Saturday, October 27, 2012

Now we know how many assholes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

Last night I had a bit of an unpleasant experience at a gig, and wanted to capture it. (In other words, this is going to be a fairly dull blogpost about a thing that happened to me, and you might want to skip it.)

A bit of background - I've had a stinker of a cold for two weeks, which has messed with my hearing. This used to happen to me a lot when I was a boy; in fact, I can't remember having lost so much of my hearing so badly since I was aged in single-digits. I still have a happy memory of being in the dining room at my Middle School, and the last big deafness suddenly clearing. A pop, and being back in the world, a mood shooting upwards like a cat up a tree.

Like an unwelcome visit from a childhood friend you didn't really like, the deafness has returned this week. In the office, trying to follow the conversations in meetings was leaving me physically sick from the stress of trying to catch the flow; I've been having to leave the phone unanswered as it wouldn't do me any good to pick it up.

I reckon I've got about 15% hearing in my left ear, and 5% in my right. And that's using my normal hearing as a baseline; years of being down the front without hearing protection haven't exactly left me the best person if you need someone to hear pins dropping.

Last night, though, we had tickets for Dead Can Dance at the Royal Albert Hall. Amplified music. That'll work for me.

So Shawndra and I head down, and we're sat in our seats waiting for something to happen. Just to be clear: there isn't an act on stage, playing. There isn't even music playing through the PA.

We were talking in normal voices - I guess it's possible that I might have been a twitch above normal volume, compensating for my deafness, but I wasn't bellowing away like Gordon Cole talking to Agent Cooper.

Suddenly, the woman in front turns round and says "you're being very loud."

Not being eight years old, and this woman not being employed to be our nanny, it takes a second to register that she's telling us off for talking in what is, to all intents and purposes, a waiting room.

She then follows this up with "everybody else is whispering", which I don't hear.

Naturally, "everyone else" isn't whispering - even though I can't hear half her complaint, I'm able to eavesdrop on the couple sat in front of her. People are chattering, as they do, when they're excited, and some have taken strong drink.

Remember, we're not in a church, awaiting a memorial service for the fallen. We haven't gathered to take the final paper in an engineering exam, with individuals trying to compose themselves to recall the Ductile Yield calculation under fire. We are sitting in a large room waiting to have some popular music played to us.

Shawndra explains that we can't actually communicate in mouse-friendly whispers because I've got a hearing impairment.

At this stage, there are two possible reactions. The woman in front could have said "oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realise." Or - and to be honest, what I would probably have done were the positions somehow reversed - you could mutter "oh" and turn back round.

But what our friend chose to do was to pull a face like a Hattie Jacques unconvinced by Sid James' explanation of why Barbara Windsor's bra was in his jacket pocket, and harrumphed "yeah, right".

Now, I'm incredibly lucky that my hearing problem is a short-term thing and at some point in the future I'll be able to hear sort-of normally again. Perhaps the woman in front calculated this, and didn't feel that a temporary impairment counted as an impairment at all.

Unlikely though, as she didn't know who I was, or anything about me, or my medical history or physical shape.

Instead, she just chose to assume we were lying, and say so to our... well, not faces, as her harrumphing came as she turned back round in her seat.

That's just astonishingly rude beahviour. It's probably the most rude I've seen someone be in a theatre this year - and I was at the Milton Keynes theatre the night the bloke was sick over the edge of the balcony onto the people sat below.

There is, of course, a pay-off: shortly after this, two younger women came and sat in the seats next to her. They chattered away all through the support act.

Did the woman say anything to them? Oddly enough, no. Happily for me, they didn't disturb me because I couldn't hear them.

Just a tip, then: if you were the woman in L 9 95 last night, if you don't want to have people having conversations, you might want to avoid being in public.

If you really feel the need to share your belief about how you believe people should behave, why not wait until something actually needs to be said (if I'd been talking through one of the acts on stage, you would have been morally justified in dragging me from my seat, putting my head on a pike and waving it as a warning to others. Indeed, I would have fetched a pikestaff to help you.)

But if someone tells you they've got a health problem - unless you are their doctor, and have their notes in front of you - never, ever attempt to belittle them by calling them liars, however obliquely you choose to do it. We've got ATOS for that.

Dead Can Dance were spectacular, by the way.