I wear hearing aids. I have noise damage in both ears, says Elaine Kingett. The result of standing too close to the speakers at too many gigs with my blues-playing late husband, following Roxy Music around, a particularly loud night at Bains Douche in Paris in the 70s and the fact that I’m 67. Double hearing aids may entitle me to a Disabled Railcard [for me and my ‘carer’] but they also embarrass new friends and work colleagues. Even in this day and age, they are synonymous with lack of mental ability – being a bit ‘slow’, as my mother would have called it. Pardon?
As we age, we gather failings – some more socially acceptable than others. Glasses are a branding opportunity, a global source of income for labels along with perfume and handbags. They’re a fashion-flaunting opportunity, a trend investment. Hearing aids are marketed at mature, heterosexual, Caucasian couples who like cruises, beaches and reading with a strong light over their shoulder. Their selling point is that they are discreet – like Tena pads. They most certainly do indicate failings but the failure is in their design values and their functionality:
You can’t shower in hearing aids, cue Psycho.
You can’t swim in hearing aids, cue Jaws.
Try lifting your arms above your head and they whistle, rubbish for yoga.
And most importantly, you can’t sleep in them.
‘Bed is for sleeping,’ said more than one young audiologist to me, acknowledging my DOB. ‘Yes, but when you have a new partner you need to hear directions.’
‘I have to tell you, Elaine,’ whispered one ex, after a steamy session, ‘that my teeth are not all my own.’ And ‘I have to tell you that I wear two hearing aids,’ says me. I’d pulled them out at half-time, in frustration at their squealing, and chucked them across the bedroom floor; down on my knees the morning after, searching the shag pile. Yes, it’s a boon on bus or plane. When life gets too loud, I can take out my ‘aids’ and retreat into the fug, but I long for the day when I tell someone new that I wear them and they don’t reply in a conspiratory whisper behind a cupped hand, ‘Oh, you’d never know.’
Elaine Kingett runs creative writing holidays in Spain and Wales and workshops in London; for more information check out Write It Down.