When I was Clinic Manager and Senior Audiologist in the Kensington branch of a well-known hearing aid retailer, I took it upon myself one year to promote Noise Action Week. So, I came out from my windowless clinic room, blinking into the light, and offered free tea and coffee to passers by in the hope that they’d stop and chat with me about noise. There were also balloons and cakes involved, if I recall.
The first thing to know about being tall, wearing a long coat, and wandering up and down Kensington High Street swinging coffee and hot chocolate, crying, ‘Let’s talk about noise!’ at the top of my voice, is that most people do not associate such a spectacle with Noise Action Week. Rather, judging by the number of people who crossed the road to avoid coming too close, or who locked their chins onto their throats as they walked past me to avoid eye contact, the only thing I seemed to be associating myself with was the idea of a tall, smiling, over-zealous lunatic, perhaps promoting Noisy Action Week! It was only when the first person did eventually stop and take a (now cold) coffee from me, and I leaned in to talk to them about protecting their hearing, that I realised just how noisy Kensington High Street is, just how many emergency vehicles pass by that way, and just how futile were these efforts of mine to minimise the impact of this daily onslaught of noise on our ears.
So, if you’re going to promote Noise Action Week this year, make sure that, to adapt the famous advertising phrase, your medium is part of the message; that you choose a venue where your message can be communicated without risk of adding to the very noise damage that you’re warning against. And make sure that your passion isn’t overwhelming: just because you, like me, might be on a mission to promote ear education, ear care and noise protection, doesn’t mean that your zeal isn’t easily misinterpreted, or so abrupt as to cause fright!
Oh, and one other little learning from that experience of mine: don’t offer free coffee outside a famous high street coffee establishment, even if that coffee establishment happens to be next door to your clinic. And what you really shouldn’t do is go into said coffee establishment to ask for more milk when you run out of your own supply…not unless you want an earful of angry barrista!
The following year, I had a little brainstorm about more effective ways to get the Noise Action Week message across: this is where the idea of putting ear defenders on the heads of all major statues across the country came from, and especially atop Nelson’s Column, which would be as difficult for the authorities to remove as it would be dangerous and (illegal) to put them on old Horatio in the first place. I also considered how much it would cost to make decibel alarm key rings that flash when the surrounding noise exceeds safe levels (I wanted them to beep, but you can see the irony.) Or a huge, silent disco Flash Mob in a very noisy place. I guess if I were thinking about it for this year, I’d try and get Brian Johnson of AC/DC involved. I came up with various other impractical ideas, until I came across the most impractical one of the lot: to make each and every day of my life a Noise Action Day.
Maybe this was in response to the sense of futility I felt when trying to address the issue: me and a few others trying to shout above the incessant and ever-growing din (without shouting) but once a year. Maybe it was in response to a calling, or sense of duty. Maybe it was in response to the frustration that I felt about the hearing industry focusing the vast majority of its attention on hearing aids, which are great of course, but which are only necessary when it’s already too late for the wearer to save their hearing.
Whatever the precise reason was, I’m not exactly sure, but I left my clinic in Kensington. I left the big company that owned it, and joined the much smaller world of people trying to save, not cure, hearing loss.
This is the world of ear care, hearing protection, clear communication and giving those cartilage appendages on the side of our heads the love they deserve, rather than neglecting them in a way that we would not dream of doing for our teeth and eyes.
It’s the world of Hearology.
Coming to a noisy, street corner near you soon!
And before that, I’ll see you here, in the BSHAA magazine, where I have been kindly invited to contribute to every edition.