Most retired people tell you that they are busier than when they were working, but I have not found this to be so. What struck me when it happened, and strikes me still, is the desert of time ahead with so little in the diary into which I drip feed small tasks to give each day a purpose. Need a ball of string? Won’t do it today, it’ll be something to do on Wednesday. But it was an opportunity to turn to things that I had been putting off – denying, my children say – for some time because I was too busy.
The first and most pressing was my deteriorating hearing in my right ear. For several months visits to hospital ENT departments and audiology clinics became an important part of my social life during which my deficit was exhaustively investigated with a confusing range of explanations. You have a perforated ear drum (my GP), we’ll send you to ENT. Maybe there’s a neurological cause (London teaching hospital), we’ll send you for a brain scan. Brain scan clear, not even a mildly aggressive tumour to be seen. I suspected that this test was ordered was simply because they had an MRI scanner (to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail). You have spent too much time in aeroplanes (second ENT specialist). And so? At each consultation I humbly suggested that I might have an ear infection, a piece of impertinent self-diagnosis that was loftily brushed aside.
Then a breakthrough. I moved from London to North Yorkshire where my GP niftily diagnosed age-related deafness, dismissing non-evidence-based infection theory. Simple as that. Off you go to York to see ENT man who looked in my ear, told me I had, and for some time had, an ear infection. This was cleared up in a week, a week later I was assessed by the audiologist who prescribed two digital hearing aids, which work, and which are like having a prawn tucked behind each ear. The effect it striking and at first startling – the first time I flushed the loo I thought the roof was falling in, and for a couple of weeks I thought I was constantly being followed until I realised it was my own footsteps I could hear.
There’s not much to be said for being deaf, and hearing aids, unlike spectacles, do not fully correct your deficit. But there is one thing to be said – for the purpose of concessionary railcards you are classed as disabled. The bog standard OAP railcard costs twenty six quid a year and you get 30% discount on any journey. The disabled card costs on eighteen quid and – here’s the kicker – anyone travelling with you also gets the discount as your carer. But beware. To prove your eligibility you either have to produce your NHS battery register (not been used by NHS for at least 15 years), or get the form rubber stamped by social services, no small thing. I had to produce evidence of identity and of deafness, and evidence linking the two, only to be told that they had no rubber stamps. I didn’t believe them, and don’t you.