Friday, 7 August 2015

Crystal clear*

I had breakfast in the bath this morning, which is something I haven’t done very often since moving to our current home twelve years ago.  This is partly because we now have an adequate shower and partly because we no longer live in a house with bathroom and kitchen on the same level, which made the process of making breakfast while the bath was running a less risky affair.  Anyway, whatever; it triggered memories of that former house and former times and, as I lowered my head under the surface and my ears filled up with water it triggered another reminder.  I have been a hearing-aid user for fifteen years. 


This is probably not an anniversary I expect to celebrate, but it is worthy of some thought and reflection.  I was fifty when I acquired my first analogue hearing aid having requested a hearing check earlier that year.  Unusually (I think) I was one of those people who became aware of my hearing loss before other people started insisting.  My father gradually lost his hearing as he got older and I had strong memories of the period before he succumbed to testing while he insisted that we had all started mumbling.

A lot of people are familiar with the process of having spectacles prescribed and the process of the optician flipping lenses asking which one is better.  Sight correction is a careful and precise art – hearing correction is less so.  The process has been improved by digital hearing aids which can be adjusted to some extent to accommodate the type of hearing loss, but basically a hearing aid is a small loudspeaker positioned behind the ear with a plastic ear-mould inside the ear.  It can take a very long time to get used to a first hearing aid.  To start with the sensation of having a large foreign object in the ear is very pronounced.  It feels like having a bad head cold and can make you feel as if your nose is blocked as well as your ears.  Then the sounds it amplifies are unfiltered by the brain.  Going out from the hushed hearing aid clinic into a busy street feels like a sensory assault and flushing the loo sounds like a waterfall being unleashed from a dam.  In the first year of having my hearing aid I frequently felt so desperate that I took it out and felt it wasn’t helping.  It took a talking-to from one of the audiologists at the clinic to make me persevere with wearing the aid all the time and really start to get the benefit from it.

I now have two digital hearing aids which are programmed to my particular hearing loss, which also have special settings to cope with noisy environments and for listening via loop systems.  I am well used to wearing them from the time I get up until I settle down to sleep at night, but they are not without their problems and difficulties.  Batteries don’t last very long and frequently give up the ghost at inconvenient moments.  Plastic tubing pops out of place and is difficult to realign.  An enthusiastic hug from a friend can cause shrill feedback if my ear is covered.  I try not to think about the time I sleepily removed my hearing aids at night and carefully dropped them into my water glass – not realising until the morning that they had been immersed in water all night. 

The simple fact is that hearing aids don’t replace normal hearing.  Even with the amplification of my aids I need the television louder than other people.  Clarity is lost and I frequently mishear or fail to understand what people say.  I can’t join in desultory chat amongst a group of people making conversation across a room; I can’t “earwig” on conversations in buses and cafes; I have more or less given up trying to listen to my beloved Radio 4 and hardly ever click on video or music links on the computer because the effort of setting up the earphones and taking out the hearing aids to listen rarely seems worth the effort.  Certain voices are more difficult to catch than others.  Children’s voices, for example, are very light and not always clear, so I sometimes miss out on conversation with my grand-children.

 Other people’s attitudes to deafness are very interesting.  I’m not stone deaf, so on the whole I haven’t encountered rudeness or exasperation from people outside the family.  I’ve never been embarrassed by wearing hearing aids and always make people aware that I have hearing difficulty so that they don’t think I’m being rude or ignoring them if I don’t respond appropriately to something they say.   Family and friends are good at asking me where I would prefer to sit in cafes and restaurants and at relaying instructions to me in public places when I can’t hear the speaker.  In domestic situations with my nearest and dearest it’s not always the same story.  I know that it’s not easy communicating with someone who’s hard of hearing.  I had years of trying to make myself understood by my Dad, who could be pretty haphazard in his use of hearing aids and there were definitely times when I gave up and decided the effort of repeating myself just wasn’t worth it.  On the other hand as the deafened person one soon becomes aware of the tutting and rolled eyes of an impatient family member being asked to repeat themself, of the exaggerated raised voice and slow enunciation as if talking to an idiot. I have been known to become upset and angry.  So have they.

Apart from these irritations I think these days that I’m pretty well adjusted to using my aids.  I certainly couldn’t manage without them.   Somehow, though hearing loss isn’t “normalised” in my life.  It’s still a problem and an irritation, something I would prefer not to have to think about and deal with.
*Apparently a fifteenth anniversary is a crystal anniversary

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

slow stitch

I'm working on an enjoyable piece of stitching at the moment.

Just working organically, grabbing a scrap of fabric and butting it up against another...
and rhythmically stitching them together.
Even the backing is made a scraps of quilt wadding that I'm cobbling together as I go along.
I really don't know where this is going to end up, I'm just enjoying making it happen.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

a sideways look

I always enjoy the joke of the signs on these shutter garage doors at Spike Island studios.

From one direction it reads:

If you walk in the opposite direction, you are instructed:

But if you look at the doors face-on the message is not so clear:


Which just goes to show that facing things head-on may not always be the best strategy.  Some things only make sense with a sideways look.

Friday, 20 June 2014

a quilt for a little girl

J has just had her fourth birthday.  She is moving house this summer.  A joyful quilt for her bed seemed in order.

This is what I made.

She seems to like it.

Sunday, 9 March 2014


Uxorious is a strange and rather ugly word to describe a man who loves his wife.  Its root is the Latin word 'uxor' (wife).  Where it is used at all in modern English it may take a slightly pejorative tone, implying a slightly cringe-worthy devoted love.  Or it may be misused entirely.   In his book Levels of Life Julian Barnes says “I bridle at the misuse of the adjective ’uxorious’.  If we don’t look out, it will come to describe ‘a man who has many wives’, or even (that dubious phrase) ‘a lover of women’.  It doesn’t mean this.  It describes – and always will, whatever future dictionaries may permit – a man who loves his wife.”

My father was an uxorious man, devoted to my mother.  He delighted in buying her clothes and was quite dapper on his own account.  It therefore follows that when, in his later years, he gave me a sum of money for my birthday or Christmas present, I generally spent it on clothes.  Since his death I have missed the ritual of the birthday card with a cheque and the self indulgent shopping spree.  So I have a new birthday ritual, which is to go out on that shopping spree anyway with my own money to buy something that I think of as being from him. 

I am lucky to have an uxorious husband who takes pleasure in buying me clothes for my birthday too, so this year I have indulged in two lovely pieces of fair-trade clothing:

From my Pa, a block-printed tunic dress by Accacia from Chandni Chowk, which pleases the natural dye geek in me by having a swing ticket enumerating the dyes used (alizarin, indigo, madder, cassis, iron, pomegranate, turmeric)


And from Steve this rather lovely summery retro-styled number from People Tree.

It's not even my birthday yet, but the current sunny weather is making me look forward to venturing out in my new threads.  Thanks,  chaps!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

there must be a better way!

I have spent the day crawling around on the dining room floor trying to pin together the three layers of my quilt. 

This is my least favourite stage of quilt making.  To start with it is always difficult to find a large enough space to spread out the whole fabric. Then getting the fabric completely flat and wrinkle-free on each successive layer is a difficult and deeply frustrating process.  Several times I had to completely lift the top fabric and start again because as I spread it out I found that it was extending past the edge of the backing fabric.  Once satisfied with the layering I then needed to pin the three layers together.  Overall it is a very physical and actually quite painful process – despite the use of that cushion, my knees will take a while to recover!
The remarkable Lucy Boston (who wrote the Green Knowe children's books) was still making quilts into her eighties, hand-quilting them at ten stitches per inch, so how did she manage the layering process?  I can’t imagine many octogenarians being able to scramble around on their knees as I was today.  If there are any quilt-makers out there who can give me some advice, I shall be glad to hear it.

Monday, 25 March 2013

two exhibitions

On Saturday we took our weekend visitors to two local exhibitions.

First up: Drawn at the RWA. The added frisson here was that my talented husband had had a piece of work selected!
Yes that is a red dot! (picture credit Steve Broadway)
It’s a really lovely exhibition showcasing the skill which is the foundation of artistic practice. For me the striking thing about the show is the sheer diversity of artistic expression. I was intrigued by the contrast between artists who employ a few spare lines and those whose pleasure is to render what they see in minute detail. To quote the RWA’s press release: “Far from being a traditional drawing show, works included vary hugely in materials, subject, and style. From iPad life drawings to chalk drawn directly on the RWA gallery floors, from embroidered drawings to flocked screenprints, the works push boundaries, taking drawing to new heights.”  Drawn runs until 2 June and I recommend a visit. 

After a civilised break for coffee, we made our way just down the road to Bristol City Museum where, tucked away on the top floor at the back of the building, is a small but delightful exhibition entitled “Stitching and Thinking”. Starting with samplers of darning and mending from the museum collection, this show then moves on to examine ideas of mending and repair – from the straightforward repair of stitched artefacts to the more costly business of repairing broken hearts.

(Picture credit: Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery)
The discipline of limiting the colour palette to white cloth and red stitching creates a simple and poignant overall effect, which makes it a very appropriate companion to the largely monochrome exhibition of drawing at RWA. There are only a couple more weeks of this lovely exhibition and I’m hoping to get to the final gallery talk on 3 April.