Monday, April 04, 2011

So How Would You Sign “Another Whisky Please?”

Working Men’s Clubs are funny things. I think I’ve only ever been to about 4 in my entire life and up until last Friday they were solely to attend private parties or functions, hence the patrons stuffing their faces with cake alongside my own were not what anyone would in any way term “regulars”. They were all interlopers like me.

Friday, however, was different.

Friday was set apart by an invitation by my Sign Language tutor that invited us (his class) to come along during the evening and meet some Deaf people in a proper social environment. To be honest, there are a number of such opportunities that we can choose from – some later in the month to attend a proper Deaf Club in Coventry and others in Solihull – but this one attracted me because of (a) the proximity – it was in walking distance from my house – and (b) I have my second formal assessment tomorrow night and I figured the extra practise would be no bad thing.

So I’m walking to the Working Men’s club and I’ll be honest, my vision of the clientele and the whole ambience was of a very quiet snug (akin to the one in The Rovers Return), half full of men and women of a certain age sporting a certain hardy Northern-esque look, a dog or two asleep at the foot of the bar and a barman who spends the entire night giving non-locals pokey looks from his permanent place in front of the optics rack.

But what I got in actual fact was a lounge bar very like something out of Coronation Street, sparsely populated by people of a certain age who could quite easily get roles as extras in Heartbeat, a single dog (a hearing dog for the Deaf funnily enough) and a barman who gave me pokey looks as soon as I stepped foot inside the bar,

In fact his first words to me were, “How did you get in here?”

This made me think that maybe (a) I’d somehow slipped through the minefield and the barbed wire gun emplacements without seeing them or (b) I’d broken both my legs without noticing it or (c) he was confusing me with some bad-ass whippet owner he’d barred from the premises in another life.

As it was I could only answer sheepishly that the guy on the door had let me in after I’d paid a 50p entrance fee (and no sexual favours asked for).

As soon as I explained I’d come to meet the Deaf group though he relaxed, served me my whisky (though he diluted it with unasked for coke – plainly he thought I was a wuss; plainly I was because I accepted it without complaint) and left me alone for the rest of the night.

Naturally, being at heart a saddo, I was the only one from my class who’d bothered to turn up; everyone else is obviously saving themselves for the relative cool of the Deaf club in Coventry.

So it was just me, 5 Deaf people and a hearing dog. And a raffle that I couldn’t enter because I wasn’t a member,

I was at 42 by far the youngest person in the entire building.

As for the Sign Language... seeing it at work in a social context highlighted to me just how little I know and how paltry my level of expertise is. Making Signs is only half of it – having an instant visual recognition of other people’s Signs is the very important other half and that lack of immediacy really tripped me up on several occasions.

Thankfully one of the Deaf people there – a sprightly 84 year old named Billy – could talk (he’d lost his hearing due to being caught in a bomb blast in Glasgow during WWII when he was 10) and though he Signed simultaneously, if it wasn’t for his vocal narrative I would have spent much of the night staring into my whisky and coke feeling that everyone else was talking about me but not to me in a language that was whistling way over my head.

As it was, they were a very friendly group and made generous allowances for my ham-fisted level of expertise. I also learnt what a small world it is: Billy had been a soldier at the barracks during the same period and in the same street in Glasgow where my dad grew up as a boy. A big hello to everybody reading this from Maryhill.

The biggest thing I learnt though was how many different types of Deafness there are, how many different levels and experiences, how people’s Signing is not uniform but is as varied as their handwriting and just how distracting a jukebox can be when you are trying to concentrate and you are the only person who can hear it.

All useful fodder for the novel I am currently writing which features a Deaf character... though whether it will help me pass my formal assessment tomorrow remains to be seen.

And certainly not heard.



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33 comments:

libby said...

I don't know...how do you sign another whisky please.....the first thing that I thought of was two fingers of red eye.....obviously not right......

Steve said...

Libby: one of them did show me the Sign but it's something you have to see rather than read described!

Being Me said...

Fascinating post! I loooove that Billy grew up so close to where your Dad was. How amazing. And now I can't get the image of you with a whippet tucked snugly under your arm out of my head.

Steve said...

Being Me: by 'eck lass, there's nowt more pleasing in life than a whippet 'n' ale pie follered by a nice spotted dick in custard fer afters...

Wylye Girl said...

My neighbour, the wonderful Dr Dave, is deaf. He was a shit-hot commercial lawyer in London before he caught a virus and literally woke up deaf. He now works tirelessly for a number of deaf charities and I reckon our little village is more deaf-aware than anywhere in the country. You can't move for leaflets on sign language, talking to deaf people, etc. I had a brief introduction to American Sign Language from Prof. Alex de Joia from Columbia University. I think by the end of the course I could say F*ck Off but that was it.

Heather said...

sounds like an interesting evening. And I never had you down as a whiskey man - more of a half a shandy kinda guy...

Being Me said...

That reminds me of a really bad joke. About a man and a custard pie.

The Dotterel said...

So, do they let old lags out for trips to Working Mens' Clubs now? Oh, hang on...

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

I'm sorry but Billy and your dad will be giving you some very rude signs if they read this and see 'whiskey' (Irish/American) rather than 'whisky' (Scottish/rest of the world)Is it that rogue spell-check again?

Steve said...

Wylye Girl: for Americans, "F*ck Off" is generally enough. ;-)

Heather: yes but I can handle half my own body weight in rohipnol.

Being Me: am I going to be f*cking dis-custard?

The Dotterel: it's an open prison. Working for a Local Authority is like that.

Steve said...

Trish: ooh - you're some kind of expert and I respect that. I'm making the corrections right now before Billy busts some moves on my sassenach ass.

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

Ah that's better! I'll have a double, please (minus the coke)

Steve said...

Trish: yer a wee hen afta ma own heart.

the fly in the web said...

Why is it that no language course...spoken, signed or written...ever tells you the phrases you really need?

Thanks for the tip on the phrase that deals with Americans....I will use it and give feedback.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: "No I am not propositioning your wife / husband"... that's a phrase I'd like to be able to use. ;-)

Rol said...

"...a certain hardy Northern-esque look..."

You mean they looked like me?

Steve said...

Rol: umm... no. These people were happy.

;-)

Gorilla Bananas said...

He really served you whiskey and coke rather than shandy? You are twice the man I thought you were.

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: coming from you that's half a compliment.

Kelloggsville said...

I guess the whisky question is much like being in a night club. You sort of wiggle the glass at the barman, nod at the optic and hope for the best. The sans Coke would be a bit of a travesty though. Do you improvise snorting and then do the no sign? Good luck for your assessment.

Phil said...

Adrian: Glad to hear that they’re letting you out on day release to develop such a worthy and noble skill in your community. One of our neighbours is a teacher of ‘sign’. She came down here from Newcastle about ten years ago and really struggled initially to make her sign language understood to all her southern students on account of her accent being so strong.

She’s gradually adapted to a softer southern ‘sign’ accent style nowadays though and says it’s really helped her to become more accepted within the deaf farming community down here in general.

This is a link to a performance by one of her ‘sign’ students. In all seriousness it’s not the least bit insensitive or disrespectful and I have to say I found it really quite engaging by the end of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv3tadz5Q3o

Steve said...

Kelloggsville: thank you. I think if I'd snorted loudly at the bar they would have assumed I was a coke fiend (and it was bad enough having coke in the whisky).

Phil: I find it truly fascinating (and even wonderful) that Sign language can have accents and local slang words... it's a very elastic language (much like any language) and some of the Signs are so ingenious they are visual poetry. Thanks for the link.

Löst Jimmy said...

Good stuff that you are still involved in the Sign Language learning. Well done.

I am a member of a Working Man's Club, for the past 22 years but rarely go, maybe 3-4 times a year. Still it's a tradition

Owen said...

I just made several gestures, but can't translate them here.

Keep your thumbs to the grindstone, and soon you'll be signing merrily away...

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: any tradition that involves access to a bar has to be a good one, right?

Owen: can you take a photo of your hand gestures and email them to me?

Keith said...

I always imagine that you have to open your field of vision wider to read sign language, as it always seem to me to be a reading of the whole person, the hands, the face and the body. It is such an expressive thing when I have watched it. And so fluid.

I once saw a gang of Niked lads doing what I can only surmise was sign language rapping. It was phenomenal.

Steve said...

Keith: you're totally on the button - it's all about placement of the actual Sign, body language, mouth shape, facial expressions... a very, very physical language but no less beautiful for that.

Mark said...

Working Men's Clubs are strange places - somewhat anachronistic now. I used to live near Ashington that famously had something like thirty five clubs but only one pub. My grandfather, who was blind and 75% deaf would drink nowhere else.

Steve said...

Mark: 35 clubs? That's a lot of working men. Or not as the case may be.

The Sagittarian said...

;-) xoxoxo

Steve said...

Amanda: fancy a double?

vegemitevix said...

I wonder how you sign anything when you've had a couple of those whiskeys!

Steve said...

Vix: it's perfectly possible to slur whilst using Sign language...