It was time to consider hearing aids when I was in a restaurant with a friend and she began to tell me about her latest boyfriend. Because she spoke in whispers, I missed most of the presumably fascinating detail. The nice audiologist at Boots suggested that it was surprising I had managed to function with such a level of sensory deprivation (I do remember being unable to hear before putting my contact lenses in so I must have been lip-reading rather than experiencing synaesthesia, as I'd assumed). I was fitted with my hearing aids and immediately revelled in a new world of sound.
Some sounds were positively unpleasant, like the awful piped music in shops – judging from the level of it, Boots in future will get a lot of business from deaf retail staff – but others were a revelation. For years I had thought that birds had vanished from our Aberdeenshire village, but no – I just hadn't been able to hear them. Now I could hear the geese flying south for the winter, and the robins singing in the evening, reminding me that when we first moved here, I phoned the RSPB to report a nightingale in the garden, to be told it was most likely an insomniac robin, as indeed it was.
Now it's spring, I can hear the oystercatchers squawking, always a sound of the changing season. And last night, although I couldn't see them for cloud, I could hear masses of geese calling to each other as they made their return journey north. Why do they make so much noise as they fly at night? Is it that they are so pleased to see home after their winter holiday? I only hope their annual migration won't be affected by Brexit.
For the past couple of months, I have been unable to read newspapers or listen to the radio in case I hear a news item about Brexit, reminding me of how unutterably stupid we, the electors, can be. I suggested to a colleague that referenda were a very dangerous tool, pointing out that a referendum on bringing back the death penalty would mean the capital punishment lobby would undoubtably win: 'But I would
bring back the death penalty!', he admitted.
Having a daughter-in-law who is Finnish but born in Estonia (possibly the most economically successful small European country) and a granddaughter who has dual British/Estonian nationality, it's clear I am appalled by the whole issue of Brexit. My French friend J is irrationally terrified of being deported from Scotland, where she is a brilliant and inspirational teacher, because she doesn't have the required Samsung phone, bizarrely required to scan in documents in support of citizenship application.
The first time I voted, as a young woman, was at the referendum to join the then EEC, and I remember being proud to support the idea of federal Europe – maybe my background in classics had some influence, but I saw Europe as exemplifying a civilisation which crossed national borders, and in Scotland for many centuries there has been a pro-European vision. It is ironic that those who should know better keep banging on about Brexit being 'the will of the people' when the will of the Scottish people has clearly been to remain in Europe. Politicians as diverse as John Major and Gordon Brown now see Scottish independence as inevitable, and I only hope it happens in my lifetime. At least nowadays I feel I can legitimately call myself a Scot – although born in England, my allegiance to that country has sadly died.
Occasionally I do proof-reading and editing for students, as it appears that nowadays they are rarely taught to write properly at school (I sound more and more like an old grouch, but sometimes one has to conform to a stereotype). Recently I've helped a student with a thesis on an anthropology topic, and so far, I'd give anthropologists the award for the most obfuscatory and esoteric language. I can't risk the wrath of the anthropologists in question by quoting them, but they appear to use the largest number of polysyllabic words to, as my blunt father would have put it, 'state the bleedin' obvious', such as: walking in the outdoors is good for people's mental health. Who would have thought it?
But then I began to wonder if I, as an ex-academic, had ever been guilty of the same sins. It's not so much that academics write deliberately to confuse the intelligent non-experts, maybe to convince them that their social research is as 'scientific' as nuclear physics. I think it's rather that they just want to impress other academics, by using words that even academics have to look up in the dictionary, and by quoting writers like Baudrillard or Foucault, who no sensible person reads if they can avoid it.
The trouble is that if academics want to be seen as useful to the rest of society, they will have to learn to write so that everyone else can understand what they are talking about. So far, the only sensible anthropologist I've encountered is Domenica Macdonald of 44 Scotland Street, but she is a fictional character created by Alexander McCall Smith, and a hard act to follow for her real-life colleagues.