Focus on the lips
I’m in a tricky spot here. Just hear me out, and I’ll tell you all about it.
So listen. When the audiologist told me I needed hearing aids, I asked her to repeat what she’d just said. Not because I hadn’t heard her the first time, but because I couldn’t quite believe it.
I’m 34. Not 74. Not 84. Thirty-chuffing-four.
And now I was going to have to wear deaf-aids.
To be fair, people had been on at me to get my hearing checked for a while. As in, for the last eight years or so. But as a bloke, and as I tend to do with other health-related issues, I usually put this sort of thing off until there’s little to no alternative.
And, in the last few months, I’d noticed a couple of things. Firstly, I was visiting a mate in London, and we were on the way back to his place in South Woodford after a few beers in town. He was sat on the opposite side of the tube carriage to me, as it screeched and roared its way home along the Central Line. Listening to him was hard work; focus on the lips, just focus on the lips. It was while trying to pick out as many recognisable words as I could process that I noticed a couple of people sat a few seats up from me, conversing in the same manner. But they were chatting as if alone in a quiet study, no words missed, blah blah blah as easy as you like. How in the name of Terence Trent D’arby’s Vibrator were they doing it?
The answer reared itself up at me a few weeks ago, when I noticed my voice starting to sound a bit fuzzy around the edges. It was as if I were talking through an old amplifier that had seen one too many death metal concerts. I tried cleaning my lugholes out with cotton buds, even though you’re not supposed to. Swallowing to clear the blockage. Holding my nostrils together and blowing through my nose.
Nope. Nothing would clear it. This was permanent. So this was something that needed a trip to the audiologist.
I thought I’d done alright in the hearing test. They give you a little device to hold with a red button on top, kind of like the joystick I had with my Spectrum computer as a kid. You wear a set of headphones and press the button every time you hear a tone. Granted, some of them were a bit hard to pick out from amongst the tangle of the tinnitus, but I thought I’d nailed it.
I even felt a bit smug when I went back into the audiologist’s office. Then she showed me the chart that represented my results. For each ear, there was a drop like Tom Daley launching himself off a diving board into an Olympic pool. That was where I should have been hearing sounds of a higher frequency. I was all about that bass. No treble.
So that was it. Hearing aids it was to be and, no matter how small they are nowadays in comparison to how big they once were, I hated the sight of them. Those little fuckers, in that horrible ‘skin’ coloured plastic reminded me all too much of the ones my great-grandma wore, the ones she’d have on when she’d shout “EH?” from her tartan armchair, squealing and whistling terrifyingly at both me and my poor sister before we ran into another room.
That was me now. Embarrassing old deaf bastard. Brilliant.
This was not going on my Tinder profile. I mean, do people put that kind of thing? ‘Ben, 34, Wolverhampton Wanderers fan, you might have to shout a bit, but you’ll get used to it’? I wasn’t sure, but I was keen to soldier on. Dating had been much more miss than hit so far, possibly partly down to my hearing, or just because I’m too bloody nice. I wasn’t getting past a first date, and yet I’d met some really lovely women. The build-up chat, firstly on the app, and then WhatsApp, would be really promising. You can be a bit more daring, a bit more charming when typing messages out, can’t you? It would be the same every time; meet for coffee or in a pub over a glass of wine or a pint. I was always nervous at first, and would rabbit on and like an idiot, but now I was finding myself more relaxed, and letting them do more of the talking, but still. One date and then a message along the lines of “you’re lovely, but…”
Until tonight. Tonight was date two with Kate. ‘Kathryn’ if you prefer, but definitely not ‘Katie’ and most certainly not ‘Katy’ if you wanted to live to see the next day.
I liked Kate. Kate was funny, foxy and sharp. You could tell from her pictures that she was fun, that she was sociable and could handle herself. She was pretty, she was clever and I really, really did not want to fuck this one up. So I was nervous as I got ready to meet her.
I’d set time aside to iron a few shirts, to pick which one worked best and to take my time to get ready properly. I’d enjoyed a long hot shower and a shave with time to spare, to give my freshly scraped fizzog and neck time to calm down. Once dressed, scent applied, I stood in front of the mirror and pondered the next bit.
The deaf aids. Shitbiscuits.
In the end, I chose not to wear them. I left them in their case on my bedside table, little amber LEDs idiotically winking away as they charged up. I just didn’t want the embarrassment. I imagined us kissing, Kate’s hands in my hair, before finding them both lurking behind my ears. Probably knocking one off and into my pint. “Oh sorry, I hadn’t realised you were wearing a pair of those things. Oh dear. Taxi!”
Yeah. I didn’t want that. So I decided not to bother with them. It was like glasses, right? I used to wear glasses. I then wore contact lenses when I was older, until a few years back when I got an eye infection and wasn’t able to wear them anymore. So then I got my eyes lasered because, you know, science. It’s amazing what they can do these days. Not because of vanity. Oh no. Not in any way, shape or form. It’s just that I look like a twat in glasses, and hearing aids were going to be the same. Even if you could only see them from behind, I knew. I knew I was wearing them.
So I decided not to wear them. Which, as it has now turned out, was a dick move.
Tonight was going exceptionally well. I met Kate outside the art gallery in town because that felt like a cool thing to suggest, even though I’d never actually been inside. She walked to meet me where I was sat, already on my first glass of white wine (it’s a hot night in July, alright?) and as I saw her coming across the square in her blue top and jeans, she looked great. I mean really great. Casual and in control. A dazzling smile. She ordered a glass of Pinot and that was that. So far, so good; I could see her lips and could just about pick up most of what she was saying.
So we then moved onto another bar. By now it was getting later and there was a bit of a chill in the air, so we went and sat inside.
And that’s where we are now. It’s fairly busy in here. The music is pumping, and we’ve already worked our way through a bottle of wine together. There are voices, loud voices shouting across one another. Lots of laughter. I like it in here, but I’m struggling to hear everything and there’s a very good chance that Kate might be starting to think I’m a little thick, as I’m not sure if all the answers I’ve fed her actually match the questions that preceded them.
But. We’ve kissed. And it was very lovely. Slow. Gentle. Just a couple, so far. Her hands did explore and yes, there were no hidden surprises behind the ears. So. The ruse is on.
Only there’s a problem.
Just a moment ago, she said something to me as we sat, facing next to one another on the red velvet sofa of the bar we’re in, up against the far wall from the entrance and far too close to one of the speakers for me to be able to properly cope with.
“I’m going to the toilet,” is what she just said to me. “Do me up the bum.”
And off she went.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an open-minded chap. I went to university.
I’ve smoked a bit of funny stuff once or twice. With friends. I didn’t buy it, they did.
I’ve never done that. I’m a bit scared of it. Somebody once said something to me about sweetcorn and it’s terrified me ever since. A yellow beret, or something.
More to the point though, I don’t think that’s actually what she said. I mean, she wouldn’t, would she? Second date? Surely not.
However. I really like Kate, and it appears that Kate really likes me. Things are going well and I do not. Want to. Fuck this up.
So what was it? Who is your Mum? I must get something done? Do you like to run? Have you ever kayaked in the Lake District and then stopped off at a pub for a pint of bitter and a Ploughman’s lunch?
Or should I have followed her into the lavatory?
Picture: Wikimedia Commons