I’ve had a lovely day in London with my friend Helen, moving from café to café with a little light shopping in between. We’ve done this numerous times during almost forty years of friendship, so little surprises us on these days out. But this time Helen was stopped in her tracks. I didn’t suddenly pick out something in a shade of oat after four decades of making a beeline for bright colours. It wasn’t that she thought I’d got a burn mark on my neck, although she did (that’s where applying foundation for probably only the third of fourth time since the beginning of the pandemic, and in poor light, got me!). It wasn’t our discovery of a bottle of hand lotion that retailed for £24.99 and was called Hackney Marshes… It wasn’t even that Helen turned over the price ticket on a coat she admired and read that it cost £2400 (fainting would have been reasonable and indeed I did that on one of our shopping trips, long ago, in a lingerie department in Letchworth; it turned out I was succumbing to chicken pox). It was that she said something to me, with a mask on, and I heard it. Then she said something else, a whole sentence in fact. I heard that too. Followed by a whole conversation. No-one else knew that something fantastic had taken place in the jumper aisle, but it had. If we’d been in a film, it would have been accompanied by a swell of orchestral music.

If you read my last blog Adjusting to my cochlear implant: a watershed week! you’ll know that my recent mapping session at Audiology resulted in accelerated progress, and this has continued. So, what else has gone on, besides the Miracle on Regent Street? I was curious to see how much hearing with my cochlear implant (CI) had improved, in London’s underground and streets, and in shops and cafes, since my last visit two months ago. Once again, I was impressed at how my CI damps down background noise and brings voices – the person with me and the announcements – into focus. This is even better than before, though I still can’t eavesdrop! I was able to hear what Helen said when walking alongside her on the street, my dependence on lipreading receding, as the conversation-with-masks clearly demonstrated (though I didn’t always hear what others in masks were saying). In the whole day, I rarely had to ask her to repeat anything. Conversations in cafés were easy, only getting tricky for a short time over a meal in a busy noodle bar, with people seated close by and chatting quite loudly. It’s important to say that Helen speaks clearly and not too fast, and it’s not the case that I no longer need to lip-read, or that masks present no barrier now. I’m sure that how much, and how well, I hear will continue to vary a lot depending on factors particular to the speaker and the environment – as well as whether I’m tired, or inattentive perhaps! But I am so pleased and encouraged by the progress I’m making.

What else? I’ve been listening to an audiobook, which is such a novelty, and I’ve become a fan of Desert Island Discs. That’s proving to be excellent auditory training, with its two speakers and snippets of a variety of music, and what a pleasure too! I’ve come a long way since the days of struggling to hear Angela and Jay, on the Advanced Bionics Sound Success programme, saying very short, clear sentences about the weather and buying train tickets. I feel quite astonished at being able to hear what people are saying, and I hear just about every word uttered on these programmes. Music is more elusive, as I’ve said before, but it’s good for me to try listening to such a variety. I find it odd that I can’t (yet) hear the programme’s theme tune with any clarity, given that I remember it well from childhood, when Mum would listen to it.

I can now hear the doorbell, and I’m hearing more of these environmental sounds, often having to go in pursuit of the noise, as I don’t know what or where it is. I could definitely hear an alarm the other day, eventually tracing it to my daughter’s bedroom.

Doing things like listening to podcasts is so much more interesting than doing auditory training exercises, of course, but I went back into the Hearoes app to try that exercise that has so frustrated me. The one where I have to decide which word is being said from hid, hud, hoed, who’d, hayed, hawed, hood, head, and had. It’s foxed me for all these weeks and months. No longer. This time, I got full marks with the male voice and one wrong with the female voice. I’m winning!