I have discovered the joys of selective deafness before my dotage. You know how old people claim age-related hardness of hearing but always manage to hear any comments and asides under your breath not meant for their ears?
Well, as a side effect of a recent vicious bout of earache brought on by an infection, I am now, temporarily at least, ever so slightly deaf.
As a boy, I liked to identify with the intrepid young reporter Tintin. I find I now have more in common with his associate Professor Calculus.
The dear old scientist was a brilliant if somewhat absent-minded fellow who, without his hearing trumpet — so much more dramatic than a mere hearing aid — heard very little of what was said around him. What little he did hear, was a mangled and senseless jumble. But dare anyone even mumble or mutter that he was “acting the goat” (a great insult to this genius) and Cuthbert Calculus could hear them clear as a bell, even from behind closed doors. And if you wanted to see cha mtema kuni (or to get into serious trouble), then this was all he had to hear you say.
I may not have Professor Calculus’ hair-trigger temper, and so far as I am aware, nobody has dared to compare me to any farmyard beast, but I am finding it very easy to ignore things that are said to me.
I don’t know about you, but I have often had situations where I’d rather not engage with others on a particular topic. So, for instance, when a stranger in a lift or in a queue at the supermarket initiates a conversation or tries and fails to be funny, I have been able to stare straight ahead, as if I haven’t heard them and saved myself from potentially awkward situations.
When such people have insisted on being heard, then I’ve pointed at my ears and the cotton wool stuffed into them, smiled weakly and apologised for being deaf to them.
The annoying thing is that people who feel the urge to pass on their unwanted message tend to speak very loudly and enunciate everything to make sure you catch it all.
This selective deafness of mine has reminded me of times past, when I feigned selective short-sightedness. I would deliberately leave my spectacles behind when going to certain social gatherings, where there were probably going to be people I wanted to avoid. This tactic only worked in big spaces like garden parties and weddings and the terrace of my favourite bar on a busy Friday night.
The downside to this was that then, i couldn’t properly see the people and things i wanted to see without squinting in a very unattractive manner.
The disadvantage of this temporary deafness is that I am having trouble hearing the things I want to hear, and so I won’t be recommending it to anyone.