I was once virtually deaf for a few days, thanks to large deposits of earwax. (Sorry – I hope you're not reading this over breakfast.)
When I had them sucked out, the effect was astonishing. There was a sudden swoosh of sound; it was the hospital air-conditioning, which I hadn't noticed in the two or three years I'd worked there. And when I went outside, I could hear everything in scintillating detail: the rustle of each leaf on the trees, the separate moving parts of car engines. It bordered on the epiphanic, and sadly lasted only a few minutes before the auditory veil came back down.
So I was expecting that for Tim Barlow, an actor who'd been deaf since the age of 20, the switching-on of his cochlear implant would have a similar effect. But no: for some reason, which wasn't quite explained in It's My Story, the first few minutes were certainly weird, but in an entirely different way.
Instead, everyone sounded like Daleks, an effect the programme re-created for us. What couldn't be simulated was another sensation that patients usually experience, the feeling that the sounds are coming from inside their head. But I guess we could do that ourselves by simply donning earphones.
Six weeks later, Barlow was a very happy man. The Dalek timbres had faded, and now he could pick up on the nuances of speech, and details such as his wife's regional accent. On stage, he could hear cues behind him, which must have been liberating. And he could listen to music again – the last record he'd heard was "Help!" – while at a karaoke party he'd got up and sung "Delilah".
He was clearly making the most of his re-entry into the world of sound. "Top marks for you," one of the doctors told him. "I'm just letting it happen," he replied delightedly.
On another matter altogether, the always-riveting In Our Time was its usual high-grade self on Thursday on Radio 4, with Magna Carta under expert discussion.
It is to be fervently hoped that Melvin Bragg giving up The South Bank Show doesn't mean his radio work is also staring down both barrels. The end of ITV's solitary arts slot is bad enough; to lose In Our Time as well would be devastating.Reuse content