in here: Deaf as a post

My hearing is generally quite selective, a trick I developed to cope with being abused by teenagers in my previous incarnation as a teacher.
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I seem to have gone deaf. It was a cold that did it. The sinuses being linked to the ears by some mysterious process that non-medical types don't like to think too closely about - lurid pictures of beads and paperclips banging against toddlers' eardrums are too distressing - any complaint that involves phlegm sends me deaf these days. My hearing is generally quite selective, a trick I developed to cope with being abused by teenagers in my previous incarnation as a teacher, but I'd rather it was my brain, not my ears, that was doing the selecting.

Now, deafness is not helpful if you make your living from ringing people up and asking them questions. Interviewees aren't impressed by phrases like "sorry, could you repeat that?" or "you've got a couple of dozen employees? Oh, hundred." And my morning chat with the people at the corner shop has been seriously curtailed. I had a full five-minute talk with the owner about his new Lottery machine on Tuesday, and it was only when I tried to buy a ticket for the third time that I registered that it doesn't come on line till next week. And it's probably a good thing that fave swain seems to have broken his telephoning finger again, as his accent has always required a certain amount of unravelling under normal circs, bless him.

The thing about temporary impairments, as opposed to the real thing, is that they throw a surreal light on life which can occasionally brighten things up. The radio station Country 1035AM, for instance, my secret vice, is greatly enhanced, as the lyrics have turned seriously weird. You wouldn't have thought it was possible to be weirder than Proud to be an Okie from Musskogie but it is. Why, only today I was listening to Patsy Cline's ballad "I Fold Your Penis" ("but each time I go out with someone new/you walk by and I fold your penis"), the whimsical love song "I'm Misty to the chin, love", the oriental "Maybe I'm a Wun-chu, Maybe I'm a Ni-chu" and the lines of that great classic "just call me angel of the morning, just slap my cheek before you leave me".

But it's not entirely convenient where the social life is concerned. Especially when one of your oldest friends is as deaf as a post for real and her husband has the same cold as you. Sarah and David and I had the most awful evening in a jazz club the other night. Ghastly.

Sarah has always had slight attention problems. I think her first word to me was "What?". But a while ago she got round to taking her ears to the doctor and discovered that she's needed a hearing aid for years.

This was a bit of a blow for all of us. Sarah is two weeks older than me; it was one of those moments when you realise that you've tipped over the edge and all there is to do from now on is deteriorate. It won't be long before we're complaining about the rising cost of surgical trusses, referring to the young as hooligans, and keeping wads of cash in teapots. And wearing car coats. And calling Michael Barrymore "that nice young man".

But in the meantime, we pretend we're still happening members of swinging London. Sarah's friends were playing in a jazz club in Holloway, where the prison is and we were giving moral support, or upping the take at the door, or something. So there was this bird in a beret with music on a stand in front of her making the kind of noise they took the mick out of in Funny Face in 1957. You expected Audrey Hepburn to start chucking herself around in a black polo- necked sweater at any moment. A line of men in Breton striped shirts leaned against the bar with their arms folded, nodding along.

We crept through to a table while she mangled "The Ballad of Mac the Knife". I didn't even recognise it for a couple of minutes. Then "Christ," I said, "it's 'Mac the Knife' she's supposed to be singing there." David nodded solemnly. "I think it's meant to be 'Mac the Knife'," he said.

The waiter came. "Have you got any bottled beer?" asked Sarah. "Sure," he replied. "Wha' would you like?" "No, no, I don't want wine. I'd like a bottle of Peroni." "What do you want?" yelled David. "A Bloody Mary with lots of Tabasco. Might clear my sinuses." He looked doubtful. "I don't think they do sandwiches. I thought we were going to have dinner."You know the sort of thing.

Now the main thing about jazz clubs is how seriously everyone takes the jazz. I don't know if it's because it's an anorak's type of artistic expression or if it's that people with nothing to say like an excuse not to talk, but chat is frowned on in jazz clubs. If you have a conversation, you're supposed to lean across and have it in an undertone into each other's ears. And if anyone else has a conversation you're supposed to turn round and frown at them.

The singer launched her wobbly soprano into "Non, je ne Regrette Rien". The people at the table in front of us tapped their fingers and jiggled their feet. The people at the table behind us sat back and fiddled with their beards. David said something to Sarah and she laughed. I leaned forward to hear what it was, but David's Scottish burr drifted away on a stage of wailing accordion. "Say again?" His second attempt was drowned as the singer reached a crescendo. I should have known that crescendo usually signifies approaching end. But I forgot. Deafness gets you like that: you forget that the world is carrying on regardless. "You're going to have to speak up," I shouted with the full force of my lungs as the band crashed to a close, "I can't hear a thing for this bloody racket."

Well, at least that shut 'em up

She reminded me of a Victoria Wood sketch about amdram auditions.

It's windy. No, it's Thursday. Oh, ok; don't mind if I do.

"Of course we're going to eat." "OK, if that's what you fancy. I was thinking about a bit of fish, myself."

The only thing to be said for it was that at least we couldn't hear the jazz.