How a GCSE in BSL would’ve changed my time at school… 

When I sat my GCSE’s some fifteen years ago, I remember struggling to pass my French exam. The hearing impaired unit at the mainstream school I attended didn’t approve of me taking a French GCSE (probably due to low expectations) so I wasn’t given any support. Instead my class teacher gave me extra work to take home, one on one tuition and cassettes that I was supposed to listen to. 

The tapes didn’t work for me; I couldn’t hear them. And I found the class intimidating and nerve wracking especially when we were asked to stand and read segments of French text. My face would turn blood red as I tried not only to project my voice but get the French pronunciation correct. 

In order to take my listening exam my teacher arranged for me to sit the test separately, and to lipread him saying the phrases instead. Talk about pressure. 

I managed to (somehow) pass the GCSE but I’ve not retained any of the language skills nor been able to put them to use. 

So when I heard about a petition to make BSL a GCSE and part of the national curriculum I was really interested. If BSL was one of the options available when I was at school I know I would’ve jumped at it. And to be completely frank, I think it would have totally changed me. 

I went to a bustling mainstream with a unit for the hearing impaired. In my year alone there were around 150 hearing pupils and 4 of us were deaf. In the entire school the unit was made up of around 15-20 students with a hearing loss. It’s not a massive number but it means my classmates were used to seeing support workers, note takers, interpreters and so on. 

Yet sign language or deaf awareness were never mentioned to the rest of the school. I witnessed a few deaf students being mocked by their hearing peers for signing and although I was never bullied I remember being told that I “talk weird” and having classmates shout my name to check if I could hear them. 

Most of the deaf pupils were taken out of lessons to receive support and tuition in the unit base and that meant they were segregated from a lot of school events. I say “they” because I was never pulled out of a class – although I often wished I was. 

It’s not my intention to discuss whether mainstreaming is best for deaf children but I really feel that if BSL was made more accessible and deaf awareness shared amongst my peers that perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so different at school. Having a BSL GCSE would have changed my school experience for sure. How?

1. Well, communication would have been easier for a start. There were so many students and so many teachers that communicating with everyone fluently wasn’t just difficult; it was impossible somedays. By learning sign language my peers would’ve been able to use this language with me and other deaf students every day.  The language barrier between us would have been raised so it wouldn’t be us versus them anymore. I could have gotten to know more pupils and others could have gotten to know me. 

2. I reckon it would have given me a lot more confidence if deaf issues and sign language were spoken about during my teenage years. It would have normalised the whole thing, I could have developed a sense of humour about it earlier on and felt more comfortable with who I was. I hated the phonic aid equipment because I felt awkward and unattractive enough compared to my cool, popular year girls. But by having a tutor who was also deaf and shining a light on deaf issues I could have seen a whole other side to being deaf that wasn’t just full of misunderstandings and struggles. I could have even enjoyed the spotlight a little 😉 

3. I could have found a deaf role model; something that I never had. I was always fascinated by the term deaf culture and deaf history, but I felt they were out of reach to me. By learning about people such as Dot Miles and other prominent deaf people in history, I could have felt a sense of belonging, of purpose earlier on. I always had aspirations growing up but I approached them with a sense of overcoming my deafness instead of accepting and working with it. 
4. My sign language skills would have been more proficient from a younger age. Despite being amongst other deaf students and having support workers in class, we used SSE and my knowledge of BSL as a language was non existent. Your sign language skills depend on what you’re regularly exposed to and it meant that when I came across other deaf people I struggled to follow them and they would “fow” me. (Fow – the BSL for not having a clue what somebody’s said.) But by studying BSL I would have been given access to a language that was not only for people like me but would have opened many doors when it came to meeting others. 

5. Instead of struggling through a foreign language I could have excelled at one that was of enormous relevance to me. I could have finally sat through a class, engrossed, excited and for once feeling proud about my deafness. I would have delved into learning BSL and all things related and it would have added so much more enjoyment to my high school experience. I would’ve worked hard at it and who knows, maybe it would have shaped my education path differently.

I can wholeheartedly see BSL as a GCSE being of enormous benefit to our society. When you talk about things (especially when you’re young) it normalises those issues to a degree so it would become not so strange to see people signing or wearing an aid. 

With hearing loss being something that affects 1 in 7 people in the UK, you are very likely to bump into someone who is deaf or come across them in your line of work. So BSL would be a GCSE that’s not only extremely useful to the increasing number of deaf students going into mainstream schools but also to the rest of hearing society. 

The government have responded to the petition stating that as its a subject that would be difficult to “record” it’s not up for consideration to be part of the national curriculum yet. But Signature are trialling the subject in six schools and will be presenting evidence of its (hopefully) success afterwards. 

As something that could shape the school life of deaf generations to come, I will be watching the progress of this with eager eyes. 

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Sign Language Interpreted Hansel & Gretl by Opera North – a review 

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to review a sign language interpreted performance of Hansel and Gretl. And not any old Hansel and Gretl show. Oh no. It was an opera. 

I admit when I first realised it was an opera I wasn’t very enthusiastic. I have never been to the opera. I’m a musical, dancing singing to Grease kind of girl! Attending an opera in my spare leisure time is just not something that ever struck me as enjoyable. 

Even when I told friends I was attending an opera they either laughed or attempted to imitate an impressive “la la la LAAAAA”  

But I went with an open mind and boy am I glad I did. Performed by Opera North at the beautiful Theatre Royal in Nottingham, the show told the story of Hansel & Gretl in a way that I had never seen. 

Set in modern day time, the actors playing Hansel & Gretl used a camera throughout the show to project live images and create visually stunning backgrounds, almost as though they were lost in a dangerous online world and their parents nowhere to be seen. 

The production very cleverly used videos and special effects to engage our attention despite the set not changing throughout. For literary fans this retelling of such a traditional tale was surprisingly moving, thought provoking and very current. 

And the only reason I know all of that is because the show was accessible. Not only did the production have two screens of captions but it was also sign language interpreted by Paul Whittaker who is now in his 25th year of working in theatre. 

Speaking to Paul before the show it became apparent that sign interpreted opera is not very popular at all. Why? 

“Well,” says Paul. “It’s harder to do due to the emotions being more sustained throughout. There are many complex musical changes but the words don’t develop visually very quickly.” 

I was also intrigued how Paul manages to interpret such a production especially when he is also profoundly deaf. He explained,

“I memorise everything. The lyrics, the dialogue. I went to rehearsals and they were brilliantly helpful. I watched the show twice and also had a DVD of the production which I could watch and revise at home. I practice becoming the characters and tell the story at the exact same time as its happening on stage.” 

It all sounded very impressive and I was eager to watch the show. But I still had my doubts. Can deaf people truly appreciate and access the opera when it’s unique selling point is actually just the voice? And – more importantly – can opera be made accessible? 

I was sat in the dress circle with Paul in a private box almost opposite me with an easy view of the orchestra below. 


One of the caption screens was in the same box as Paul so it was easy to glance over at them too. And as soon as the orchestra prelude faded and the show began, the BSL began in an energetic, charismatic flurry. 

It relentlessly matched verse after verse in exact timing, with Paul seamlessly shifting from character to character as the actors sang. Yet after a while, if I’m perfectly honest, my signing watching eyes got a bit tired. You see the thing I didn’t realise with opera was that they sing everything. Literally everything. In the same type of rhythm. So the signing is pretty much constant, non stop – no eye break! 

And here’s the other thing, if it wasn’t for the soprano voices ringing in my hearing aid I’m not sure I would have known otherwise that this was an operatic production. It seems the uniqueness of the opera is very difficult to convey in sign. 

Whilst there is such a thing as a vibrato operatic voice, I have not seen operatic style of signing. So how could a deaf audience appreciate the uniqueness of the opera if it’s lyrics look the same as any other show? Could this be why the production isn’t attracting a lot of deaf attendees? 

And then there’s the style of music to consider – classical. Depending on your level of hearing and exposure to music as well as personal taste, classical may not be the easiest music to follow. I brought my mother in law to the show (also profoundly deaf) and whilst I thought being able to watch the orchestra was enchanting, she said the 6 minute prelude was the “longest six minutes” of her life. 

It’s not an overpowering style of music, there’s no thumping bass you can nod along to or feel pounding on your chest. There’s no glitzy costume changes or a huge variety of sets.

Opera seems to simply (but stunningly) be about the stage, the orchestra and the voice. And while I feel our interpreter was incredibly skilled, I didn’t think it enhanced my opera experience as I relied mostly on the captions and what sound I could hear through my hearing aids. 

I loved the gentleness of the violin strings, the drama of the drums, the sways of the cello. Even the conductors movements were mesmerising. I couldn’t hear everything but visually I could see the rhythms and that was exciting for me. 

I could pick up the rhythmic flow of each stanza that was sung all in 4’s or 8’s but with BSL having a structure of its own it didn’t follow the rhythm that the hearing audience heard. So the musical delights, the rhymes and accentuated beats that are enjoyable to listen to were lost when translated into BSL. 

Lyrically, the words in the show are constant, which requires intense concentration to understand. It would have been better, too, if the interpreter was closer to the stage so one could glance at the actors on stage without missing huge segments of the translation. 

The translation was aesthetically very beautiful. Especially during the infamous angelic song that the children sing. But, truth be told, without the captions a lot of content would have been lost to me. The fast pace, continuous flow of lyrics and abstract words made this viewing more hard work than perhaps other shows that are attracting higher numbers of BSL users. 

The venue themselves had wondered why their opera shows were receiving low bookings from BSL users. And I had also pondered the question can opera be truly enjoyed by the deaf community? 

Summing up, I feel it really depends on your level of deafness and your exposure to and personal taste in music. I switched off my hearing aid halfway though the performance and I realised that without any sound at all it was hard for the production to keep my attention throughout.  

So can deaf people enjoy the opera? Oh yes. But whether they’d want to watch it signed straight for two hours is an entirely different matter. If a hearing  audience is paying to listen to a special kind of voice, I want to see a unique kind of signing. Something as dramatic and explosive as the powerhouses on stage. Sign opera. Not quite there yet, but never say never 😉  

You can see details of all the SLIP and captioned shows at the Royal concert hall by viewing their access page online.  

Special treatment? No thanks. 

I was sat in the school minibus, gleefully chatting and excited to be going on a trip when my friend beside me turned round to the girl sitting behind me and shouted at her.  

“That’s an awful thing to say!” My friend exclaimed.

It was then relayed to me in childlike terms that this class’mate’ of mine had uttered a complaint along the lines of 

“The only reason everyone likes her is because she’s deaf…”

I was eight years old and acutely aware that perhaps I had been – and likely always will be – treated differently to others because of my deafness. 

But I didn’t get angry and I didn’t feel hurt. I sat quietly as we drove off to a nearby museum and wondered how the girl may be right…

I did get more attention in school for one thing. The teachers always had to face me and chat to me throughout the day to ensure I was okay. And I got given extra books and resources to take home and I’d share these with my friends.

Each week a peripatetic teacher would visit my school and take me out of a boring class (like Maths!) to do fun art, music or history topics. I got to choose two lucky friends each time to join me. 

There were plenty of perks outside of school too. I got to do extra activities with the local deaf childrens society. I learnt to sign and taught my best friends the BSL alphabet so during assemblies we could “whisper” in our finger spelling code, often just spelling out b-o-r-i-n-g and giggling to each other.

So whilst I don’t think my friends only liked me because I was deaf, I do think that I enjoyed the perks and had fun sharing those with my buddies too. That girl in the minibus was probably just jealous… 

And as I’ve grown older I’ve become better at filtering out the people that treat me differently because of my deafness and I’m quicker to identify those who see me just as I am.

Because in actual truth, I don’t want to be treated differently. I’m not talking about meeting access requirements or adapting communication methods. I’m talking about plain old how you behave towards omeone… 

Even if they’re trying extra hard to be nice or friendly, I’m not comfortable with the notion that it’s only because I’m deaf. 

It’s a double edged sword, you see. Do you treat someone differently because you admire them? Or because you feel sorry for them? Or.. Even worse, because you’re afraid of them? 

I’ve experienced all of the above. My old neighbours, who I’ve written about previously, would avoid my husband and I like the plague because they “felt sorry” for us (their words!) and didn’t think we were worth talking to… I’ve also had university colleagues say they were afraid to sit beside me for fear they would have to talk to me… And I have mums in the school playground now that unknowingly patronise me with exaggerated speech and make a big fuss whenever I’m around. 

I know that some people mean well. And they don’t mean to treat me differently. But they do. 

And it’s because it’s all still a bit of a taboo. How do I talk to a deaf person? Do I act normally when she’s around? Should I invite her to the party? Should I say hello? What if she doesn’t hear me?  

And it’s probably due to a great lack of representation in mainstream media that most of the time people don’t have a clue how they should act around us. 

Each one of us – however deaf we are – are walking billboards for deaf awareness and just by being ourselves we are showing the world that we are all different in various ways. Its not something to run from or be afraid of. 

Yes, we will encounter idiots and prejudiced so and so’s all because they see an invisible “DEAF!!!!” sign whenever we are near. But it’s our duty to use our filters wisely, praise the good, and either ignore or speak out against the bad. 

Those who truly see us won’t just see our deafness. They’ll see us. And perhaps being quick to discover those people is the biggest perk of all. 

Mindfulness tips for deaf / hard of hearing people starting meditation… 

Spring is literally just round the corner and it’s probably the best time of the year to start or review a  new resolution. It’s the season to spring clean, start afresh, turn over a new leaf. You get the idea. 

One of my New Years resolutions was to maintain a Mindful practice in my life. Amidst the school runs, work deadlines and family duties, I wanted to find time to just be. 

I’m at an advantage because I’ve been on formal Mindfulness training but I’m aware that for a deaf person, starting a mindfulness journey isn’t as straightforward as if you were hearing… 

A friend of mine (hearing) was recently diagnosed with stress related anxiety and her doctor gave her access to free apps she could listen to for guided meditations that soothe, calm and re-centre the mind from its usual frantic thoughts. 

That’s great for her and the hearing population but if you’re deaf and you want to improve you mental wellbeing from the comfort of your home, what can you do that doesn’t rely on audio? 

In actual truth, not an awful lot. But there are some worthy resources out there. The following are my personal recommendations…

  1. Join an online community such as Trudi’s Mindfulness for the Deaf Community. Trudi is a trained counsellor, also deaf, and a worthy contact to have on your Facebook. It’s also a great place to ask questions and meet like minded folk on the same wellbeing pathway. https://m.facebook.com/trudimindfulness/?locale2=en_GB
  2. Check out the closed caption videos by the leaders of mindfulness teaching such as Jon Kabat-Zinn. Jon is highly valued in the field of mindfulness and a very wise and inspirational speaker.https://youtu.be/7kblkFJmriM
  3. For BSL users I highly recommend watching and following the videos uploaded by Ben Fletcher.  Clear and concise, these will give you a head start to a regular meditation practice. https://youtu.be/mrvTqSCidnw   
  4. Check out the national be mindful website for details of practitioners and courses. They do have online courses and some practitioners offer email / Skype consultation. This does vary according to location – find out what’s near you. https://bemindful.co.uk/
  5. YouTube does have quite a few guided meditation videos with text. You may have to try a few to find one that resonates with you but https://youtu.be/6p_yaNFSYao is a good starting point. 
  6. Read about it. I highly recommend The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle for its in depth writing on the benefits of becoming more present. I can also vouch for Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn which is written in a relaxed style which allows you to dip in and out as it please. If you’re a bookworm you’re in luck as there’s Mindful books abound! 
  7. Join everyday mindfulness, a free website for people of all backgrounds and meditative levels where you can share information, ask tips and get advice from other like minded individuals. It is a mainstream site and heavily text based but a useful resource nonetheless. https://www.everyday-mindfulness.org/
  8. For movement based Mindfulness, Yoga is an excellent tool. There is BSL Yoga based in York which does travel for retreats and weekend workshops. There is also Sarah Scott who teaches yoga in London and Surrey using sign language too. https://m.facebook.com/bslyogayork/  https://www.deafyoga-co-uk.com/
  9. Check out Sign Health’a guide to Mindfulness. It has BSL videos that I filmed covering the concepts of being mindful and a short exercise to try at home. https://www.signhealth.org.uk/how-to-be-mindful-a-guide-in-sign-language/
  10. Breathe. Mindfulness isn’t complicated and can be practised anywhere. This isn’t really a resource but by simply sitting for 3 minutes every day and just watching the breath (feeling the sensation of breathing in & out but not trying to change it) we can begin a personal mindful practice that doesn’t rely on anyone else to guide us. 

If you know of any other resources please do share. Wishing you a mindful March! 

Grief and hearing loss 

When I was 18 I experienced a massive drop in my hearing. I’d gone from having a severe loss to a profound one but the drop was so sudden it was hard to deal with at first.

I’d changed from being someone who wore hearing aids when I felt like it to a person that couldn’t live without them. 

Nobody really explained why it happened the way it did. 

My sister and I were both born hearing (apparently- there were no newborn screenings then) and our high frequency hearing losses weren’t detected until we were at primary school. My parents were told it was likely our hearing would deteriorate as we got older due to the hairs in the cochlear that transmit sound slowly dying. 

So my loss of sound was a gradual one up until my eighteenth year. 

The drop in hearing I encountered was a big one. So much that I was offered counselling to come to terms with the loss and the therapist introduced the process of grief to me. 

I remember being confused. Grief? I haven’t suffered a bereavement? But they explained that losing a sense has similar effects to a physical loss and the process of accepting and adapting to this enormous change is almost identical. 

First there’s denial. I sure felt that. It was no big deal I kept saying to my Mum. I didn’t want to talk about how I couldn’t hear the TV anymore or even my own voice when I screamed… just get on with things. That was my initial response. 

But then came the anger. Anger at how unfair it was, how cruel life could be; feeling out of control and helpless to do anything as my hearing slipped away. 

The counsellor explained that the phases of grief are not linear and can return in waves throughout your life. The trick is to ride the waves as they came and not to fight them. 

Since those sessions I’ve come a long way and I’ve fully accepted what I can/can’t hear. Maybe it’s different when you’re born deaf as you may not know what you’re missing. But to have full hearing and then lose it the way I did is something that definitely has its moments of sadness.

It was a couple of years ago now, that my sister and I went to the Big Reunion concert; where all our favourite bands of the late 90s and early 00s played. We were beyond excited as we had grown up listening to these groups and singing them together. 

The opening act was A1 who performed a cover of Aha’s Take On Me. I adored the song and even performed to it as a young girl but as the show started and the crowd went crazy, I stared at the stage, confused. 

Nothing made sense acoustically. Where was the electro melody? The high pitched keyboard synthesiser? All I could hear was screams and a strange thumping bass. 

That’s when the grief hit me in the stomach. God I missed music.

I missed hearing it properly. Not with strained ears in a quiet room, focusing intently just to hear something familiar. I missed the ease of popping a song on and being instantly transported. I missed being involved in that world. 

I watched the rest of the concert in bittersweet nostalgia. Happy to see the bands and routines I recognised but sad that I could no longer participate in fully enjoying them. 

I still love music but my relationship with it has changed. I tend to stick to the oldies that my brain recognises and when I do learn a new song it takes me a while to study and revise all the layers; the lyrics, the melody, the rhythm, the overlapping sounds. It’s hard work but a labour of love. 

I know that I’m not alone in experiencing a sense of loss from time to time. I’m aware that amongst all the jokes and banter and the big D little d debates, there are individuals who are perhaps still coming to terms with a change in their hearing. 

So if you are struggling or if this deaf world is still new or alien to you, please don’t be afraid to get professional support. 

Read my lips… 

I just laughed. It seemed to work though as he chuckled back at me then wandered off. 

It was an old guy who had said something randomly to me as I pushed my daughters buggy. She had stared at him straight-faced as he walked by so he murmured something witty/sarcastic/humorous/who knows… 

The truth is I didn’t have a clue what he said. 

So I laughed. And it worked. Phew. 

More often than not I will say the usual “I’m deaf can you say that again?” But it takes effort and patience to lipread and on this particular occasion I bluffed my response for the sake of some energy. 

I cringe when I recollect the times that “winging it” when it comes to lip reading didn’t work. Getting chatted up in nightclubs was always a nightmare, guessing the questions in the dark…

What’s your name? 

Rebecca

Where you from?

*nods head*

You don’t know where you live? 

*laughs* no thank you. 

To my hearing friends,  it was hilarious (thanks guys) but they – like my deaf buddies – urged me to be straight up and out with my deafness. That way I’d filter out the people that had no patience for my lipreading and save my time anyway. 

Truth be told, I’m not a bad lipreader. Once my eyes are hooked onto a lip pattern and I’ve worked out an accent, and the general rhythm or speed of the speech I can usually manage okay. But reading lips isn’t a science, there’s an awful lot of guess work, intuition and filling-the-gaps.

But seeing as I got myself some new specs to help my short sightedness I’ve been having a ball lip reading people from afar. I’m not talking about miles away, that’s just daft. 

But if you see me with my glasses on and deep in concentration, I’m probably “eye-wigging” a conversation that’s happening around me. If hearing people can ear-wig, I’ll do the deaf equivalent 😉

I find it so interesting how some people are naturally easier to lipread than others. I tend to gravitate towards those who speak a little more animatedly as they’re easier to read but at the other end of the scale I stay away from those who pointedly exaggerate and change their lip patterns for my ‘benefit.’ 

If you’re hearing and you’re reading this you’re probably thinking so speak clearly but not too clearly, huh?! So I’ll clarify. My fave pointers for being lipreader friendly are as follows:

  1. Positioning matters. We don’t lipread sideways, it’s face on. So always stand in the direction of the lipreader. And avoid standing in front of a window, mirror or direct sunlight, you’ll just get scowls, squinty eyes and lipreaders struggling to follow you. 
  2. As mentioned earlier, don’t be too random. Blurting out “drinks?!” can be read as “ring? Rick? Rig?” So putting it into a sentence “do you fancy coming for a few drinks” with the universal *drink* gesture is massively helpful!
  3. Keep a nice and steady pace. I have a friend with a broad Black Country accent who I can lipread fine 80% of the time. But the other 20% of the time he becomes overexcited or eager to tell a joke and it all gets lost in a -ohmygoodnessyouaresogoingtolaughatthis – blur. We lipreaders might be good but ninjas we ain’t. So relax, speak casually and give us some warning if a jokes coming…
  4. Please do not  over emphasise words. Not only does it make you look silly but it blurs the consonants and natural rhythm of the words that we are accustomed to seeing everyday. The only times I’m comfortable at seeing exaggerated words is when I’m being told a number or a price… “Is that 9.99 or nineTEEN 99?”
  5. Lastly – making things visual  really helps. I don’t expect everyone I meet to be proficient at sign but if you’re in regular company of a lipreader it would be doing them a favour to use universal signs that pretty much everyone can guess. Numbers can be shown, areas pointed to, and things can be written down. Before having a meeting or gathering, if the lipreader has some prep/notes beforehand this can make a world of difference by anticipating what’s to come. 

I love how lipreading means I can tell my Dad what the footballer is really saying when he’s yelling at the referee but there’s no sound on the telly… And it’s fun (though admittedly very nosey) to lipread other mums at playgroups chatting when I’m sat on my tod. 

But there’s an awful lot of time when I do – like the case of the elderly gentleman – just guess what’s being said. So next time you nod or smile in clueless wonder at what someone’s said but you haven’t the time nor energy to clarify… You’re very much not alone. 

Lipreaders, I salute you. 

The sacrifice a parent makes…

I’m not a typical “working mum.” I don’t leave home at a set time every day to return at the same time each day… Nor do I have a work routine. And the times that I do work are sporadic to say the least. 

But I like it that way because it means for the most part, I’m at home and available to my children. 

That said I’m not your typical “stay at home mum” either. I cant commit to weekly playgroups because one week differs from the next. I don’t linger at the school playground to chat to other Mums for a much needed piece of adult conversation because I’ve most likely got somewhere to go. 

But with one foot in each camp, I can genuinely see how parents make daily sacrifices regardless of whether they work in the traditional sense or not. 

And I don’t mean this in a negative “never have children or your life is DOOMED” kind of way. But I’m expressing this because I feel the heaviness and duty that goes with juggling work and parenthood and the guilt at feeling we are not doing a good enough job often goes unnoticed. 

Yes we have Mothers/Fathers Day and we get a card, flowers and a few chocolates if we’re being spoilt. But after that, on we go day in day out doing the same household chores, preparing the same meals, cleaning the same floors while dealing with the countless needs and wants of our little people. And on top of that doing whatever else is asked of us, work, social or otherwise. 

We get tired. God knows I’m tired. 

And I hear Mums tell me that they’ve lost themselves since having children. That they’ve been unable to work or find work with suitable hours. Some say they’ve lost their figures. Their looks. Most of us feel that we’ve lost pretty much most of our free time. 

And I get that. I get all of it. Before having children I spent most of my weeks travelling up and down the country giving workshops or performing at different venues. I was free to flit and float as I pleased. 

Now it sees I have to make an appointment if I want to take a bath… How times have changed!

But it was when I made another work sacrifice this week that I realised that all of these things aren’t really losses. These are choices that I’ve made. 

To clarify, I was offered some work. Some regular, full time work from home. “Great!” I thought. “I can fit it all in in-between the school runs and lunch breaks and put the telly on for my eldest while my youngest naps…” But that wasn’t quite how it all worked out. 

I discovered that multi-tasking full time work at home with children is verging on the impossible. At least for me anyway. 

The house was a tip, the kids were running riot and everyone including me was hungry, tired and very, very cranky. 

At the end of the day I was so grateful for bedtime but my work deadlines lingered on my mind. My chest felt tight and I felt absolutely stressed to the max. 

I can’t do this, I thought. 

I can’t dedicate myself fully to this full time work and be the mindful, attentive aren’t I want to be. 

So something had to give. I thought about what made me happier. Spending my time focusing on the children or carving out a writing career. Both, really. But I couldn’t do it both at the same time AND keep my sanity so I spoke to my manager and explained the situation. 

They replied, 

No problem, Get back to us when you’re fully available 🙂 

Phew. 

Which will probably be in a couple of years. I was grateful for the opportunity and I loved the creative challenge but it wasn’t for me and my family at this moment in time. 

I am fortunate to have freelance work and an employed husband to get us by financially but my children won this dilemma hands down. 
It’s true, you give up a lot when you become a parent. And there’s always one parent that seems to have given up more. But it’s not forever and ultimately we are all doing what’s best for our family. 

Yes, I miss writing whenever I please. And when I’m turning down yet another job I could  easily have sulked and dwelled on thoughts of what I’ve lost. But you know what. Aside from losing an awful lot of time, energy and even my mind at times, I’ve gained an awful lot.

I have two little human beings that love me and who I adore. And if that’s a sacrifice I have to make, it’s one worth making. 

So to parents who may be mourning their previous lives or dwelling on their hardships, I feel your pain. But this won’t always feel as hard. Hang on in there. It’ll all be worth it in the end whatever choices you make. 

Technology and me… 

I’m pretty old fashioned when it comes to technology. Always the last to upgrade or see what the latest gadget is all about, I still consider a pen or a paper notebook one of my favourite gifts to receive. 

Even my nieces’ knowledge of technology surpasses mine. They all have iPads (I don’t) and the eldest has a brand spanking iPhone 7… I only begrudgingly got an iPhone 5 after my Blackberry packed in and I have no plans to upgrade. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it – a motto I abide by! 

Yet I impressed myself lately. As I downloaded an app that actually proves to be quite useful. 

Seeing as the only fully hearing person in our household is a 3 year old, we have relied on our beloved dinosaur like Minicom for text calls. It’s like this but even older and shabbier… 


Luckily a lot of places accept emails or text messages for correspondence so I don’t have to dust it off too often, but it’s handy to have nonetheless. 

And it was the day before Christmas Eve when it came to my aid. Because on this day, so very, imminently close to Christmas (!) that our gas oven stopped working. 

Cue frantic phone calls to numerous gas engineers to find someone who could come and fix it and save our Christmas dinner!

Phone call after phone call it seemed we were doomed to have to fry the turkey and boil the  potatoes… But then one freelance engineer said although he was off work, it was Christmas after all and he’d be happy to help. 

He asked for our address so he could pop over and start work. Happy days!!! 

But then. I got the message that everyone with a dinosaur like Minicom dreads…

Message from operator. Your text is jumbled. Please type again. 

Slowly and purposely I typed.

Message from operator. I can’t read what you’re saying. 

Argh!! 

But then the gas engineer was smart enough to figure out that although I was coming across all jumbled I could still read his messages. So he passed on his mobile number to the operator and asked me to text him. 

Phew! Crisis averted. 

To cut a long story short the oven got fixed on Christmas Eve and we had the best Christmas dinner ever. (Coconut oil roasted potatoes – seriously try them!) 

But it made me realise that I can’t always rely on old technology. Minicoms that freeze or jumble if you’ve used them for a length of time really aren’t useful at all. So I asked my friends for advice. 

When they finished making disbelieving comments at how behind the times I was “seriously Beck?!” I cautiously downloaded… NGT Lite. 


It’s a mobile app that connects you to the Next Generation Text relay service. So you make phone calls on your mobile, connect it up to NGT and instead of bashing the minicom’s sticky keys you can type effortlessly on your smartphone, tablet OR laptop! 

Amazing…and useful! 

So I guess I’m going to be a bit more brave in 2017 and instead of writing off new apps or developments, just have a look at what’s out there…

Any recommendations? Go easy on me, mind. 

Late again? It’s a deaf thing… 

A friend of mine is notoriously late for everything. We laugh about it and we wind her up but she just can’t help it. 

Punctuality and her just don’t gel… It’s probably lucky that she’s an artist and forgiven for her terrible time keeping, it’s “part of the trade” she insists “we don’t follow clocks, we flow, we move according to our internal rhythm.” 

And I like that. But I’ve been told I can also get away with being reasonably late too, because – apparently – it’s a ‘deaf thing.’ 

Spend some time with the deaf community and you’re bound to come across the phrase deaf time. This loosely translates to – in my definition – deaf time: being usually late but normally with a good and/or interesting  excuse. Is awfully charming with the lateness so is difficult to stay mad at. 

My hearing family didn’t believe me when I first told them it’s actually a thing but aside from being a bit of a joke and a ‘deaf-card’ to get you out of trouble, I actually think that being deaf does give you legitimate reasons for certain episodes of lateness. 

And I don’t mean it in a silly “my chicken was ill” kind of way 😉 but I’ve noticed that certain things do take longer to do because of my deafness. 

Phone calls. They take longer to connect. Sometimes you have to “explain text relay” or deal with numerous hanger-uppers that aren’t familiar with Typetalk and mistake you for a cold caller. And let’s face it not all of us can type as quickly as we sign/speak. 

Shopping trips. Especially with little ones in tow, that tap you and make you stop to lipread them. Using our eyes for everything we can’t multitask chit chat with shopping, it all takes longer. 

Appointments of any kind. Whether we are using a communicator, interpreter or just plain old lip reading, the majority of us will take our time to make sure we are understood and also clear about what’s being said. It’s a different pace so we should allow more time. 

Socialising. The deaf community don’t always see each other often; we are spread across the country. And we do miss our tribe. So when we do catch up, we catch up hard. So much to chat about, so little time! 

Eating. Going out for a meal with my deaf friends / family usually lasts hours. We like to pause between courses, eating at a stop/sign/start rhythm (it’s rude to sign with your mouth full) and more often than not our food does end up cold. 

Being immersed in something visually does mean you can lose track of time. So next time you’re a little late for something, providing you’re not just milking it, you might just have a viable reason. 

You’re on deaf time. 

But don’t push it. We don’t want to get a bad name for it do we 😉

What makes you guys late? 

Performance interpreters… 

I recall seeing a photo online a while back of Anthony, lead singer in Red Hot Chili Peppers, perform next to an American SignLanguage  interpreter. Social media went crazy with people desperate to know who the interpreter was – who actually now receives a fan following in her own right. Sassy, expressive and fully owning the song, she wasn’t just an interpreter, she was a performer

And then here in Blighty  last summer, I noticed the buzzing of excitement amongst my deaf festival goer friends as they discovered their favourite artists would be performing with a – gasp! – sign language interpreter beside them. 

We’ve had interpreters at musicals and theatre productions for a while now but at gigs… And rock concerts…? What’s going on? 

Well, may I introduce Performance Interpreting who work across the UK delivering high quality, artistic sign language interpreters at various events… Specialising –  obviously – in performing arts 😉

Headed by full time interpreter, Marie Pascall, the company was  initially set up after seeing her friend refused Sign language access to a festival she wanted to attend. Recognising there was a huge gap in the music industry, Marie set to work encouraging venues and promoters to make their events accessible to the deaf community.

The aim of Perofrmance Interpreting is to open as many doors as possible to provide quality access and social inclusion.  They also work with Deaf BSL Interpreters and Performers too. 

And to ensure the company is led by its clients – so to speak – Performance Interpreting has recently set up a BSL steering group in conjunction with Attitude is Everything to ensure the deaf community are truly represented and have a real impact in accessible services going forward.

And it seems all of her hard work is beginning to pay off. I was delighted to discover that the company, which was only formed a mere 18 months ago has landed some very exciting agreements. 

And I’m thrilled to tell you guys about one of them. 

If you ever want to attend a show at Nottingham’s Motorpoint arena, you can request an interpreter on your preferred attending date and they will provide one, courtesy of Performance Interpreting. 

They also have BSL interpretations as part of their core programme too! See their access page here: 

https://www.motorpointarenanottingham.com/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=accessibility&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::context_id=&menu_id=EB781A11-F20A-4C58-BE1D-685D821B2A85

This is a world away from my concert going days when interpreters were usually just your best hearing friend that you had dragged along to tell you what the band were talking about in between the songs… This is kind of news is nothing short of groundbreaking. 

And I must stress that the calibre of interpreters used by Performance Interprters  is outstanding.

Performance Interpreters actually invited two of Limping Chicken’s biggest rock music fans to attend a signed interpreted Limp Bizkit & Korn concert. And to say that they were impressed by the service is an understatement.

(See lovely William and Sammi below) 


These guys, both deaf sign language users, are big on their music but had never attended a sign interpreted show before. I was curious… Would they enjoy it? Here’s what they had to say..

“The interpreter was fantastic, she really learnt all the words and interpret them excellent. She was clear, and did really well with some really fast songs which I don’t think I could do!”

Judging by the amount of preparation the interpreter, Susan Merrick, had to undertake before the show, I’m impressed and relieved that it all worked out. Because contrary to assumptions, concert interpreters don’t get given a band set list. At least not until 15 minutes before showtime – at the best of times! 

For a band that performs 15-20 songs this means 20+ hours of study time for the interpreter – researching, learning, revising and translating lyrics. And knowing that theres no guarantee which song will be performed and possibly new ones premiered on the night, these are interpreters of a whole different league. 

William and Sammi also mentioned that the interpreter did more than just sign the words…

“She matched with the music, and swearing too. She even added the instruments sounds and pitch, which is really useful.”

I saw a clip of Susan performing a song by Korn and I was mesmerised by how she depicted the sounds of the instruments. The staccato. The fluidity. The overlapping tones. They were all visible. And that was when I realised that Performance Intepreters really are opening doors – not just by providing access at concerts – but by delivering artistic translations of a high standard that actually do the songs justice. 

I was fortunate enough to see a few other of their interpreters in action too and I can equally vouch for their are artistic excellence. After seeing them I felt like saying “Yes, finally! Someone gets it!” Because they fuse the BSL content with the lyrical meaning and their body becomes a rhythmical tool. 

They have the ability  to introduce music to those who perhaps would usually turn away from it. And that’s powerful stuff. 

That said. It is still early days and there are still improvements and adjustments to be made. The positioning of the interpreter at the concert isn’t ideal, and sadly nowhere near the stage… 

“I would have liked to be in the crowd in standing area, and the interpreter possibly to stand by the stage as I like to see how they play their instruments. 

Plus where we were in seating, we were at the back of the arena, just behind the standing, we had bit of trouble of seeing the band as there were some tall people which sort of blocking the view of stage. “

I noticed that the placement of interpreters seems to differ; on some occasions they’re on stage but more than often they’re not. Personally speaking I would like the interpreter as close to the performer as possible. Which is why we – the deaf concert goers – need to speak up and work with the venues. 

One person in particular who has worked with and for the deaf community remarkably well is Stephen Chaston – the Access Manager for Motorpoint Arena. 

Stephen helped Motorpoint Arena to win an Outstanding Attitude’s Award and the arena has now been awarded a gold standard by Attitude is Everything who monitor accessiblity. They were recognised for their commitment to and excellent delivery of accessibly services. 

Stephen’s aim is for as many Deaf British Sign Language Users to enjoy as many events as possible. So I am optimistic that the placement of interpreters could be easily resolved if discussions begin and more feedback is received. 

The arena does have an access page on their website and details on their award from Attitude is Everything can be found here: 

http://www.attitudeiseverything.org.uk/resources/outstanding-attitude-awards-2016/motorpoint-arena-nottingham/

 Performance Interpreters can be followed on social media and on their site to keep updated on the latest accessible shows. You can also find out about other accessible arenas near you too. 

https://www.facebook.com/pg/performanceinterpreting/events/?ref=page_internal

http://performanceinterpreting.co.uk

But please remember that any requests for interpreters must be sent to the arena 28 days before the date of the show and if you can – please always give feedback. 

And if you want to attend an event but it isn’t sign language interpreted, why not drop Performance Interpreting an email and they will see if they can help. 

Isn’t it wonderful to see so many new doors opening? Musicals, festivals, concerts, comedy, cabaret, dance…. what’s next? 

And as somebody who loves to see fab-u-lous artistic deliveries of sign language, I know what I’ll be getting up to in 2017.

Strictly come dancing, sign language interpreted?! Hmm I don’t mind if I do 😉