Man in the Middle – Chapter 27: Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No.27: Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear

I’m waiting, shamefacedly, for my appointment with the audiologist at a leading high street retailer where Mother bought her hearing aid. The staff eye me furtively because this is my sixth appointment in a fortnight which they know can only mean one thing: Mother still refuses to believe her hearing aid works. They’re right.

I suspect the appointment is running late because most of the staff are out back drawing straws to decide which unfortunate one has to talk to me. They’re probably muttering under their breath ‘Wish He’d Gone to Boots’ and cursing their successful TV advertising campaign.

Mother has issued me my battle orders. Either they fix it, or she gets a refund. The shop consistently says there is nothing wrong with the hearing aid but she says it hasn’t improved her hearing. It’s a common complaint among seniors, apparently, but a weak case for a refund. However, the staff, whom I have come to regard almost as family over the last fortnight, are caring and considerate. They may take pity on me and give me a refund if only to shift a relentlessly unsatisfiable customer to a competitor.

I’m not unsympathetic with Mother, though. Alexa can hear me order pot noodles from six foot, but she can’t hear me ask if she wants a cup of tea from two. Why can’t Alexa make hearing aids? Perhaps there’s a demographic injustice here waiting for the right person to champion it. ‘Ear Rights’?

I am sure that if Dario Fo, the Italian playwright were still alive, he’d be writing a new version of his Marxist farce ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’, only it would be renamed ‘Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear’. Mother would be his co-author and lead actor.

The original play featured the looting of a supermarket as workers protested at the soaring cost of living. ‘Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear!’ would climax with an angry mob of nonagenarians requisitioning stocks of capitalist hearing aids and stamping them to pieces under the furious heels of their walking sticks and zimmer frames.

Set in a coastal town filled with retirees attracted by the sea air and a network of soft tarmac motability scooter friendly lanes, the new version would star Mother as the leader of a group of OAPs no longer willing to suffer overpriced and underperforming hearing aids.

The focus for their anger would be ‘Hear Here’, the town’s largest retailer of hearing aids, owned by a careless capitalist known as the ‘Audiologist’ who owns the local hearing aid cartel. He has a perma-tan and a yellow comb-over, which suspiciously never flutters even during the towns’ stormy winter gales.

In the penultimate scene of the play, he would get his comeuppance. Members of the Bowls, Bridge and Golf clubs have gathered as one on the promenade, walking sticks bristling like spears, dentures chattering with anger. Mother rouses her troops to revolt.

‘The hegemony of the Audiologist must end. We reject batteries, which barely last an episode of the ‘Antique Roadshow’ and pink ear moulds which embarrass us. Today, we will set our hearing free.’

Some of the mob chant in agreement ‘Here Here’, others point at the Audiologist’ shop and shout ‘No. There. There.’

The shop is their Bastille. They shuffle towards it singing a croaky version of ‘Do you hear the people singing’ from the musical ‘Les Misérables’ and from the side streets, their sons and daughters join them to stand shoulder to shoulder in their fight for aural liberation.

In the last scene, the mob of seniors standing around a pyre of plastic hearing aids. On top of the pyre is the Audiologist, bound. He begs them to let him down. Mother stands with a flaming torch in her hands next to the moulded mound.

‘Do we hear his plea?’

As one, the revolutionaries take their hearing aids out of their ears and toss them on them onto the pyre and turn their faces to the sea as Mother leans her flame towards the pyre. Curtain falls.

I am wondering if I have accidentally invented a new theatrical genre Third Age Agitprop, when one of the staff comes up to me.

‘Come through, please. Sorry to have kept you waiting.’

The senior audiologist looks up from her PC, as I come into the room.

‘Good morning, Mr -. We’ve had another look at the device. It is working according to our tests. However, I wonder if it would be better all-round if we just took this on the chin and gave your Mother a full refund? What do you say?’

‘Here, here,’ I say. ‘Here, here.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 28: Covid-19 didn’t ruin Mother’s Day

Read the previous one – Chapter 26: International Women’s Day

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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