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.

Donna Williams: Becoming even more deaf – and accepting it (even if I miss those ‘tsh’ sounds)

My latest article for the Limping Chicken, a great deaf news site. Check it out! I love the image art, created by Twitter user Ciaran Moloney (@cmoloney13), inspired by a quote from the article 🙂

https://limpingchicken.com/2013/07/31/donna-williams-becoming-even-more-deaf-and-accepting-it-even-if-i-miss-those-tsh-sounds/

 

The Limping Chicken

I see myself as being quite secure in my deaf identity. I’m part of a diverse community and a rich culture, and I have a generally positive view of my deafness; I firmly believe that any disability I have as a result of my deafness is that caused by communication barriers and not my medical status.

Medically though, I was already profoundly deaf, with an average hearing loss of about 90 dB. I wear hearing aids, and whilst they’re far from perfect I get a lot of sounds – although they’re jumbled and don’t make much sense.

I like music, but in order to appreciate a song, I need to learn the lyrics by heart and then learn the song and where they fit in; only then can I listen to it. Radio? Don’t make me laugh. Speech is audible but totally unintelligible without visual cues.

But lately, it seemed…

View original post 997 more words

SAVE THE CENTRE FOR DEAF STUDIES!

It has been an amazing week. It started with the CDS Ball in Bristol on Saturday, where I performed a poem, then went to Birmingham on Sunday for InteGreat Theatre’s big hurrah, where I performed a poem, then back to Bristol on Mon only to bounce back again on Weds for meeting and prep for Thursday’s Deaf Explorer Unconference where I was due to present a summary of my trip and perform a poem, then last but not least, BSL Pride day on Saturday where, with the madly talented Jason Sharpe, I was due to perform – you’ve guessed it – a poem.

The CDS Ball, though. Talk about bittersweet. Lovely to see everyone, and pay our respects to the Centre for Deaf Studies and celebrate the fact it’s been around for 35 years. If that sounds somewhat contradictory, it was. Yay, 35 years! Aw, this is the last year of undergraduates.

The CDS undergraduate programme was axed in 2010. This did not pass without comment. There were protests, local news coverage, letters, general outrage. All to no avail. This year will mark the last group of undergraduates to pass through the CDS. So the third years took it upon themselves to organise a Ball in honour of the CDS and all it represents, and I have to give them lots of kudos for rolling up their sleeves and organising it all, I can only imagine the stress. And on top of exams too! KUDOS. *bows*

It was at the M Shed no less, MC’d by Matt Jenkins and featuring a few special guests from the history of the CDS. It was surreal. Everyone was dressed in their finest, including myself, I’d picked out a black velvet jacket, a proper dress shirt, and borrowed some cufflinks from my father. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the stone in my ring matched my navy blue bowtie. Well you didn’t expect me to wear a dress, did you…?

We even managed to raise a few laughs for Gavin Lilley’s stand-up comedy and the slightly anarchic raffle (where I won a sweatshirt – go, me!) and the golden girls’ speeches – and I hope I don’t get lynched for calling them that, but it was inspiring to see them all on stage and equally depressing to know why we were all there.

Yes, depressing. The Centre for Deaf Studies scored a lot of firsts, from the first use of the term ‘Deaf Studies’, to the first textbook in BSL, which is still in use today; it was at the forefront of research into Deaf Studies, developing that unique field of sociological research, joining up with other areas of sociology, providing safe haven for deaf and hearing academics and students alike. They gathered a brilliant dedicated interpreting team and having a degree from the Uni of Bristol is / was a great start for any would-be terp or academic.

I myself have been a research subject; I was lucky enough to be part of Dr Rachel Sutton-Spence’s Metaphor in Creative Sign Language Project for several years, and I credit my involvement with this project for my development as a poet, both in skills and confidence. I had the opportunity to hang out with some great, talented BSL poets and help with poetry festivals and in return all I had to do was sign a few consent forms and allow Dr Sutton-Spence and her keen research fellows Dr Kaneko and Dr West to film my performances and the occasional informal discussion / interview so they could write papers to their hearts’ desire. For me, it was a fantastic deal. I owe the CDS a lot.

Not to mention the fun I’ve had helping with the interpreting student’s roleplays. As well as giving me a chance to flex my acting muscles, it was fun to see their reactions to the scenarios (given to me by the tutor, so don’t blame me) and also an interesting insight into what goes into a terp’s training. Everybody starts somewhere, including BSL terps. Bless. They’re so cute. I’m going to miss that.

And now tomorrow, there is a meeting. On the 5th July, 2013, it will be decided whether or not to completely and permanently shut down the CDS.

The University of Bristol is insane. It’s like they don’t know what they’re throwing away.

Help them see the light.

There’s still a day in which to send your strongest objections via email to:

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor, via his exec assistant:  jami.west@bristol.ac.uk

and

Mr Denis Burn, Chair of Council: denis.burn@bristol.ac.uk and also via  Clerk to Council: hugh.martin@bristol.ac.uk

Advice from savedeafstudies.org.uk updates: http://www.savedeafstudies.org.uk/?p=468

Tell them:

1.     we want the subsidy the Vice Chancellor announced in December – honour the promise!

2.     we want an independent review of the finances

3.     we want a proper impact assessment – the decision affects the Deaf community and the hearing community

Please write now!

For my part, this is what I have sent, with a tiny little bit borrowed from Dr Emery’s letter at the end:

For the attention of Professor Eric Thomas, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bristol, and Mr Denis Burn, Chair of Council of same.

My name is Donna Williams (BA, MA) and I wish to register my surprise, dismay and extreme disappointment at the prospect that the Centre for Deaf Studies may be permanently and completely shut down. I hold degrees in Deaf Studies with Philosophy and Ethics and Social Philosophy, and it was my hope that one day I would be able to do a cross-departmental Phd between the Centre for Deaf Studies and the Centre for Ethics in Medicine, both of which are highly-renowned academic centres that the University of Bristol should be proud to own, and should, in my view, defend to the last.  The Centre for Deaf Studies has been at the forefront of exciting sociological research of the highest order, research that has contributed to changes in perception of sign language and deaf people. The work of the Centre for Deaf Studies over the last 35 years has been invaluable, both in terms of research and in terms of producing high-quality graduates with good prospects of employment, and the international regard in which it is held is well-deserved. Closing the Centre for Deaf Studies would be an act of academic vandalism.

I cannot believe that the University of Bristol would let such a valuable asset, one that it should proudly boast of, die. Furthermore, it is my understanding that a subsidy of £100,000 was offered in order to keep the CDS open, which was then withdrawn. This only serves to further my disbelief. Why has the University of Bristol not honoured this promise?

I urge the University of Bristol in the strongest possible terms to give a great deal of consideration to any decisions relating to the Centre for Deaf Studies, including an impact assessment; decisions relating to the Centre for Deaf Studies will affect the Deaf community and the wider hearing community as a whole. I also urge you to begin an independent review of the finances so that the Centre for Deaf Studies may demonstrate its financial worth as well as its academic worth.

I appeal to you to rethink your plans to close the Centre for Deaf Studies. Please commit to your original promise not to close the Centre and to offer a subsidy.  That would enable the Centre to focus on developing a top quality institution of research into sign language and Deaf culture, and sign language Interpreting.

It is not too late to put research into the rights of Deaf people ahead of the economics of the current ‘austerity’ climate. In the long term the University will be a great beneficiary.

Please don’t throw away a Centre for learning that is held in such high regard across the world. It should be possible to work out a solution with political will and commitment. If the University is prepared to give the Centre a long term plan, there is no doubt it can continue to be a pioneering Centre for Deaf studies related research.

Yours Sincerely,

Donna Williams, BA, MA

Get writing!

A Series of Unfortunate Events

This is a true account of the events of 26/1/13, a heavily edited version of which is on its way to Virgin Trains customer relations. Why should I pay to be treated like this? I digress. These things were written in the heat of the moment, in a notebook I habitually carry in case I’m suddenly struck by inspiration. Well on this occasion, I wasn’t so much struck by inspiration as the need to vent. And vent. For four hours, this notebook kept me sane.

(Notes in brackets / italics added post-script for clarification / extra comments)

————————————— Notebook —————————

Believe me; I’ve had trouble with trains. Delays, random platform changes, hostile members of the public, clueless conductors, broken screens, non-disabled people using lifts and disabled gates out of sheer laziness whilst I’m ignored, the stories I could tell you would have you weeping with frustration.

Right now, as I draft this in my notebook, I am weeping with frustration.

I have also vowed never, never to use trains again. They’re overpriced, un-disabled-friendly and frankly bloody unreliable. The hell with this.

(I’ve only broken this vow once, the next day when I had to go to Blackpool for the NDCS. Other than trips to London and possibly Cardiff, I don’t intend to break this vow again.)

It began with a busy weekend. After exhausting kitchen service for a charity fundraiser the Friday evening, I was scheduled to go up to Birmingham on the Saturday, for a workshop and a meeting with InteGreat Theatre, followed by travelling up to Preston for a leaving do and to see long-lost Uni friends, followed by giving a presentation for the NDCS on Sunday morning in Blackpool, followed by a long trip back down to Bristol. I had planned to pack a lot into that weekend, I just didn’t realise how much.

It was a long meeting, so instead of catching the 18.20, I caught the 19.20. Or rather, I didn’t. It was cancelled.

So I went to customer reception. They sympathised and said I could catch the train to Chester, changing at Wolverhampton for a train to Preston that would get me there just before 9 o’clock. Remember: this journey was supposed to take one-and-a-half hours. Only thing was, the Chester train was leaving in a matter of minutes, so a mad dash through a typically confusing Brum New Street concourse found me on the right platform just as it was boarding.

Panting, and with jelly legs (I don’t have to move quickly much, and my idea of ‘quick’ is not the same as others’. When I’m in full pelt with my walking stick, I can achieve a very fast hobble) I managed to get a seat, but I didn’t have much time to rest, as before I knew it, we were in Wolverhampton.

I got off the train, and looked for screens. I found some and read: ‘19.37 PRESTON DELAYED’. By this point it was 19.43 and it didn’t say how long the train was delayed for. So I thought I’d better move it and hobbled off down the platform towards the lifts / stairs as fast as I could. The train was on platform 3 and I was on platform 1.

Two women who’d got off the same train as me had the same idea and hared off down the platform and soon disappeared up the stairs; at my fastest hobble I had no hope of catching them – and they were wearing heels for pity’s sake. Luckily though, the lift was right next to the stairs; rarely are train stations so thoughtful.

The lift wasn’t there. It was at the overbridge. I pressed the button. Nothing. I pressed it frantically. Someone getting on at the top, I guessed, but COME ON.

When the lift finally came down, the only occupant was a young man wearing a fashionable t-shirt and ripped jeans, chatting on a mobile, and aside from a sideways glance at me as he sauntered out of the lift without a care in the world, he barely acknowledged I was there. He didn’t look the slightest bit disabled. He looked like a complete and total time-wasting lazy prick.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to remonstrate with him (or punch him in the face) so I leapt into the lift and pressed the button. The doors didn’t close, and a disembodied voice said something. I pressed the button a lot harder, and in their own sweet time, the lift doors started to close.

I hobbled over the bridge as fast as I could and again banged the button for the lift. It was bit quicker this time, there being no lazy able-bodied time-wasting bastards on the other end, but not quick enough. By the time I got to platform 3, the Preston train was long gone.

A lot of emotions, then. Frustration, mainly.

I went back to platform 1 and the ticket / info desk, where I told my sorry story to the sympathetic man behind the counter. He was patient, printed out an alternative train, two alternative trains and wrote on the printout that I could get more help at customer reception. I was guided there by a security man, and met by an apparently friendly lady behind the desk.

Once again, I told my story, that I has just got off the train from Brum and simply hadn’t been able to move fast enough to catch the next train. During the course of the conversation, I discovered that they had actually been holding the Preston train in case there were passengers like me who needed to catch it due to the cancelled trains. They were holding it for people like me. Or rather, people not like me. No doubt those two women who galloped off ran up, got on, the train manager decided that was it, and fucked off.

When I tearfully lamented that I hadn’t known they were holding it, that the conductor on the Chester train had seen my ticket / disabled railcard / walking stick and had apparently not passed on this information, the lady’s reply was:

“You should have asked for assistance at Birmingham.”

Her exact words.

Quite apart from the foray into victim-blaming, the average train station worker is far too busy to do things like help disabled people without at least 24 hours’ notice, which is what most train companies require if people need help – 24 hours’ notice or more that they’re going to need help, whether they know it or not. I had five minutes’ notice, which I then had to use in order to catch the Chester train. If it had been mentioned to me then that they were holding the train in Wolverhampton, I might have asked them to hold it a little longer. Or they could have used some initiative and called ahead to say a deaf, mobility-challenged passenger was on their way. None of this happened. So how was I to know? How was I to know that I would only have a tiny sliver of time in which to catch the next train, that some lazy wanker would hold up the lift, that the train manager would assume that everyone can run that fast?

I found her comment unhelpful on so many levels.

She then went on to say how, if they’d called from Brum to let her know, she could have met me and helped me across. Well, I’m sure she would have – maybe – but again, how was I to know? They didn’t tell me – or I didn’t hear – at Brum that the train was being held, or I bloody well would have asked them to hold it a little longer for my poor little legs.

But they didn’t, so I didn’t, and here was this woman who seemed to be trying to turn it all back on me that it was all my own fault and I should have asked for help. Bitch.

I didn’t know!

I replied that I didn’t know I’d need it and I didn’t usually need assistance, I can get myself on and off trains, I’m just not very quick.

She looked sympathetic but didn’t say much, though she managed to find me a couple of slightly quicker trains, and promised me assistance at Manchester.

At this point, the full, terrible truth dawned on me. I wasn’t being offered two separate alternative trains. These were the alternative trains. I was going to have to go to Manchester Piccadilly and catch another train, and I was going to arrive in Preston at least an hour and a half later than I’d intended.

It doesn’t help that my phone has chosen today to die. I can receive text messages but not send them. I suspect GiffGaff. I had assumed my deal would roll over automatically, after all, that’s what I clicked. Apparently not, and O2 have cut me off. That’s what I think happened, but I don’t know until I go online to check (it was exactly what happened, thanks GiffGaff!). In the meantime, how do I let my friends know, who are expecting to see me at 9, that I won’t be in Preston til at least half 10? This is like being back in the dark ages, or pre-21st century… If I start getting worried messages, I’ll have to approach another passenger and ask to borrow their phone, but hopefully my tearful appearance will inspire sympathy.

Yes, tearful. After I’d thanked the lady for the new printout (my, wasn’t I brought up well) and made my way to platform 2, using the curséd lifts which were now of course moving in a timely manner, and found somewhere to sit, I burst into tears.

Congratulations, National rail, Virgin trains and life in general, after many stressful, delayed, cancelled and generally incompetently run train journeys, you finally broke me. Well done.

I’m now writing this as I head to Manchester. It remains to be seen whether I’ll catch the first connection there. If I miss it, I’ll be arriving in Preston gone 11.

And to make everything better, four rowdy men got on at Macclesfield and as I write, they’re singing loudly and stamping their feet, causing my hearing-aids (which cut out automatically over a certain decibel volume) to switch off intermittently and the vibrations from the stamping causing my seat to shake to the rhythm, because that’s just what I needed right now.

At what point do you stop crying and start laughing?

For the time being, I’ve switched off my hearing-aids and I’ve dried my tears, and I’m down to the occasional resentful sniffle.

In fact, now I’ve calmed down a little, I realise there’s no point in plotting dark revenge.

I don’t yet know why the 19.20 was cancelled, but I’m sure there was a reason. It didn’t occur to the people in customer reception at Brum to call ahead and let Wolverhampton know a deaf half-cripple was about to attempt to change trains, and it didn’t occur to them to let me know the train was being held. The same failed to occur to the train conductor on the Chester train, despite having my disabled railcard and Preston ticket literally waved under his nose. The women who ran off probably had no idea that I wanted the same train, if they noticed me at all. The lazy dickhead was just a lazy dickhead. The train manager of the Preston train has no idea I exist (though maybe they will when my letter arrives at customer relations), and it clearly never occurred to them that slow people might want their train too. The lady in customer reception at Wolves (probably) didn’t mean to be a bitch. The men laughing and singing loudly and banging tables in the middle of the carriage have probably barely noticed the small woman huddled in the far corner, curled up with her hood up and scribbling away in a notebook.

In essence, I am lucid enough to know that most likely, no one person has deliberately set out to fuck me over this evening.

It’s a series of unfortunate events, exacerbated by my deafness and my inability to sprint like Usain Bolt, and my feet hate me for trying.

————————Manchester Piccadilly ————————-

Well, the train that I was on, which was meant to arrive at Manchester at 21.39, arrived at 21.43. What a surprise. And the assistance that the customer reception lady in Wolves promised me at Manchester entirely failed to materialise. Again, oh, quelle surprise. Plus, the train she’d marked for me to catch at 21.46 (hah) was at platform 14. For those unfamiliar with Manchester Piccadilly, platforms 13 and 14 are half a mile from the station proper, and serviced by two moving walkways which – of course – were switched off (double hah). I didn’t even try to cover that distance in 3 mins. As we’ve by now established, I don’t run very fucking fast.

Getting to the ‘lounge’ for platforms 13 and 14, I found my next train was Barrow in Furness, 22.16. As I had twenty mins, I approached a friendly-looking group of coppers and train station security and begged the use of a mobile to text my friend, and my dear Mum who had texted to ask if I was in Preston yet (triple hah!). The nice station security man let me use his, even though I wasn’t crying any more. It was also a blast from the past to use a phone that had 3 letters to a key… but old skills came back, like riding a bike, and I managed a couple of brief texts. Cheers, man. Much appreciated.

I headed down to platform 14 to await the Barrow train. I had time to reflect that if I had just taken my car and braved the Brum traffic system, I would be in Preston, somewhere warm and halfway to drunk by now. But I wasn’t, because I had thought that trains would be simpler and easier.

QUADRAPLE HAH.

And as I was standing there, in the bitter wind and rain and cold, 22.16 came and went. Then when a train arrived at 22.20, the destination said Chester. Chester? I looked up at the screens and where mere moments ago it had said Barrow, they now said Chester. Judging by the looks of confusion and puzzlement around me, the hearing crowd was just as bemused. We must have looked like a bunch of people who have just watched a magician make a car disappear – except they’d made a whole train disappear.

Now that was impressive. There were a few minutes of aimless milling around, as the bereft herd waited for new information. Eventually it came, naturally in the form of an incomprehensible tannoy announcement. I chose a target carefully (no beard, check; looks friendly, check; etc.) and found out the Barrow train was now coming in on platform 13. All well and good, I shuffled over there.

But new information seemed to be filtering through the herd; it seemed the train was in fact coming in on platform 13a. We were on platform 13b. The other end of said platform. Marvellous. I followed the herd, slowly, falling behind as usual. We got there, and sure enough, the screen said Barrow. But after a few minutes of waiting, we all saw a train pull into 13a, lights on in the distance. A few brave souls went to check but it said ‘not in service’. I positioned myself between a and b anyway, as by now I was in a high state of paranoia.

It paid off. The trains’ destination screen changed and became Barrow. I went from being the crip at the back of the herd to being the crip at the front of it. Is this the point at which I start laughing?

Mwahahahahahahaaa.

I just made it, even though I swear I could feel them all catching up to me, and got overtaken once or twice. I am now seated on a warm train, unlike those who suddenly found themselves demoted to the back, and the next stop is Preston. I don’t think I will ever have been so happy to see it in my life.

It’s now 23.11. I left Brum at 19.25. Three hours and 45 mins and we’ve not arrived yet. Over two hours late.

From now on, all long inter-UK journeys shall be undertaken by car. Except to London. I’ve only driven in London once, and never again.

But all other journeys; car. Why should I pay for this?

————————— Post-Script ——————————

Arriving in Preston was joyous. I even walked to the nightclub where my friends were with a spring in my step. But when I got there, the bouncer stopped me. “Mumble mumble mumble” he said, pointing at my legs. “Huh?” I said. “Mumble mumble too casual” he said. I couldn’t believe it. After all that, I was being thwarted at the last hurdle because something I was wearing was too casual?

My main priority at that point was to let my friends know that I was alive and well and not dead in a ditch somewhere near Manchester, so I explained my phone was dead and PLEASE could I borrow one and text my friends? They looked uncertain but one said he’d take me in to find them then we had to come back out. Fine, whatever, fine.

Once in, friends were quickly located, as was the woman of honour (congratulations on the job, Claire Pink! Best of luck for the move!) and our warm greetings may have moved the bouncer a little, but also maybe when I explained to them I was going to be sent back out, I openly pointed accusingly at him, leading him to get some funny looks. He spoke into a radio and suddenly, a man in a suit turned up.

He proceeded to try to explain what the problem was.

“Mumble mumble mumble” *thumping dance music* “mumble mumble mumble”

“What?”

“Mumble mumble mumble” *thumping dance music*

“Is it the bag? The bag is cos I’ve just come from Bristol!”

“No no mumble mumble mumble” *thumping dance music*

“Er, can you text it? Text?” *wave hands vaguely to indicate tapping on a phone*

Thankfully, he obeyed and while he typed, I tried again to guess what the problem was with the bouncer, who was still hanging around.

“Is it the shoes? The shoes?”

“Mumble mumble mumble” he said, while pointing down. I thought he meant the shoes.

At that point, something in me snapped.

“What do you mean?! I’ve had two operations on my feet! These ARE my only shoes!!!”

And bless me, the bouncer, who was a good foot and a half taller and twice my size, actually backed away a little.

“No no no mumble mumble mumble” he said defensively, again pointing down.

“Well, what then?!”

By this time, the manager had finished typing, and rescued the bouncer by showing me the message.

My trousers. Apparently, cargo trousers, even nice ones with a microscopic check design (not denim) are too casual for this nightclub on Saturdays. Well, excuse me.

I took a calming breath and thought.

I typed back that I had some navy blue jeans that looked nice in my bag, would they be OK?

The manager almost seemed relieved. Yes, he typed, that would be just fine.

Was there somewhere I could change?

‘Yes, come with me’, he typed, and even added ‘sorry for the inconvenience’

There you go. Patience in a moment of anger (shouting at the bouncer notwithstanding, normally I’m very nice to bouncers, honest) and problem solved. I was allowed to change and go catch up with everyone, and they weren’t forced to publicly throw a disabled woman out on the street.

It was really great to see everyone! Lots of chatting, and even made some new friends. It really was fantastic to trade news with old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years.

In the end, it turned out to be a pretty good night, but no thanks to Virgin bloody trains.

Feel the Music!

On 23rd October, I went to a ‘Feel the Music’ concert, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at BBC Hoddinot Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre. It was held in conjunction with Music and the Deaf, and led by Dr Paul Whittaker OBE, founder and artistic director of same, and Andy Pidcock, creative musician, and the whole thing was conducted by Grant Llewellyn, who has conducted the BBC Doctor Who proms, no less. I just hope I’ve spelt his name right.

It was a stellar cast, with a great orchestra and many more working behind the scenes, and it paid off in droves.

It was brilliant! It was my first concert, and I’m glad I picked this one to go to. It had deaf people firmly in mind, with lots of audience interaction, palantypists, big screens with subtitles and ‘visual representations’ of the music (think psychedelic shapes morphing in time to the music), an interpreter, Tony Evans, who kept up his enthusiastic terping for well over an hour, towel and a bucket for that man please and a very enthusiastic and colourful orchestra. There were lots of children and some NDCS volunteers in attendance, and I certainly embraced my own inner child!

Before the concert proper, there was the chance to talk to members of the orchestra as they milled around with their instruments, happy to explain them to anyone who asked. I met a bass clarinet player (think giant clarinet; a bastard offspring of a clarinet and a saxophone) who explained the concept of a bass clarinet – genuinely new to me – and as a violinist wandered along, I had the opportunity to ask them what was so bad about ‘bum notes’. It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen on subtitles, usually as hearing people wince and flinch, but I’ve never been bothered by them nor understood what the fuss was about; it’s just a wrong note. How bad can it be?

The clarinettist and violinist did their best to explain that it’s when two notes clash together – then they demonstrated it for me. They played together, then deliberately did a ‘bum note’ for me, right next to me, and damn.

To explain to my fellow deaf readers who may, like me, not have appreciated a ‘bum note’ in its full glory, find a blackboard. Run your fingernails down it. Feel how the weird vibration sets your teeth on edge and makes your hair rise? That’s what a ‘bum note’ feels like when you’re next to it. Is that what hearing people feel every time they hear a bum note? No wonder they hate it so much, the poor darlings! And bless those two players for their patient explanations and personal demonstrations, really felt like they were only too happy to help me understand elements of music that have passed me by.

One of the things the various orchestra members did was to play their instruments and encourage us to touch the instrument while they were playing – a brilliant idea. Now I know what a violin feels like when it’s played and I think I have a better understanding of why hearing people like it so much; I didn’t really ‘get’ violins before, as they produce a ‘soft’ sound that I perhaps I don’t really appreciate, but they sound nice up close and feel nice when played. Another win for the concert! The best instrument for this though, was the double bass; it feels like a really deep purr, and putting my head on the body of the instrument (yes, really) felt like a deep purr buzzing through my skull. Believe it or not, it was actually quite soothing. Bbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……

The concert proper began with some interactive explanations of basic music concepts, with Andy turning it into a game where the audience could ‘boomerang’ sound and bounce it back and forth. There was also a demonstration of the ‘speaker box’ – basically a wooden box on the ground, positioned above a speaker so whatever sound there was blasted through the speaker and made the box vibrate. Andy got a couple of kids to demonstrate it by getting them to stand on it and giving them a microphone, and one innocent little boy was so enthralled with feeling his own voice that he started jumping up and down on it going ‘Oh! Ah! Oh! Ah! Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh! Ah! Yes! YES! YES!’… Whilst my hearing-aids don’t usually pick up low-level sounds, I’ll swear I heard muffled chuckles coming from all around me. Or maybe that was just me – stop it woman, he’s just an innocent little munchkin discovering the vibration of his voice, don’t laugh. A thought process I suspect occurred in many of the adult section of the audience…

I digress. The concert as a whole was enthusiastically delivered, by everyone, and it was a great atmosphere. The kids were really getting into it, and so was I, I loved it. During some of the pieces of music, the audience was invited to go into the orchestra where empty seats had been set up strategically within the orchestra where people could easily be led there and sit down amongst the music, brilliant idea. It’s like being in the middle of a wall of musical sound, it was great. Even better, a guide was asking people in turn if they would like to come and touch an instrument as it was being played as part of an orchestra, and of course I said yes when she came to me. I was led to a violin, which I duly touched, though it did feel a bit strange to touch a stranger’s instrument while they were playing it (get your mind of the gutter, readers) and it was great – seriously, if you can arrange it, sit in the middle of an orchestra in full flow and touch the violin; you‘ll feel the vibrations of not just the violin, but underneath it, the symphony of the whole orchestra. Huh. This must be why hearing people like orchestra music so much. It does actually feel – and sound – quite nice.

I presume the invasion of personal space by random deaf members of the public had already been cleared with the orchestra in advance, but I was still impressed that having people led to them and having them touch their stuff while they were playing didn’t seem to put them off at all, and indeed one of the cutest things I saw that whole evening was a violinist and a little girl:

The guide led the little girl to the violinist. The little girl reached up to touch the violin, but couldn’t quite reach it. The violinist, without breaking stride, gently leaned down so the little girl could touch the violin, still playing all the while. Aw. I wanted to give that violinist a hug. The little girl seemed quite happy as well. Bless. Double bless.

I did that every time we were invited, it was great fun. There was also ‘who wants to be a conductor?’ which was very popular; the children practically rushed the stage and unfortunately I was too slow in making up my mind that I’d like to have a go. Not to worry, it was fun to watch the kids take the orchestra through their paces – and it was amazing to watch the skill of the orchestra that they were able to play to random baton-waving by a child they’d never seen before – kudos! About 20 kids (and adults) did this, with varying levels of knowledge and skill, but I’m pretty sure they all had fun! There were a few show-stealers among them, possible future conductors if I’m any judge, but every single one of them got a round of applause from the audience. The atmosphere was so positive and encouraging, I wish we could have bottled it.

For me one of the highlights of the evening, as a Dr Who fan, was being invited back into the orchestra for the Dr Who theme. And by luck or serendipity, I ended up near the drum section, and as they were inviting us to come and touch instruments, I got to go and touch the biggest bass drum I’ve ever seen. Until that evening, I wasn’t that bothered by the theme tune. It was just weird whistling noises while the TARDIS swirled around.

But standing within the actual BBC National Orchestra of Wales whilst they played it, with my hand on a big bass drum that soaked up every vibration from the orchestra was just fucking magical. It turns out the Dr Who theme tune is far more complex than I had thought. Who knew? In fact I think I’m going put that down as one of the highlights of my life.

Post-concert, I had the chance to chat with several people involved with the show, and was impressed by their enthusiasm; I got the impression the feeling was mutual! Everyone in the audience I spoke to had loved the show, and everyone involved I spoke to had loved doing it. All in all, a great success, and I’m delighted to say that this concert was only the pilot for more concerts planned in February, I’ll definitely be going!

Thanks to everyone involved for such an accessible, educational and thoroughly enjoyable concert! What a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed by an enthusiastic and varied cast, thanks again! And I look forward to the next one 🙂

P.S. BBC’s National Chorus of Wales and Dr Paul Whittaker OBE are teaming up for Handel’s Messiah at St David’s Hall on 14th December, no doubt a more formal event but I’ll be taking a look 🙂

When people are mean…

I’ve had a variety of responses to my ‘shit hearing people say…’ blogs, mostly positive I’m happy and somewhat relieved to say, whether sharing my sentiments, adding their own ‘shit they say’ or joining in the humour, as indeed I am actually trying to be funny-yet-educational with most of my mental responses; unleashing my sarcasm on the various idiotic statements / questions I’ve had to deal with, so that people might laugh and / or make a mental note not to say that to any deaf person they meet.

One or two people have pointed out though, that my comments can be taken negatively. This is true, though they’re not (usually) intended that way; they’re just expressions of the internalised frustration and disbelief some of these comments cause. One person, though, asked:

“Do you think when hearing people say those types of comments… they’re actually trying to be mean?”

I can honestly say no. No, not at all. I’m fully aware that more often than not, silly comments or questions are born entirely of lack of thought or awareness. They’re merely annoying; in the same way that running your fingers down a blackboard and feeling your teeth go on edge is annoying.

When people are actually trying to be mean, it’s much more than annoying. It’s demoralising, disempowering, and infuriating.

People are being mean when:

They pull silly faces and stick their tongue out while saying “can you understand this?”

They hide their lips behind their hand and demand to know what they just said. For extra points, one person who did this then refused to believe I couldn’t do it because I’m totally reliant on lip-reading with non-signers, because ‘you speak so well’. Basically called me a liar and accused me of playing for sympathy.

They flick my hearing-aid with a finger, then laugh as I scramble to save it from dropping on the floor.

They treat me like I’m completely stupid when they realise I’m deaf. I’m considering carrying around my newly-minted MA certificate in order to prevent this in future.

They hoot or yell directly into my hearing-aid, overloading the microphone and electronics and causing me to wince and / or jump; then laugh. Yeah, that’s really funny.

They wave their hands and contort their faces in a very mocking way, not unlike a certain ‘comedy sketch’ broadcast by Saturday Night Live ripping off Lydia Callis, the ASL terp made famous by terping for Mayor Bloomberg during Hurricane Sandy (and kudos to New York for providing a terp for NY’s many deaf residents!). This is an activity usually conducted by drunks. (And for extra points in meanness, compare deaf women to dogs – watch the clip. It’s not just the ‘interpreter’; they all piled on).

They ask if I plan to have children, then suggest I might be irresponsible to pass on my genes when I say I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it.

They say I shouldn’t be driving because I’m deaf (actually, deaf people are statistically no more likely to have accidents, thank you very much) and ask how I know when emergency vehicles are coming. Um, bright blue flashing lights? Plus, they tend to be painted in bright, attention-getting colours. They’re kind of hard to miss. That said, I did nearly swallow my tongue once when I was overtaken by a police car doing about 100mph while I was trundling along at 30 on a quiet road. But that was hardly my fault, by the time I knew they were there, they were half a mile away. That must have been some emergency.

They laugh patronisingly when I misunderstand something and refuse to repeat it.

They say ‘What? What? What?’, making me repeat something over and over, until I lose confidence that I’m saying the bloody word right, before dissolving into hysterical giggles.

They roll their eyes every time I miss something. Sometimes, it’s a martyred sigh, as if I’ve been put on this Earth for one reason only; to test their patience and fortitude. (Learn sign language then, if talking to me is so difficult, or if you can’t be bothered with that, write it down. It’s not rocket science. You’re only making it difficult for yourself and blaming me).

Once upon a time, when I was still a young, nervous deaf person finding their way in the world, on a train back home from Uni, I was peacefully reading a book (one of Terry Pratchett’s, so I was fully immersed) when the train stopped at Birmingham New Street. Since this wasn’t my stop, I continued reading my book.

Suddenly, there was a massive blow to my shoulder, knocking me into the window next to me. In shock, I looked up and there was a man, his fist raised, demanding that I get out of ‘his seat’. Utterly stunned, and struck dumb, I shakily gathered my things and stood up. As I shuffled out of the seat, I managed to find my voice and say: ‘You know, I’m DEAF. A tap on the shoulder is FINE.” Lame I know, but it was the best I could come up with. He refused to look me in the eyes.

Turning around, I found that the entire carriage was watching the scene and felt like a rabbit being pinned by many headlights. Thinking it couldn’t get any worse, I started to shuffle down the aisle, head bowed.

Then, all of a sudden, seats were free. People invited me to sit next to them (seriously, how often does that happen on British transport?) or offered me their own seats. So many people rushed to offer me a seat, it was almost like being royalty. Heavily pregnant royalty. I was suddenly the most popular person in the carriage, while the man slunk into ‘his seat’ and sat looking out of the window to avoid the stares.

I ended up sitting next to a woman who said darkly: “there are ways and means of doing things.” I got the impression that what had horrified the carriage wasn’t the blatant assault per se, but that the man hadn’t attempted to get me out of his seat more politely. How very British.

If this happened to me today, I’d be texting 80999 like crazy to have the guy arrested. But at the time, there was no 80999 and either I didn’t have enough confidence to flag down the train manager or was too much in shock to think of doing so, I’m not sure which. But so help me, no-one is getting away with doing that again.

Add to this all the times that I have been pushed aside or given filthy looks for not moving out of the way when I simply didn’t hear ‘excuse me’. True enough, they’re not being mean because they know I’m deaf, but indirectly it is because I’m deaf. And they apparently can’t see, or be bothered to think to look for, my bright blue earmoulds and goth-black hearing-aids.

This is what happens when people are being mean. Luckily, these types of incidents, where I have to deal with real ignorance and hostility, are few and far between. I’ve only been physically assaulted once (I’m choosing not to count all the times of being pushed aside; those didn’t leave a mark – both on my skin and on my confidence in public spaces) and I steer clear of obvious drunk muppets when I’m out.

I’m happy to say that the vast majority of the hearing people that I have met have been nice, if maybe sometimes a bit clueless. I can put up with occasional daft comments (though I may make a note of them for future blog posts…) because I know that far more often than not, it’s not intended to offend. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating, but it’s unintentional, so I try to deal with those with patience, whatever my mental musings or gripings might be.

But I do wish people wouldn’t be mean.