In the last few days we have managed to watch two films about being deaf. This was not all part of the plan. We haven’t suddenly decided to only watch films that revolve around the lives of those with hearing impairment and nor have we any particular desire to unlock the power of sign language, or indeed do anything else that might be fulfilling in life or useful to others. It’s just been a minor yet notable coincidence. The first film was called ‘Coda’ and was about a fishing family who were all deaf except the teenage daughter, a girl trapped between her love and loyalty for the family, as well as the fact she was basically their translator for the rest of the world, and her dreams of going to music college and becoming a singer. It sounds like it should be crap, I know, but it wasn’t at all crap and by the end I was wiping away a salty tear from my cheek. The other film was called ‘Sound Of Metal’, and that was all about a drummer in an awful sounding heavy metal band who suddenly finds himself going rather rapidly deaf and ends up in a deaf rehab centre where he has to re-evaluate his life. This too was a good film, and it must have moved me on some other level because at the end I was impressed, but without crying like a big baby.
Naturally what these two films brought blaring into focus was just how hard it must be being deaf. I was going to say it must be shit, but that would be insulting the entire global deaf community and I don’t think it is my place to be quite so presumptuous: the last thing the deaf need is a pat on the shoulder and a sympathetic, patronising smile from someone like me; they’d probably much rather just have their hearing back or have me lose mine. I don’t know how I would cope if I suddenly lost my hearing but I’m guessing ‘not well’ would be the best I could hope for. Imagine never being able to listen to music again, or to glow in the sound of your own fucking voice. I also don’t know how I would cope if I couldn’t listen to Wifey telling me all about her day at work every evening, but in time I might be able to get over it. Losing your hearing must be quietly devastating and it made me start thinking about the beauty of the senses and just how extraordinary they are. And then I thought about how they’re not all that great too.
We have five main senses which are, in case you’re thick: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. There are a few others, of course – the mythical, bullshit sixth sense, common sense, a sense of humour and an assorted grab bag which includes the sense of dread, impending doom, irony, waste, calm, failure, joy, gender confusion, perspective, proportion, taste (the other sense of taste, that is), hopelessness (or futility, they’re much the same), sadness and, finally, of an end in sight. But ultimately these senses are just in the mind, so we’re left with five senses; those being the actual senses that really exist. On the other hand many things are senseless, but we could be here all day if you pulled at that thread. If you held a gun to my head and asked me which sense I’d like to lose first (which would doubtless imbue me with a sense of having a gun against my head coupled with a sense of shitting myself with fear) I would struggle to give you a quick or decisive answer. I like all five senses in their own way, but one must remember that each sense is a double-edged sword, a poisoned chalice and a two-faced bastard; so before we get too excited in our celebration of all things sense related let’s be realistic and briefly remember the ways in which the senses conspire and multiply to make life slightly less of a joy.
For starters, my senses of sight and sound mean I also have a sense of Joe Lycett, and this fills me with a sense of confusion because I can see him and hear him and yet I am totally unable to work out what the hell he is for, and this in turns means I have to waste extra time trying to explain something that is inexplicable: namely Joe Lycett. Rather predictably, the same applies to Ed Sheeran, Formula 1, any contestant on ‘Four In A Bed’, people who go to Glastonbury every year, Nicola Sturgeon, the Taliban, Nick Knowles, politicians, militant wing anti-vaxxers and, of course, Jeremy Vine’s career. What possible joy can I extract and retain from the setting sun, an episode of ‘Ted Lasso’ or a finer moment from Bob Dylan’s back catalogue when they are mercilessly diluted by all the other crap I have to see and hear on a non-stop daily basis? What is the point of watching ‘No Country For Old Men’ on TV when it could be punctuated by an advert for anal bleaching featuring Vanessa Feltz and Alan Titchmarsh? He truly doth giveth with one hand and taketh away with another. Either that or nature is a cruel, cruel thing. Seeing and hearing aren’t always a bonus then, though on balance I’d still rather have them than not.
The other senses don’t let you off the hook either. A sense of touch may be handy (you’re welcome) if you’re having fun at the church hall blindfold massage evening, but it doesn’t help much when you’re on fire or, as Wifey found out last weekend, get bitten on the arm by a horse (that’s a whole other story: she now has two big angry bruises and people will think I have punished her for buying the wrong bread). Speaking of bread (agreed, this is seamless), we know that twats trying to sell their house like to infuse the air with the smell of freshly made coffee and a baking loaf but if they live next to a sewage treatment plant it’s not going to make much difference if the viewer has an intact sense of smell. Come to think of it Wifey may have escaped unharmed if that horse (and it was definitely the horse, your honour) hadn’t smelt her fear and bobbed along behind her, unwinding their gums as they went. Smell easily goes both ways. And as for taste, well do we really need our sense of taste? I’m sure we get told quite a lot that when we eat most of what we taste is what we can smell, so if I could lose one maybe that would be it. Or touch. Or…..oh, how the hell do I know.
The key is to think twice before you wish a sense away (as I seem to be doing) but also try to bear in mind which one is the least helpful for you in a round about way, just in case you do get a gun put to your head. Of course it’s better off with some sense than none, and five seems like a reasonable number for a species that often doesn’t deserve any, but do we need all our senses all the time? What might work better, if evolution has time to improve us before we all melt, is to have selective senses, ones which we can switch off and on again should we need to. Being a light sleeper I would love to be able to turn off my sense of hearing for seven hours a night (this has nothing to do with Wifey, I am just unfortunate enough to have nocturnal hearing that can pick up the sound of a mouse farting half a mile away). I would also like to be able to shut down my sight and hearing during advert breaks on TV, my senses of smell and taste when I am eating anything that is purportedly good for me but doesn’t have a flavour to back that claim up, and my sense of touch when someone turns on the kitchen tap while I am in the shower. I’m sure there would be even greater advantages to such a level of control over one’s senses but I’ve just chosen stupid examples because why bother getting too serious about something so serious? Besides, we could never cope with such a gift: with greater power comes greater stupidity.
G B Hewitt. 02.09.2021
Should you like to know what a sense of waste and no sense of direction might look like, see above.