Achieving the ‘right’ sort of calm…

A few weeks back, I saw the most helpful meaningful meme I’ve seen in a very long time. I forget the exact phraseology, but the gist was: 

No one in the history of being calm has ever calmed down as a result of being told to calm down.

This is something my husband has yet to grasp, even after nearly fifteen years together. When I’m running clockwise round the house in a lather because I can’t find my hearing aid /car keys / house keys / wallet, the last thing I need is for him to follow from room to room, expounding the importance and benefits of centring myself. You see, I don’t lose my cool easily. What my mindful other half doesn’t quite realise is that I’ve only reached the flame-faced, barking, foaming-at-mouth stage when:

  • I’ve checked all the logical places
  • I need to be out of the house in five minutes
  • and I still have 50 illogical places left to check

What I need my husband to do is rise to the occasion by running around the house in a counter-clockwise lather, sharing the search through the illogical places for my mislaid vitals. Or, if he doesn’t fancy lathering on my behalf, he could simply say something like, “how dare the keys teleport themselves onto the roof! Don’t worry, love. I’ll get the buggers down for you.” That works. Call me a snowflake, but I find that a moment’s empathy goes a long way. I then take a breath, remind myself that the keys were unlikely to have left the house by themselves, given that I’d locked us in just the night before, and then they turn up quite quickly.

Don’t get me wrong. I like my hubby being calm. It’s an attractive part of his personality (except when I’m not calm). In fairness, as a pilot, being calm is critical to his job (along with exemplary hand-eye coordination, a quick mind, and an ability to fake an expression of delight at the appearance of horrid food). He also has a natural advantage, being Dutch. Dutch Vader wouldn’t have blown up Alderaan; he’d have been hanging out in the cargo bay of the Death Star, muttering “Schtop rebelling for five minutes! I’m trying to have a schmoke.”

So Hubby is Dutch, pilotish and mindful. It’s just my little cross to bear.

I won’t knock those who find mindfulness life-saving, reassuring and helpful, but my personal experience of learning the basic tenets wasn’t a huge success. I really got the hang of squeezing my upsetting, troubling thoughts into a little room in my mind and shutting the door. I may have inadvertently added a few unnecessary locks to that door: I went to bed early; I neglected the dishwasher in favour of slow breathing; I forgot to insure my car (not for long, thank god), and I neglected to put filling in my son’s lunchbox sandwiches. But that’s part of my problem with grand philosophical problems—I find a single solution and take it all rather literally.

In other ways, I need to be less calm. I procrastinate like a true professional, and a little more regimented structure in my life would probably do me good. It’s good for the soul to be reasonably chilled about wearing size 16-18 jeans (UK size), but it would do me better to get out there and burn some of the excess weight off. Similarly, I’ve found that if I don’t have a deadline, I don’t do things. It’s probably time to pull my socks up, find my publisher’s release date calendar, and fill in a slot for ‘A brotherhood of bouncers’, the ridiculously-long-awaited sequel to ‘Single Syllable Steve’, as linked below. I may need to request some organised harassment to get that done.

The time I find it most difficult to be calm is when other people have different views about how calm I should be. For example, when my son (8) throws a wobbly in a shop.

If I don’t react, then I’m failing to show him that his behaviour is unacceptable. Cue much tutting among the baby boomer generation. If I do react and tell him off, then I’m drawing attention to his bad behaviour and validating this as a means of getting my attention. Cue much tutting among Gen X parents. Gah. Because this has been so frustrating over the last year, I recently made the decision to pick a policy for dealing with tantrums in public and stick to it, regardless of what tutting by-passers may think.

The other day in the co-op, I seemed to have walked into a swarm of people taking their afternoon tea break from a meeting of the Society of Unwanted Parenting Advice. It was after school, and all my son wanted to do was go home and collapse in a heap after a rather long day. Which was fine, as I told him, but we had to go via the shops first. Oooooo, he didn’t like this. He made his feelings clear up and down every aisle in the shop.

First, I gave him the count-down warning for not getting the sweets that I’d initially bribed him with.

“You’re just withholding his sweets?” screeched an unhelpful onlooker. “I’d ground him for weeks for playing up like that.”

I ignored, walked on. My son kept up the hostilities, so I made my “right! No sweets!” proclamation in the random snacks section of the fridge aisle, which was a mistake, because I came to a halt next to the pizzas and I wouldn’t let him those, either.

Cue hard-done-by explosion number two from little man. I tried to distract him by letting him choose which drinks he wanted.

“Wouldn’t give him a choice if I were you,” muttered a walking fount of wisdom in a tweed jacket. “It’s just pandering.”

As you can imagine, my blood pressure was quite high by the time we’d reached the till, but my son had at least reached the dark sulk stage (silent but deadly). I was packing up the goods and asked him to hold the bag open for me. He flatly refused.

“Right! No iPad, no x-box, no footie!” I announced, to which he reacted with a flood of tears. Unmoved, I went on, “I’ve given you many, many chances to tone down your behaviour and you just keep digging deeper. Stop being so flaming stubborn, hold the flipping bag open for me, and start re-earning your treats!”

Well, you can imagine the flurry of opinions this invoked from the opinion-havers behind me in the queue. Some offered the view that there should be no earning back of treats, others shouted loudly about my raised voice, and the builder right behind me offered, “calm down, luv! It’s just a bag!”

Incensed by my son’s grateful nod in the builder’s direction, and feeling rather overwhelmed by my audience, I stamped my foot. I’m still rather embarrassed about that, but they did stop. How were they expecting me to deal with my son while busy listening to all their unwanted advice, anyway? Weirdos. It doesn’t help that I’m trying to lipread them all.

Quite close to tears, and feeling rather ganged-up-on, I turned to the builder and half-yelled, “nobody in the history of calming down has ever calmed down as a result of being told to calm down!”

He blinked. “Eh?”

“I said…” I repeated it, loudly, in the face of a very perplexed man. I sort of trailed off, to be honest. It’s hard to shout clearly, and by the time I’d reached the end for a second time, my pulse had dropped a bit anyway.

My son was a little more humble when we left the shop. I don’t think he meant to draw quite such a large an audience. He didn’t speak, but he did help me put the bag into the car. I smiled at him; I know an olive branch when I see one. No doubt the people in the shop would’ve had a few things to say about the non-wisdom of smiling at him.

So, what’s the moral of the story?

  1. Pick your battles and stick to them.
  2. When people are flinging lots of aggressive ‘advice’ at you, keep your own counsel and ignore them as far as possible.
  3. Learn that phrase off by heart and trot it out next time someone tells you to calm down. By the time you’ve finished saying or typing it, you’ll have probably had time to work out what to say/do next, anyway.


Ommmmmm… [ link] [ link]


Tricky playdates

Bad places to have a playdate:

a volcano (risky and uncomfortable)
a motorway (deadly and you’ll be unpopular)
a cactus farm (very uncomfortable)
a wind tunnel (Unlikely to allow meaningful conversation)
Harrods (full of expensive kid-dropped-it-you-bought-it items)

By all means, suggest more. I’d love to hear your comments.

I have another for the list. Swimming pools. I can’t STAND swimming parties or playdates because I can’t hear a bloody thing. Yes, up to a point I can lip-read, but I can’t lipread other people’s children. Their lips are small and fast, and they tend to enliven the conversation with multiple feats of recreational self-drowning (doing handstands).

Other mums aren’t much easier. They submerge hippo-like to stay as warm as possible, or they want a chat while they do breast stroke at Olympic speeds.

I’m not good at the pool in any case, really. When I was about twenty, I was subjected to a flirting campaign at the local pool by a guy who had the kind of body that would look good on Calvin Klein underwear packaging. It was enormously distracting. I cannot talk good sense when, right in front of me, I have a bare, tanned chest covered in water droplets slowly easing their way from collar bone to belly button.

Anyway, back to the point. This paragon of barely-dressed sexiness had a beard. And I mean a BEARD. It was in lovely condition. I know this because it took him a while to blowdry it**. For the sake of a mental image, picture a pirate with Brandon Routh’s body and a thing for putting Pantene on his face as well as his hair.

I couldn’t lipread him 😦 So not only did I blither, talk crap, and gibber, I couldn’t understand anything he was saying either. I could only beam inanely as he shot me dashing smile after dashing smile and said mysterious things. Sadly I never got to speak to him with my hearing aids in. Poo.

Where was I? Swimming pool playdates! Yes, sorry. Curse of the wet man’s chest. Soooo distracting.

I have four tips for surviving SPPs:

  1. Explain to your friends about vibration support. What’s that? you ask. Well, if you put your fingers to the side of someone’s voice box, you can make much more sense of their lip patterns because you can feel the vowels in the throat while watching the consonants on the lips. It’s not perfect, but it boosts your understanding by about 30%. But, like I say, warn them about it early so they don’t think you’re randomly lunging for their throat. It’s a bit of a conversation-stopper.
  2. Go mid-morning, if you can. A smaller crowd means you can stay close to the group you’re with without being jostled so much.
  3. Develop a ‘pool’ code with your little ones. My son and I tend to use sign-supported English with each other at the pool now. If nothing else, it sends out a big visual clue: “Mummy can’t hear”
  4. Tell your child that splashing = roast sprouts for breakfast and dinner for a week. Chlorinated eyes do not lipread well.

Have fun! But be prepared.


**don’t ask.

Author Spotlight: Ian D. Smith

In between updates on my writing and little articles about life’s daily challenges, I’ll be hosting wee interviews with some of my fellow authors.

Now, just to be upfront about this, a very large proportion of these authors write adult fiction. And by ‘adult’ I do indeed mean that this is the kind of fiction you read alone, with the bedroom door locked. While the interviews are PG-rated, it’s all 18+ once you’ve hit the ‘buy’ links at the bottom of this article.

If erotica’s not your thing, then don’t click the links.

With that said, I’d like to welcome the first ever guest to my Author Spotlight….

Ian D Smith


You’ve just released the third in your series of ‘Merely Players’ novellas, which follow the adventures of jousting stunt rider-cum-actor Paul as he develops a three-way relationship with actress Hayley and her best friend, Becky.  Feel free to give us the gist of ‘From the Top’ in your own words: 

My three characters have been in their three-way relationship for a few months, which started when the women stopped unintentionally confusing nice-guy Paul and told him that was what they wanted. While things are going well, Paul is aware that he needs to give the longer-term some serious thought. An unconventional relationship is almost guaranteed to be gossiped about. Given that Hayley’s the star of a popular children’s show and that her parents are well-known actors, they want to private lives private, and avoid intrusive media attention.

The story occurs while they’re working on the first fully studio-based production Paul has worked on, which means they’re surrounded by people who love to gossip and might well share things with the media. As an acting novice, Paul feels very out of place. The production is a pretty silly family show in which two adventurers find a long-hidden ancient Egyptian tomb and temple. The tomb inevitably houses a restless and grump mummy, and the high priestess of the temple is a sultry temptress, who has some henchmen to help with security and the odd human sacrifice. While Paul enjoys working with a professional stunt team, the two professional actors introduce personality clashes, and Paul and Becky both get unwanted attention. And Paul keeps on having rather distressing and very realistic dreams about being involved in accidents, but each dream reveals enough for him to avoid the incident in real life the following day. But it feels to him as if he lives each of these days twice…


When writing the first in the series, had you envisioned how the second and third novellas would follow on (plotting well ahead, JK Rowling style) or have you seen each book as its own adventure, purely consistent with the previous?

I haven’t plotted ahead in any great detail, whether for the series or even for any of the stories. My main hope is that each can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story, even if it does refer to people and events in earlier ones. But I want to have a consistent thread running through the whole series, the development of the three-way relationship between my characters.

I set out to write novellas, thinking it might be easier to find a publisher for these. Although the first two books could easily be merged into a single short novel, they were written separately. My ideas for the second developed as I wrote the first and they just seemed to flow naturally. I only had vague ideas about the third until I was well into the second. The planned fourth and fifth books will actually be extensive revisions and extensions of short stories I wrote a couple of years ago. I’ve got some solid ideas for the sixth and final one, but I’m not going to do anything more than think about it for now.


Which do you find more challenging: the three-way love scenes, or the fast-moving action scenes?

I think it depends on the scenes themselves. I think the challenge with the love scenes is to keep them varied and entertaining for readers, and figure out the “choreography” in my mind before I write them. There’s also the problem of having two female characters. I don’t want to use their names over and over again, but I don’t want to leave the reader unsure who any given “she” is either.

The action scenes are fun to write, with the challenge of thinking them through until I feel as if I’m watching a video clip, then writing them down.

The scenes I find most challenging are the more subtle emotional ones, because I want these to come across as plausible and believable, consistent with that character and the situation.


Your hero Paul combines a good heart, a good brain (he lectures at university when not being drawn into a new filming project), and great athleticism (an expert horseman and stunt jouster). I’m going to be nosy… are you an expert in metallurgy and all things equine, or are you just doing a very good impression of someone who is? You can take that as a compliment to your effortless attention to detail…

Thank you! I’m delighted to have created him. I’ve been a horse-rider for over 20 years, have watched several jousting displays and even spent a day learning the basics. I’ve also done quite a few martial arts, and I practice archery as a sport. So, yes, I can probably include enough details to make a scene sound plausible even to those “in the know”. But other stuff, well, there’s google and my imagination…


Tell us about the genre you write in. Why does this particularly appeal and how did you get into it?

I first thought about writing a few years ago, when I read some entertaining “chick lit”. I enjoyed the idea of a story told against a developing relationship, but I thought the love scenes could easily be a bit more, um, detailed.

So that’s what I tried to write. My first efforts were pretty dire, of course, but with constructive feedback and my own bloody-mindedness, I started getting the idea.

Then I decided I liked the idea of the relationship developing as part of an adventure or mystery story. I don’t want to write a story which is primarily about the sex, but one in which the characters have sex as part of the natural flow of the story. Sex is an integral part of most adult romantic relationships, and as an often intimate and intense experience, it can be a useful trigger for all sorts of incidents, crises and revelations.


Your work has been praised often (and quite rightfully so) in reviews because you keep things very real—even when introducing supernatural elements as you have done in both The King’s Captain and From the Top. Have you ever been tempted to write something completely outlandish and fantastical?

Not so far. I like the idea of introducing “fantastic” things into our world, thinking about how they might appear and how my characters would react to them. And so far, I hope I’ve left things just vague enough to leave readers making up their own minds.

I have written a novel (currently with my publisher) which pushes the boundaries a bit more, but it’s still very much about our real, everyday world. And I wanted to rethink the supernatural a little, just for fun.

Primarily because my writing time is limited to short spells, I think I’d struggle to invent an alternative reality I was happy with. I’d want it to be self-consistent and have plausible physical laws and restrictions on anything like magic. But it would be an interesting idea to bear in mind for the future.


Do you have any suggestions/tips for aspiring writers and authors you’d like to share?

Decide what you want to write, and make sure you’re familiar with the conventions of that genre. You don’t need to follow them slavishly, but readers and publishers will expect you to include a fair number of them.

Writing even half-decent stuff takes a lot practice and you need to be willing to put in the time.

Find a critiquing group, or a group of fellow-writers you respect. Share your work and read their comments. Criticism of your writing helps you develop as a writer. It isn’t criticism of you, but developing a thick skin might be handy.

If you submit your work to a publisher or a call for submissions to an anthology, very carefully read what they say they want – style, genre, word-count, formatting etc etc. Not sending them that is an open invitation for them to say “no thank you”.

Anticipate that writing will be a rewarding, creative hobby, rather than a significant source of income.

Thank you, Ian! Now, lets have the blurb… (From The Top: Merely Players book 3)

Paul, working with his lovers Becky and Hayley, feels deep-ended. He’s acting in his first studio production—a slightly mad family-friendly TV show where amateur Egyptologists find a hidden tomb and temple, with a very realistic mummy on set.

They want to keep their developing three-way relationship private, while surrounded by people who love to gossip and just might let things slip to the media. Time is tight, working with a professional stunt team and egotistical actors is stressful, and Paul and Becky get some unwanted attention.

Adding to his anxiety is the important question of where their relationship can go.

Then there are his terrifying, painfully realistic, and very life-like dreams about nasty accidents. On TV, he can have another take. Real life only gives him one go. But it’s almost as if he’s getting a chance to change how things work out.


Buy links:

Knights Errant (Merely Players book 1):

Lonely widower Paul knows he’s ready to move on and start a new relationship, but doesn’t expect to meet two attractive and interesting women at the same time. They want to recruit his jousting display team to feature in a TV show.

Becky and Hayley are best friends, as different as chalk and cheese, and both clearly fancy Paul. A decent guy at heart, he hopes to win one without harming their friendship. But the women don’t make it any easier when they turn up the heat and leave him wondering what’s going on.

A fantastic prize is within his reach. He just has to overcome his deepest fears, self-doubts, and fragile self-confidence. And be Hayley’s leading man in the TV show she hopes will make her name. So no pressure. Just take a deep breath and let these two intriguing women lead him way outside his comfort zone.

Fireborn –

Amazon US –

Amazon UK –

Kobo –

B&N Nook –


Kings Captain (Merely Players book 2): 

Paul is Hayley’s lover and now her leading man. But acting and portraying a hero on a period TV show takes far more than a suit of armour. He’s totally out of his depth, personally and professionally.

Help arrives with dramatic lessons in leadership and courage, when strange events put him and his friends in harm’s way.

Hayley’s happy when her best friend Becky books hotel rooms with a bed big enough for three, which confuses Paul. Sorting out their relationships is even scarier than acting, jousting, and stunt fighting in front of the camera.

Life doesn’t imitate art. Life shoulders art out of the way. Discovering a secret threatens Paul’s trust in Hayley and Becky, and forces him to face his doubts and fears. He must decide if it’s braver to walk away, or ask for honest answers. Even if they may break his heart.


Amazon US –

Amazon UK –

Kobo –

B&N Nook –

About the author:

I currently live and work in the south-western corner of the UK, but I’ve spent time in quite a few parts of the country over my life. My education and professional life have been very focussed on science, so quite where my interest in writing fiction came from is a mystery. But I have this quaint day-dream that it might become more than a hobby. Well, one day.

I like to write stories which are at least plausible, especially in the little details. So research has involved me doing a few odd-sounding things. The fact they were fun was totally incidental. I’ve learned the basics of the traditional British rural skills of dry-stone walling and hedge-laying, and spent a day getting an introduction to bushcraft. I’ve driven a tank, spent the night in a snow-cave in the Cairngorms, flown in a hot air balloon, gliders and light aircraft,  and been for a walk with some nominally tame wolves.

You can find out more about Ian and his writing through the following social media:

Regular Facebook profile –

Facebook author profile –

Twitter –

Blog –

Amazon author page –


Yay! I tiptoed into journalism!

Well, sort of 😉

Today’s article is a sneaky cheat; I wrote a guest article for Limping Chicken, the UK’s biggest deaf blog, and you can read it here 🙂

Shares and comments very, very welcome. I would gravel* at your feet. I’d love to hear about your cookery show bugbears, too…


this is not a typo. Gravelling is an advanced form of grovelling, willingly performed on even the most inhospitable of surfaces such as flaming coals, or lego.


Arbitration Hesitation

I’m not one of life’s natural referees. I find confrontation incredibly difficult to handle, whether the issue is between me and someone else, or between two other people. If anything, I find the latter situation a great deal more stressful. When tempers flare and words fly out faster than lip-reading will allow, all I want to do is sink into a hole in the ground when I find myself at the centre of two expectant stares.

If I have to do arbitration, I much prefer to tackle one offended person at a time, if only so I can concentrate on what they’re saying without being distracted by the infuriated vibes emanating from the other offended party. This is particularly important within the family, I find. I have painful memories of an incident a few months back when my dad’s cake slice went missing. All three grandchildren professed their innocence, including my son. He looked genuine, but:

  1. I know how expert he is at adopting his innocent expression; and
  2. I know his cake-snaffling history.

Now, it wasn’t very brave of me, but I kept schtum about my suspicions because I had too much of a lipreading headache to tackle it at the time. I raised the issue back at home. This time, he admitted to snaffling cake, but said he didn’t know it was Grandad’s, because none of the usual tripwires and booby-traps had been set up. In fairness, my dad does usually employ a high-security approach to safeguarding his cake. Keeping a straight face, I gave Bas the brief, stern talk about taking any cake that wasn’t handed to him as his own.

So yeah, it can be tricky playing referee between adults, or adults and kids—but it’s really hard keeping the peace between kids. Nightmare!

Let me transport you across time and space to a footie match some weeks ago, on a wee pitch on a tiny field in Southern England. Picture the eager sun, seeking to heat the air; feel the cold spring breeze; picture the goalie hurling his gloves onto the grass in disgust and storming off into the distance.

My son was the goalie.

His discontent was over an illegal (off-side) goal.

And I had no idea what had just happened, because the wind had forced me to turn my hearing aids off. Lipreading the man who was talking to me (a cheery Samoan) took considerable concentration. His lungs had such immense capacity that he didn’t need to refill them between paragraphs, so the fast talking was tricky enough. Then there was the accent (albeit gentle), and then again the peculiar disparity between his uproarious laughter at his own anecdotes and what his anecdotes seemed to be about: the varied and ghastly implements his grandmother hit him with while he was naughty as a kid. I had no idea how to react–and was just reassuring myself that he was clearly someone who clearly saw the funny side of being walloped with a snake–when I saw my son heading for the tree line, shoulders stiff with fury.

After a hasty sprint and a conversation that required me to balance sympathy and sternness, Bas returned to the match, donned the gloves, and did really well.

You see, that was easy. Because in a one on one situation, I had no reproving on-lookers waiting for me to tell him off. In the privacy of the sulking shrub, I could ask him to repeat himself when I needed him to, and deploy the child-bolstering weapons of bribery, flattery, and blowing raspberries. I put in one sentence about seeing the striker’s point of view, but that was it. I would return to that point again, later, when alone with him again.

After half an hour of peaceful play, I found myself being shovelled towards the goal by several purposeful boys (ages 5-8), while other unwilling parents were bullied onto the pitch as well. It was left to one very little boy (who I will call Ernie) to explain the new rules to me while the rest of the players gathered at the far end of the pitch for a pre-match pep-talk, delivered by the world’s most confident seven-year-old.

I couldn’t hear Ernie’s instructions. Even with my hearing aids back on, his voice just didn’t register on my spectrum. His lips were moving at high speed, but no sound emerged. I shot my son an expression of entreaty, one that begged ‘please-come-back-and-translate’, but he just gave me a thumbs-up and rejoined the ‘big’ huddle at the far end. Traitor.

Ernie really did try to convey the rules clearly, with a great deal of arm movements and dashing about. But none of it helped. Taking his gestures literally, it seemed that I must first comb a lion’s mane, then drag it (the lion) in reverse through a field of bamboo, and, finally, reverse-park it just outside the goal box. I was working my way towards my third “pardon?” when the match started.

It turned out that the cheery Samoan was going to be one of my two defenders. While the ball was at the other end of the pitch, I meekly requested a re-run of the rules. He chuckled and gave me a friendly slap on the upper arm that nearly tipped me sideways.

“You know football rules, right?”

“I know normal football rules, but—”

“Ah, you’ll be ‘right, then. That’s what we’re playing.”

“Right.” I probably didn’t sound any more convinced than I felt.

Still, two stinging legs, forearms and a sore tum later, I hadn’t disgraced myself in goal at all. I’d saved six shots! My son, goalie at the opposite end, gave me a double thumbs-up out of pure, astonished pride.

At the end of the match, both teams wrung hands, backs were slapped (or waists, where the littl’uns were appreciating the grown-ups) and all was well until the striker decided to renew the off-side goal row with Bas.

Oh boy. As ever, it took me a moment to realise that there was a scene going on. I didn’t pick my son’s voice out of the hubbub, because I just can’t. It’s a good job I’m not a penguin, really.

I jogged over to find Bas red-faced, indignant and in no state of mind to take on board constructive criticism, while the striker was red in the face, hopping up and down, with no intentions of giving any constructive criticism. Well, criticism was clearly on the agenda, but not much else, I surmised. But it was difficult, between their high-pitched voices and arm flurries to point out to the striker that not many people had seen the shot as being legitimate, while suggesting to my son that he might do well to shut up while he was ahead (in nice language, of course).

And then the Samoan guy tried smoothing things over.

“Fellas! Sebby, you’re a county-class goalie. Russ, you’re a sharp-shooter in the making. You’re going to disagree often, and you’re gonna want to stick each other’s face in the mud, but you’d make an awesome team. So, how’s about a handshake and forgetting about it?”

Bas and the striker looked at each other. Their expressions suggested that they’d prefer a half-hour of combing the slime off a bucket of sea cucumbers. It struck me that neither would go home peacefully until they’d had a mutual, moderate degree of vengeance. So they did the bush-push challenge to see who could shove the other furthest into the rhododendrons.

Okay, it wasn’t sophisticated, but it was effective. The striker got a good shove in, but Bas’s was no weaker. Both boys went home proud and vindicated. And Bas gave me a big grin as I ran his bath, telling me I should ‘referee’ more often.

I’ll treasure that, because I’m not sure how many times I’m ever going to hear it.

Girl interrupted: when hearing aids thwart romance

Once upon a time there was a little pair of inoffensive-looking, beige hearing aids made by Phillips. They were bosom buddies from eleven to seventeen. Because each had their own endearing little quirks, I called them Matt (left aid) and Dan (right aid). By day, they were my armour, my conversational crutch, and my means of not getting run over by inattentive motorists.

By night, they were a monumental pain in the arse.

No matter how bosomy your bosom buddies are, you’re bound to fall out from time to time. Most of my fall-outs with Matt and Dan took place after an abortive snuggle-and-snog** where my aids felt the need to make their presence known by whistling, screaming, and generally making life less than peaceful. If I’m to be fair, calm (and slightly less anthropomorphic), the whistling was an involuntary mechanical response and no more Matt or Dan’s fault than it was mine. After all, the shrill and persistent whistling sound which made my first boyfriend’s eyes water was purely the result of ‘feedback’, which Southwestern Hearing Centres defines thusly:

The whistling noise is called Feedback. Hearing aid feedback is caused by sounds that leave your ear and find their way back into the microphone. From there, the sound is re-amplified which causes that annoying whistle. Hearing aid feedback can happen when you put your hand up to your ear, when you’re hugging someone, or when you’re inserting or removing your hearing aid. Or when something like the back of your chair is within 3 or 4 inches of your ear.

Well, that’s entirely true, but not all deaf dilemmas take place in the PG universe. After all, feedback tends to occur when:

  • Eager boyfriend’s cheek is within half a foot of your ear
  • Eager boyfriend’s shoulder is within half a foot of your ear
  • Eager boyfriend has pressed you into the soft furnishings of the sofa
  • Eager boyfriend claps his hands over your ears in the style of Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic (“Why’d you get off the boat, Rose?” [smooch] “You’re so stupid, Rose!” [smooch])

Admittedly those scenarios are PG-15. Which was fine between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. Inadvertently, Matt and Dave were instrumental in ensuring that I retained vital self-respect through years of (entirely unintentional!) abstinence from life’s greater joys. After all, if a guy can’t handle a little whistling, he’s not a deaf girl’s keeper. That’s what I told myself each time a teenaged paramour walked off in a huff because my hearing aids wouldn’t let him get it on.

By the time I was nineteen, I began to suspect that Matt and Dan were on my father’s payroll as reliable, electronic contraceptives.

My dad had the uncanny ability to leap into a room where mere snogging had taken place, and to direct dark glares at both me and my very-temporary suitor despite our very respectable positions in front of bookcases at opposite ends of the room. It transpires that hearing aid squeaks travel quite a long way, and my dad was all too aware of the level of closeness required to make a hearing aid scream.

Matt and Dan chugged on another couple of years until my first term at Bristol, where they repelled anyone trying to nuzzle my neck in a nightclub. Or in a street. Or in my room. Good grief.

There were a couple of long-term relationships. One was with a guy who’d been deafened by a mortar shell who totally got my issues, and also had a few that I was in a position to help him with. It didn’t work out because we had too much in common, needs-wise. We’re still good friends now through email, but I needed more moment-to-moment patience than he could spare, and he needed more personal distance than I could deal with.

My second long-termer was wonderful with the hearing-aids-out stuff, but couldn’t quite acclimatise himself to how little I heard even with the hearing aids in. There was no malice in his misunderstanding of my situation, but it wasn’t going to work.

I met my now-husband in 2002. He was Dutch, not immediately easy to lip-read, but endlessly patient with the repeats, and uproarious with the laughter when I got things totally wrong. He was loving, patient, and totally ingenuous. He worked out quickly that pillow talk was a non-starter because that required me to keep one hearing aid out, but soon instigated the ‘tradition’ of us leaping from bed, making an unnecessarily vast celebratory breakfast after our night’s travails, and having sofa-talk instead, when we could actually chat with both hearing aids in without any undue squeaking.

For their own health (and mine) Matt and Dan were retired in 1995. They remain in a softly-layered box in my bedroom, out of respect for their years of service.

I’m delighted to report that their successors, Irritating and Bastard, haven’t made  a significant impact on the loving relationship between me and my husband, despite their best hyper-sensitive efforts.

Ah! I see you have the machine that goes “ping!”

Just about anybody over forty who’s ever been a fan of Monty Python will recognise that proud phrase from the hospital sketch in Python’s Meaning of Life, where the hospital administration show off their shiny new maternity features. If you’re not familiar, here’s the clip:

Machines that go ‘ping’ can be a fine addition to daily life. But how useful they are can depend upon the loudness and pitch of the ‘ping’. The ‘ping’ I was trying to follow this morning was the guiding chime of the find-my-iphone alert.

I was text-chatting with my husband just before getting back into the car after the school drop-off, so I was rather unnerved to find one back pocket empty just as I was stripping for a shower. I flung my clothes back on and was backing out of the drive to hurtle back whence I came when it occurred to me to use my iPad to find my iPhone. I parked (rather creatively), bolted back into the house and booted up the iPad, breathing quite shallowly until the little green dot settled over where my house was. Phew. After re-parking the car, I launched the iPad’s ‘make a sound’ option. First I checked the car. Couldn’t hear a hint of a ping.

I turned my hearing aids up, wondering if I was having a bad pitch deafness day, but still no ping.

Panicked, I dashed back into the house. I searched all the logical places. Then I started on the illogical places. In the far distance, I heard a faint ping. Very faint. But I have no sense of sound direction. I zipped from room to room and checked surfaces. I flung clothes up into the air. I moved furniture. I ran around some more.

On the top floor, the pinging grew a little louder. In my bedroom, it grew louder still. The problem is that I often experience something called acousma (echo after the sound), so I had no idea whether I was hearing a repeat of the last loud ping or a quieter ping because I was moving away from the source of the sound. I’ve never played such a maddening version of ‘hot or cold’ in my life.

I eventually found my phone behind the toilet in the top bathroom. It was hidden under the digital scales, which had crashed down on top of it. Naturally, I hadn’t heard the crash.

I’m delighted to have been reunited with my phone. But what finally told me that I was in the right room was the not the violence of the ‘ping’, but the sheer volume of the whistling, screaming feedback in my two Siemens hearing aids, which react peevishly when in close proximity to a high-pitched noise.

It would be lovely to be able to customise the find facility. For starters, I’d love to be able to over-ride the torch facility and screen glow to see the phone better whether it’s been left face up, or face down. Even better, I’d like to be able to over-ride the vibrate function (to find it when hidden under papers on the table). Most fun of all, I’d love my phone to work through a series of songs all chosen for my hearing pitch. I think I’d get less frustrated hunting for my phone to the strains of ‘keep the faith’, or ‘can’t get you out of my head’, even though I might feel slightly mocked by the song titles. An album full of heavy metal songs might guide me more rapidly to the scene of the lost gadget.

If you could programme your phone to compile a track list to play while you’re looking for it, what songs would you select?