When I was a child I used to tap around the flat with a stick trying to find out what it was like to be blind. I folded scarves into triangles and knotted them around my neck and arm to make the sling for the broken arm I never had. I always wanted but never needed spectacles. I tried on other people’s braces in the playground and limped around the corridors of my block of flats in imitation of children at school who had had polio and wore calipers on their legs. I thought it so glamorous to have ‘a condition’, and I was also curious to find out what it was like being without something I took for granted. But I have no memory at all of pretending to be deaf. I played games putting my fingers in my ears, of course, making things louder and quieter, but I never thought of it as seeing what it was like to be deaf. There were children in the playground who wore hearing aids, pinky beige flesh coloured implements you couldn’t miss, but I never wanted to try them, or wondered what life would be like without hearing as I wondered what life would be like without sight.
A recent hearing test showed that I’ve been losing hearing for some time. Everything is either too loud around me, or muffled. Friends are tiring of repeating themselves, although some of my mishearings add to the gaiety of the world. In the playground days they were called ‘deaf aids’, then more recently ‘hearing aids’, but last week I picked up my ‘hearing instruments’ that look a little like a tiny version of what the kids in the playground wore, but so much smaller, nearly invisible, and so electronically clever that I can now watch TV with the volume right down while a little mike streams the sound directly into my ears. All the world is amplified, except chattering around and behind me. It isn’t what perfect hearing is like, it’s what hearing is like in a cinema with a really good sound system. I sort of like it. Everything is somewhat unreal and as if narrated. A car door closing sounds like a dramatic point. And although we both quite miss my thinking that the Poet has warned that there are bears underground, when he actually said that he despairs of the world, he’s quite pleased not to have to say everything three times. So on the whole, this bit of getting old is quite satisfactorily – if unbelievably expensively – remedied. I’m not sure I don’t even feel a little bit glamorous taking them out of the neat little black box and ostentatiously putting them on.