I’ve also written an English accompaniment; the poem is primarily BSL but the English gives a good summary of the poem. I’ll include it with the video description and below the video here, viewers can choose whether to read it before or after watching.

From Bristol with love.

(And wishing very best of luck to everyone at the Games, by the look of things, you’ll need it.)

English

Flying above them all
The Olympic rings
Linking us all
Somewhere
A couple can meet
Flirt
Date
Seduce
Marry
Live happily ever after
Elsewhere
A couple can meet
Cyberchat
Flirt
Date
But its a trap
Set by tattooed thugs
Who accuse the victim
Gay
Pervert
Sick
And punish them
Beat them
Shave their heads
Cover them with piss
Full of pride
They raise the Olympic flag
A symbol of respect and equality
The lucky ones
Watch in horror
Outrage
Rise up and protest
Athletes competing
Achieving
Winning a medal
A space on the podium
As their flag is raised
In front of a thousand cameras
The world is watching.

Other links:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/01/russia-rise-homophobic-violence

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/dec/18/obama-names-gay-delegates-sochi-olympics I like the cut of Obama’s jib here

https://www.allout.org/en/actions/lovealwayswins (click cc for captions – good on you, All Out!)

This Saturday, I’m going to be a ‘book’ and I can’t wait!

The Human Library is a project, now a global movement, that seeks to challenge stereotypes and encourage dialogue. The idea is simple; a ‘reader’ can go into the Human Library, browse a catalogue and borrow a ‘book’, the twist is that the ‘book’ is a living, breathing individual with a story to tell.

All the ‘books’ are volunteers, drawn from as wide a background as possible, reflecting various cultural, religious and ethnic identities as well as differing viewpoints, in short, people who can be misrepresented and misunderstood.

I think it’s a brilliant idea; a safe environment in which people can ask their books things they may have wanted to know but never had the opportunity. What could be a safer and more calming environment than a library? The metaphor is extended as far as it will go, and I love it, from the rules for the ‘reader’: “the book has the right to be returned in the same condition in which it was lent” to creating a ‘catalogue reference’.

The project was created for the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000 by a group called Stop the Violence, and seeing its success and realising its potential, they set about promoting it around the world. Skip forward thirteen years and the Human Library has been put on in over 30 countries; the list is truly dizzying.

And on 16th and 17th November, the Human Library is coming to Bristol! It’s being run by Wunderbar, it’ll be held at the Parlour Showrooms opposite College Green, and yours truly is going to be a ‘book’! I got lucky; a BSL interpreter friend let me know about the project and offered to interpret should I be chosen. I applied, explaining that as a deaf person (with a punk hairdo, no less) I often felt that there are a lot of misperceptions and a lot of barriers for deaf people out there that hearing people are just not aware of. I wanted to bring it out into the open, try and raise awareness in my own way. It must have been a good enough pitch as I got in!

The preparation workshop was an eye-opener, I suspect as much for them as it was for me. I loved the enthusiasm, the organisers created a very easy-going atmosphere, and it’s possibly the widest variety of people I’ve ever shared a room with. This Human Library should be good, and I’m not just saying that!

That friend came good and so Kyra Pollitt will be my interpreter for my ‘book in translation’, a phrase she came up with and I’ve shamelessly borrowed, as you’ll see in my catalogue reference. It feels good to be part of a global project to challenge prejudices and it’s great to be flying the flag for the deaf community!

However, remember when I said it may have been an eye-opener for them as much as it was for me? It seems that the organisers fell into the trap that many have fallen into before; simply not considering what they would do if a deaf person came to the project. Another example of deafness as the ‘invisible disability’… To give them credit, once the oversight was realised, the organisers were more than happy to do all they could to fix it, and I think this is something they’ll take forward into any future Human Libraries – making sure that deaf people, so often an excluded minority – are catered for. For the time being, they’ve done something creative with their funds and are prepared to negotiate for a couple of hours of general terping for the event.

So I’m putting a shout out – if there are any terps out there who have an hour or two free this weekend who’d like to be part of this project, please contact Ilana at Wunderbar at ilana@wunderbar.org.uk. Please. Pretty please. If it helps, think of it as a birthday present to me! (Genuinely, it was my birthday yesterday.) Please, please, please.

Ahem. At time of writing, there’s no access for my fellow deaf human to take part in a project I’m involved in and yes I do find it a little incongruous, I think it’s the first time it’s happened. However, as I’ve said, the organisers are learning fast and I think they’ll be taking this forward into future events; certainly I want to go to any future Human Libraries as a ‘reader’. It’s such a cool project and deserves wider recognition!

In the meantime, if you’re up for an interesting conversation that will almost certainly challenge one of your worldviews, rock on down to the Parlour Showrooms this weekend!

In a way, I’d like to think I’ve already fulfilled my purpose as a ‘book’ in that by my presence I’ve spread a little awareness and made people think, and the Human Library has gained a new dimension. If I can do that this weekend, just make people aware and make them think about deaf people and our place in society, I’ll consider this entire project worthwhile.

For the curious, here’s my catalogue reference:

Title: I’m not deaf, just ignoring you… oh wait, I am deaf.

Date and place of publication: 1983, Surrey

Dedications: Kyra Pollitt, the translator for this ‘book in translation’

Synopsis: People often think I’m ignoring them, but I feel I am the one who is ignored. There are an estimated 9 million (one in seven) hard of hearing or deaf people in the UK, yet access and awareness are a constant uphill battle, for even the simplest things. I’m a poet, writer, traveller, performer; I just want the same freedom as hearing people to enjoy and live my life, however random it may be.

Notes: This is a 3D book in translation, featuring British Sign Language. Please do not be alarmed if it makes sudden movements.

Please handle the book binding carefully: it features a textured blue mohican.

There it is, wonder how many ‘readers’ I can tempt? :)

Wunderbar’s creative director Ilana Mitchell kindly agreed to answer a few questions, to give an extra insight into the project and the motivations behind it.

How did you / Wunderbar get involved in the Human Library?

I saw a Human Library in Canada when I was visiting in 2010, and was really inspired by the project. At that event I met a “Book” who was Québécois who had taught himself about 10 languages and worked as a translator during many wars and conflicts.

When I came home I researched the project and found out more about how it started, and its aims to create a space for challenging stereotypes, a space for asking difficult questions. This and its playfulness all fitted really well with Wunderbar’s aims.

What elements attracted you to the project most?

I love how simple the concept is and at the same time its pretty powerful. Every time we’ve done it the workshops have been very inspiring. The Books all get to make friends and support each other – somehow the safety in the space to be open about yourself and whatever stereotype you might fit with allows for some great camaraderie. And I think it boosts the confidence of the Books both to be part of the project and beyond.

The other bit I like is the catalogue and the readers’ reviews – you’ll get to see these on Saturday. Each time a Book is read is a personal experience, shared between Book and Reader. Through the writing in the catalogues and the reviews these get shared more widely, and they are so often really warm and friendly, it’s like the conversations continue on paper.

Am I the first deaf person to be involved in the Human Library in the UK and has my involvement changed how Wunderbar will approach future installations of the Human Library?

I don’t know in the UK, but first for us. Though in our last festival in 2011 we did a very challenging project which attempted to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We learnt a lot about how hard it is to be truly accessible. I had lots of assumptions I had never considered as such – like English being a second language to people for whom BSL is a first, or how strong regional dialects are.

Sadly, the artist we worked with on the UDHR project died earlier this year, though not before the UN accepted and now host on their website an official BSL translation. I’m really keen to build on both that project and now since meeting with you, working out how best to go forward to make all our projects as accessible as possible.

I’m looking forward to having further conversations with you, and hopefully others. I’d like to think that in coming from both the deaf and the hearing side we can make good arguments for how to best work together to bridge the gaps, that we can help each other understand the difficulties and challenges we face and come up with some positive suggestions which we can share more widely.

I mentioned the challenge of funding when we met – this is a dull subject but one it’s important to tackle. Human Library is full of volunteer books, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have costs. As very enthusiastic arts practitioners, we’ll always squeeze far more out of a budget than is actually really practically covered in costs. It’s both admirable and naive: that make do / make happen attitude is in many ways a privilege of those who can function most “normally” in society. To make access equitable needs money not to be an object – which is easier said than done.

I very much hope you agree and are up for this quest! I think that’s important for all our projects, not just Human Library, and everyone else’s too!

Big thanks to Ilana for her insightful and great answers – I didn’t realise Wunderbar had been involved in the translation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights into BSL, fabulous stuff! Brilliant to be involved with them and definitely will be keeping in touch – that’s a quest well worth going on!

Now… who’s coming to the Human Library? Spread the word! :)

A poem for National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day and this years’ theme is Water. Since it’s chucking it down outside, that seems very apropos.

Lately, as well as composing BSL poems, I’ve been looking at translation; English to BSL and vice versa. I first became really interested in this when I went to the Signing Hands Across the Water poetry festival in America last year; it really hit me that all the ASL poets had voiceovers, but none of the BSL poets did.

That and a hilarious misinterpretation of one of my poems by a non-signing member of the audience and various discussion panels between the poets made me think about how poems might be translated across languages. I’ve had poems that I’ve written in English published, but struggle to translate them into BSL, and when trying to put English words to my BSL poems, all I can come up with are basic scribbles that do no justice to my meaning (in my mind anyway…)

Thanks to the Deaf Explorer project I had the opportunity to travel to America to meet The Flying Words Project, a poetry duo comprising Peter Cook, a Deaf ASL poet and Kenny Lerner, his hearing interpreter. They work together to create poems using ASL, English, mime and movement, effectively creating a whole new performance art.

They’ve been performing for decades, and they are amazing to watch. Seriously, check out their first poem in the video; they’re so well-rehearsed that Kenny can literally do it blindfolded. Respect. And Peter’s signs… wowee. And the poem about the dog (called Charlie) gets me every time. The show starts at 5.25, but if you watch the speech at the beginning with automatic captions, please do not be alarmed; it is indeed the Flying Words Project being introduced, and not the ‘violence project’. I think YouTube needs to work on their software…

In America, I was able to chat with them about their creative process, a fabulous experience, which only fuelled my interest in bilingual poetry. So can written poetry be translated into sign language and vice versa? Of course they can, but it’s not easy! So many grey areas, literal translation versus meaningful translation; translating whole lines versus just a few words here and there; everyone has a different way of looking at a poem, how to give as many possible versions or just one depending on the poet’s vision? Etc. Etc, etc.

So I thought, in honour of National Poetry Day, I’d have a go at translating a water-related English poem into BSL, and after some thought, the poem I chose was ‘The Rainy Day’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of my favourite poets.

The text of the poem will follow the video; this way people can choose to read it before or after watching the BSL translation; hopefully it will all make sense and I’ve done the poem justice!

Feedback welcome :)

And yes, I know this was posted over an hour after National Poetry Day officially ended. Technical issues. Bloody iMovie. Ahem.

Seriously, feedback welcome!

The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still sad heart! And cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Farewell, Vitalis.

Today, the funeral of Vitalis Katakinas is being held in London. I can’t make it, but Vitalis and his loved ones are definitely in my thoughts.

He was an actor, a poet, a playwright, a biker, a sportsman, a father, a lover, a charity fundraiser, a friend, a positive spirit and influence for many. He was a beautiful man, with a beautiful fluency and affinity with sign language to match, and had talent pouring out of his deaf ears. The world is poorer without him.

I remember him at Deafinitely Theatre, attending workshops with him, watching him perform in the showcase, and watching him in Love’s Labours Lost. From royal intrigue to Shakespeare, he took it all in his stride. I remember chatting with him, and being impressed by his smile, his can-do attitude and his confidence; when he moved from Ireland to London, one of the first things he did was go straight to Deafinitely Theatre with his acting CV. He certainly didn’t hang about and wait for life to come to him – he went out there and took it by the scruff. He was a good foot taller than me, and he may have looked ‘tough’ with his hair and his leathers, but was always sweet and kind, the proverbial (to little me) gentle giant.

I remember he came to the Bristol BSL poetry festival a few years ago, and we worked together in one of the poetry workshops; his ideas were gold. I’ve been looking at some of his poems, which are still available on the Metaphor in Creative Sign Language project website. I especially like ‘Graduation‘, where he takes on the perspective of one of the University of Bristol’s oldest buildings. His command of BSL was – at the risk of repeating myself – beautiful.

I remember seeing him, alive and well at BSL day in London just hours before he was injured. He looked good. He still had that hair and that smile. His injury and his death a week later, having never woken from the coma, was unbelievable and tragic. How could such a strong guy, with such a zest for life, be comatose, be dead? It didn’t make sense then, it didn’t make sense when I was tying some flowers to his memorial tree and it doesn’t make sense now.

I don’t think it ever will. All I can do now is to repeat and reinforce the message that was on his memorial tree: one punch can kill.

I have no doubt that his funeral will be extremely well-attended, as will the gathering afterwards. He had a positive impact on so many lives, and I know I’ll always remember him. He had the soul of a poet. I’m sending lots of vibes and prayers for Vitalis and his loved ones; I hope all goes as well as it can today, and he gets the kind of send-off he deserves.

This poem by Ramas Rentelis perfectly sums up Vitalis and how much he’ll be missed.

Farewell, Vitalis.

Donations can be made at vitalistribute.wordpress.com.

The BBC are treating me like a second class Doctor Who fan

(originally published on the Limping Chicken)

Recently, there was a post on Pesky People, ‘Silence has fallen at the BBC’ written by a fellow Doctor Who fan, describing their troubles with trying to get a ticket to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Celebration Convention. It’s quite the saga, it goes on for several blog posts, with various back and forth responses between Samantha and the BBC. But in short, the BBC have been so bloody-minded and inaccessible that they are causing a lifelong fan of the show to fall out of love with it.

Look at her pics. She is totally dedicated. This is the kind of fan that the BBC should be bending over backwards to accommodate, not driving away.

Sadly though, the Beeb seem not to share this view. No doubt they would much prefer it if she disappeared quietly into the ether and stopped making a fuss. That’s certainly been my impression from my dealings with the BBC when it comes to Doctor Who.

In short, the BBC is treating deaf and disabled Whovians like second class Doctor Who fans. And I don’t appreciate it. Not one bit.

Sometimes, though, the BBC can get it right. Check out this interview between Alison (director of Pesky People) and Samantha herself, at ‘Disability meets Digital’ in March, where they discuss the issues they’ve had with Doctor Who events, but when the BBC gets it right, they can get it really right. At 11 mins 30, they discuss the Doctor Who Theatre Experience, which not only had well-trained actors, they even had a set of actors who could use BSL, so if a deaf person came, they could sign the entire performance.

Samantha really hits it on the head when she says that “it really shows what really can be achieved when the will is there” (13.50). Unfortunately, when it comes to certain areas of the Doctor Who franchise, that will seems to be entirely absent.

First, let’s establish my Doctor Who fan credentials; this is my morning coffee cup…

Dr who cup

This is me at the Doctor Who exhibition at Land’s End a few years ago…

Me + TARDIS

This is my official bag from the convention in Cardiff last year, which still hangs proudly in my room…

Dr Who bag

Anyone remember the BSL interpreter on stage for the cast panel? And the make-up workshop? That was me and my good friend in the front row; I was the one mainlining Mentos to stay awake; I’d just got back from America two days before and was horrendously jetlagged. Dragging myself out of bed that morning, I felt like I was dragging myself out of a coma. I still made it. I had to eat a lot of Mentos to get through the day, but I made it.

Me and Ood Dr Who Convention

That’s how much I love Doctor Who.

I haven’t even got to my DVD collection (growing steadily as Amazon keeps telling me when Doctor Who DVDs are on special offer. Oh Amazon, you know me too well) or my various toys. Or my favourite T-shirt with a Dalek silhouette print. Or my planned sci-fi themed fancy dress birthday party in November, where I will most likely be a Doctor.

In summary, I really love Doctor Who.

So imagine my outrage when last year, the Doctor Who Christmas Special, ‘The Snowmen’ wasn’t subtitled on iPlayer. I missed the original broadcast as I was staying with friends and their TV signal was buggered. I tried threatening them, but it didn’t work. I had my heart set on watching the special on iPlayer that night, and I wasn’t prepared to listen to any excuses about the wifi and how long it would take to download; in the end, it took over three hours. Very kind of them to invite me over and everything. Love you, guys.

It wasn’t subtitled. It wasn’t bleeding subtitled!

Every day and night I went back to check. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Have you ever seen a junkie that can see a fix; it’s so close they can smell it and touch it, but someone keeps dangling it just out of reach? For me, that someone was the BBC. Eventually, after four long days, the BBC deigned to subtitle the Christmas Special of one of their most popular shows of all time. By that point, I was like this:

smashed-computer

I tried contacting them, believe me. I sent them constant error reports, I emailed them, nothing. For four days, nothing. And then eventually, a few days later, a pathetic email apologising for the inconvenience. The inconvenience? Did they have any idea of what they’d done? That they had effectively withheld a stonking episode from me for days, whilst the hearing population could watch it at any time? Discrimination. I had to watch the special another few times before I calmed down. Ah, the power of the fix…

But this is not what’s got me wound up. This was just one incident in a long line. The two prequels to The Snowmen, The Great Detective and Madame Vastra Investigates, were not subtitled.

I commented on the videos on YouTube and emailed the webmaster on the BBC official Doctor Who website, to no avail. I got zero reply. I found this incredibly annoying on several levels, but mainly that these were prequels intended to tantalise fans, to whet their appetites. All they did for me taunt me; that here was an official canon Doctor Who clip, possibly filled with verbal clues, that I could not access. I had no idea what any of them were saying.

This wasn’t the first time the BBC had pulled this stunt. When they released a prequel for The Big Bang, with Rory tearfully talking to Amy’s lifeless form, that wasn’t subtitled either. I tweeted and commented on that occasion too, and got nothing. In fact, a big fat nothing has been the BBC’s M.O. thus far.

It gets worse. This is the BBC official Doctor Who website. Click on ‘clips’. Click on a clip. Any clip. Pick one. It doesn’t matter which you pick, because not a goddamned one is subtitled. I’m sure ‘Songtaran Carols’ is funny as hell, but to me, without subtitles, it’s worse than meaningless. This has been a source of frustration for a while, and believe me I have tried everything I can think of to attract the BBC’s attention to this.

I left comments (under DeafFirefly) on YouTube videos linked to the Doctor Who website, with no reply, I used the Doctor Who website contact form to send a message to the webmaster, twice, with no reply, I emailed the BBC accessibility team at accessibilityteam@bbc.co.uk twice, with no reply, and most recently, I went through a phase where I tweeted the official @bbcdoctorwho account every day for two weeks to complain about the lack of subtitles, with no reply, and at one point comparing the @bbdoctorwho overseers to Tivolians (A reference to a species famed for their cowardice and lack of will) again with no reply. Every single attempt I have made to raise this issue has been totally ignored.

In the end, I begged a kind geek, Chakoteya, who does transcripts of Doctor Who episodes voluntarily, to do transcripts for the prequels for me. This she did and I thank her wholeheartedly, it really helped, at least now I knew what they were saying. She has continued to do transcripts for canon prequels, they’re available with all her other transcripts in episode order. Thanks Chakoteya! Really, really appreciate it.

In all honesty, though, it’s not the same as watching a clip with subtitles; with a transcript one has to either remember the dialogue while watching the clip and match it to any visible lip movements (panning shots, ha!) or flick constantly back and forth between transcript and clip, making a supposedly enjoyable experience hard work.

It would be much easier to watch a subtitled clip and thus enjoy full and equal access to what the hearing Doctor Who fans are getting. This is the BBC’s job. Why am I having to ask kind people to do transcripts for me when the BBC surely has enough resources at its disposal to provide access themselves? How unreasonable is it to expect the BBC’s biggest internationally-selling show to subtitle a few videos?

(*cough* Equality Act, reasonable adjustments *cough*)

In sticking it to loyal fans like this, not only is the BBC doing deaf and HOH Doctor Who fans and themselves a great disservice, they’re also flouting Ofcom’s Codes on Television Access Services, and their own policies on accessibility. The BBC accessibility policy even includes this great piece of lip service:

“This is an area of importance for the BBC. In keeping with our public-service remit, and our obligations under the Equality Act, we are committed to ensuring that BBC digital services are as accessible to disabled and elderly people as reasonably possible. We aim for a consistently high level of usability for our entire audience across all of our websites, following best-practice accessibility guidelines. We engage with disabled, non-disabled and elderly people throughout website development to fully understand user requirements and ensure we produce sites that meet these.”

As lip service is indeed all it is.

I’ve had a look at BBC accessibility help and found this page that proudly boasts that among other shows, online content for Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, both Doctor Who spin-offs, are subtitled. Irony, anyone?

You think this post is long? You should see the formal complaint that I’ve written, for the attention of the BBC Trust. It goes to three pages, which I managed to achieve by shuffling the margins a little to squeeze it all in. Three chock-full pages of quotes from BBC access policy, subtitling guidelines, codes of practice and Ofcom. Let’s see them ignore that.

I really did not want to have to do this. I tried all the methods I could think to contact the BBC so we could sort it out like reasonable people. But that’s impossible when one side of the dialogue is apparently a brick wall.

I did not want to have to write a formal complaint, quote the BBC’s own policies at them, nor tell them that if I do not receive a satisfactory response within 10 days, my next step is a formal complaint to Ofcom and to explore other options. Not to my favourite show. Look what they made me do.

Whilst I’m not yet falling out of love with Doctor Who, the BBC are severely testing my patience.

I love Doctor Who, but I really don’t like being treated like a second class Doctor Who fan.

Deaf lad wins Big Brother!

Big Brother. Orwellian piss-take or a sad indictment of modern celebrity culture, or both? Either way, the subtitles are live – read, crap – so I’ve never bothered.

But then a deaf lad entered it. I never thought I’d see the day when a deafie willingly entered a house full of hearing fame-hunters, most likely totally un-deaf-aware and utterly clueless, and have to deal with them in front of cameras recording live. Every slip-up, every misunderstanding televised for the nation’s viewing pleasure. Not to mention spending every waking moment with them for weeks. Trapped. With literally nowhere to hide.

In short, I would only agree to go in the Big Brother house if you guaranteed me the £100,000 prize up-front.

Whilst I still don’t watch Big Brother, I’ve been keenly following Michelle Hedley’s updates on the Limping Chicken, and it seems that for the most part he relied on his lip-reading and speech skills, and on instructions printed on laminate for the Big Brother ritual humiliations, I mean tasks.

And it seems he survived. He not only survived, he endeared himself to the hearts of the nation enough that he won. He bloody won Big Brother, essentially a televised popularity contest. I give him all credit. As he struggles in large groups, it seems his tactic was to hang quietly in the background and make friends with individuals; exactly what I would have done. He even managed to spread some deaf awareness along the way, giving his real thoughts to Callum, telling him the truth about how hard it is to keep up sometimes.

I so understood what he meant. I identify with Sam on several levels. Like him, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was three, as doctors had told my worried parents that I was fine, just ‘lazy’ and ‘slow’. I went to mainstream schools, where I got a ‘good education’ – if a good education is one defined by average-to-good grades and zero social life – and yes, I relied on lip-reading and speech. I didn’t learn to sign fluently until I was 19.

And yes, it was bloody hard work. Always tired, getting headaches from concentrating, eye blur, and forget about group situations. Just forget them. My hearing aids suck in all noise, so no chance of hearing anything clearly, and it’s a game of follow the magical invisible conversational ball, which constantly changes shape and direction as it flies through the air. Actually that’s not a bad metaphor. I might try to work that into a poem.

Nowadays, I avoid hearing non-signer group situations like the plague. Why would I put myself through that? It’s frustrating and you’re basically treading water while everyone swims conversational circles round you. And on national TV? Show me the money.

I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter some deafies giving Sam shit for not signing enough or for lip-reading and speaking all the time etc. I’m not sure what they wanted him to do – hijack a camera and climb on the roof of the Big Brother house, unfurling an FDP flag before launching into a Sign Song or a BSL translation of Shakespeare? Maybe he doesn’t overtly represent the deaf BSL users, but he has showed the country several important things;

Deaf people are not aliens
Deaf people do not have two heads
Deaf people can have a nice smile; they don’t bite
Deaf people can be funny
Deaf people can be romantic
Deaf people can be lost and insecure
Deaf people can participate in things if you give them half a chance
Deaf people can win Orwellian televised popularity contests if you give them half a chance

Plus, of the prize money, he said he was gonna give 25% to charity, 25% to his Mum and hold the rest for his future. Another thing he’s showed the nation:

Deaf people can be kind, smart and have a good head on their shoulders.

So I’m feeling the love for Sam. He took on the Big Brother house, a daunting enough prospect for someone who can hear everything going on round them, and won.

He bloody won.

Congratulations, Sam and I wish you all the best for the future. You’ll go far.

A poem in remembrance of the CDS.

They really did it. The University of Bristol really did it. They really shut the Centre for Deaf Studies.

And I haven’t had any reply to my email in which I accused them of academic vandalism.

It is academic vandalism. It’s a crying tragedy. What does a Centre have to do to stay open? Win funding? The CDS did that. Produce graduates with a reasonable prospect of future employment in their chosen discipline? The CDS did that. Conduct ground-breaking research and change perspectives? The CDS did that. Win worldwide prestige for the University? The CDS did all that and more.

The University crippled the Centre by closing down the undergraduate programmes ‘for academic reasons’ then said the Centre wasn’t getting enough income to be viable. This seems somewhat like shooting someone in the leg and then telling them they deserve to get eaten by the big angry bear because they’re not running away fast enough.

In these times of austerity and recession, one could perhaps understand a venerable organisation like the University of Bristol wanting to tighten their belts. Times are tough, after all.

Imagine my surprise then, when I walked into the main entrance of the building that housed the CDS a couple of months ago. I saw something. My step slowed. I turned to look at it fully. My mouth dropped open. The object of my disbelieving attention?

A great big poster advertising the new ‘Priory Road Redevelopment’. It showed a big shiny building with lots of expensive-looking detail. Lots of glass, some fancy landscaping. What?

To recap, they’re shutting the CDS due to lack of money, then they’re building a great big new fancy complex on the site.

I fear I cannot write what I think about that, it might turn the screen blue.

However, what I did do was compose a poem. I had been invited to perform at the CDS Ball on 22nd June (and a big kudos here to the third year students who organised it on top of their studies – go you!) and I wanted to create a poem that a) honoured the CDS and b) expressed the outrage that shutting it is.

It took me a while, but finally, inspiration struck me. The address of the Centre was Priory Road. Priory is an old word meaning religious house, a place for monks or nuns to study, pray, write, etc. But long ago, disaster fell when Henry VIII decided that a) He could come up with a better church than the one in Rome and b) look at all that money the religious houses had. In the “dissolution of the monasteries” most of the religious houses in England were closed and ransacked, with the wealth going to the Crown. Funnily enough, this dissolution was also preceded by cynical rule-changing, with dubious reports and ‘fact-finding’ that led to only one inevitable conclusion.

Perfect. It also occurred to me that an old word for a servant of the king or higher noble used to be ‘squire’. Ahem. Other things that were in my head were the maze-like structure of the CDS, who the monks and nuns might worship, the CDS library (which I really hope the University of Bristol will at least try to preserve), the reams of writings produced in one form or another, the students, the other deaf studies institutions that sprung up after the CDS, in fact there are various references and in-jokes scattered around, I’m not going to give you all the clues, you’ll have to watch it and see for yourself!

Here, with thanks to Amy Claridge for filming, and more kudos to her and the other organisers, is ‘The Priory’, complete with a brief introduction to the poem. I’ve subtitled the intro, but I have no English translation for the poem as yet. Give me time.

Wherever we go, we shall always remember the CDS.