5 things to do at work which will make people suddenly need to speak to you out of the blue.

1. Run a tap.

You could have been sitting in silence all morning, but the minute you go to fill the kettle or do the dishes, people will almost be queuing up to ask you a question they could have asked just two minutes before, when you’d have been able to hear them. Now you won’t see them coming because your back is turned, and your hearing aids have digitally transformed a harmless trickle of tap water into the thunderous roar of Niagara Falls. Those who persist in trying to get your attention under these circumstances will be rewarded by the sight of you jumping out of your skin and breaking the boss’s favourite mug.

2. Look like you’re concentrating really hard during a meeting.

While your colleagues were having a laid-back coffee and dragging their heels to arrive at the meeting venue, you were already there, frantically rearranging the furniture so that you’d be able to see everyone’s face round the table. Now that the proceedings are underway, they’re all happily multi-tasking with their mobile devices, reading and writing emails, doodling, staring into space. You, on the other hand, are locked in a lipreading death stare with the Quiet Speaker, and displaying your strange predilection for writing illegible notes without looking at the page. You’re looking far too serious, what you need is for someone to whisper a series of inaudible witty asides in your ear…

3. Take your aids out to get some peace.

This one never fails, it’s as if people are psychic or have some sort of smartphone hearing aid tracking device that tells them when to pounce. With hearing aids out, you’ve finally managed to concentrate long enough to write that two line email which has eluded you all morning, and your reading glasses are no longer fighting for behind the ear space and hurting your lugs. The unexpected appearance of a question at this juncture means you’ve now got to take your glasses off to hurriedly get the aids back on again. More often than not, carrying out this operation under the quizzical gaze of a superior can result in some yellowing part of the hearing aid being left protruding embarrassingly from your ear until you next look in a mirror.

4. Open a window for some fresh air

It may well have been quiet outside since you first opened that window half an hour ago, but be assured that the moment the dustbin lorry appears at the kerb and starts its deafening crushing operation, someone will need an urgent answer to something. Especially if you’ve just taken your aids out to get some peace.

5. Walk along a corridor

The sight of a HOH person in an echoey corridor would appear irresistible to some. The individual who had no questions when you asked “Has anyone got any questions?” in a quiet room a few minutes ago will suddenly find one, and it’s now urgent. Unfortunately, in the corridor acoustic, you can’t hear it and will have to choose between looking where you are going and lipreading. In my experience, few such questions actually merit the risk of walking into door frames. Just pretend you heard and are ignoring them, it’s easier.

I Have A Dream

Nacht und Traume

One day, in a far-off digital future, all hearing aid users will be able to tune their hearing aids to their own specifications, all by themselves. Instead of just being able to choose between programmes which suit listening to the tv in quiet, conversing in a noisy restaurant, or trying to tune into a non-functioning loop, they will have access to multiple programmes tailored to individual activities in different types of acoustic spaces. They will be able to swap effortlessly between an open or closed fitting, and they will be able to prioritise music over speech if they feel like it.

Cookiebiters and reverse slopers will benefit most from this brave new world. Instead of being forced to endure a badly modified version of an algorithm designed to fit high frequency losses, they will have specially designed algorithms which will allow access to minute adjustments across the entire frequency spectrum, with smooth transitions in amplification which, for me, will mean no more terrifyingly loud keys in the C6 area of the piano keyboard. I will enjoy full harmonic resonance on the mid to lows when playing Schubert, and spend hours playing low notes with the left hand just because it sounds wonderful.

bass bung

Until that historic moment arrives, I am making do with my latest hearing aid hack for digital piano playing. The Kookybite Bass Bung® (pictured) transforms an open dome to sort of semi-closed for home musical purposes. Carved from a 60p eraser from WH Smith, it may be a little eccentric, but it works. By turning down the volume switch on my music programme, and trapping the previously lost low frequencies in my ear with the bung, the troublesome C6 zone is dampened, whilst resonance returns to the previously thin bass notes. My piano no longer sounds like the speakers are stuffed with cotton wool, and I have fallen back in love with it again after a rather prolonged playing hiatus. Naturally, speech is pretty incomprehensible with this arrangement, and your breathing becomes a bit Darth Vader, but this doesn’t matter unless you’re playing your piano in a crowded cocktail bar whilst suffering from a lung infection.

One day, when I find someone who knows anything about fitting cookie bite hearing loss, I shall get them to set up my hearing aids to do this properly, so that I can enjoy playing Schubert without the unfortunate downside of being deafened by passing cars…


Update: After finding little bits of coloured rubber everywhere, the spouse recently asked me to consider the possibility that I was going a bit mad. I am vindicated, however, by this article which very clearly and succinctly explains the shortcomings of hearing aids in relation to listening to music, and notes how important those low frequencies are. The bit about the high proportion of keys on the piano sitting below the 1kHz threshold  also illustrates why the reverse sloper/ cookiebiter may be on a hiding to nothing with their piano and a default NHS hearing aid fitting…

The Cookie Bite Experiment: Hand dryers – How Loud is Loud?

Vent Axia Tempest

Experimental Equipment

1 hearing aid user equipped with a pair of NHS Oticon Spirit Zests switched to Mute

1 Health and Safety officer with official calibrated sound level meter

1 Vent Axia Tempest high speed dryer, advertised sound level 74 dB(A)

1 rectangular disabled toilet approx 15 cubic m, with bare concrete floor and ceiling, and floor to ceiling ceramic tiles on walls.


For the sake of propriety, the Health and Safety officer decided it would be prudent to keep the toilet door open during the experiment; it was important that no-one could possibly get the wrong idea when we both emerged from the toilet looking windswept and flushed from 900 Watts of Vent Axia drying power in an enclosed space.

Experimental method

With the toilet door firmly wedged open by the Health and Safety officer’s carefully positioned left foot, I skipped the first stage of my usual toilet procedure, and proceeded straight to washing my hands. When I had finished, the sound level meter was held next to my right ear and drying was commenced. I used my usual frenetic hand rubbing technique under the dryer, but left out the bit at the end where I usually clasp my wet hands in the airstream to make a novelty farting noise. I didn’t wish to undermine the gravitas of the experiment.


When operated in situ, it would seem that the Vent Axia Tempest is a little more tempestuous than its advertised 74 dB(A) output implies. In the corner of the disabled toilet at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour, the sound level measured next to my ears as I rubbed my hands under the dryer came in at a whopping 95 dB, which surprised even me. If I use a power tool in the workshop, I’m required to wear ear protection at sound levels over 80 dB.

The difference, though, is in the length of exposure. The drying time for the Tempest is 10-15 seconds, so at most I’ll only be getting a couple of minutes of ear rattling exposure a day, less if I stop drinking so much tea. From a Health and Safety perspective, no ear protection is necessary at that level, but I don’t think I particularly want to take the risk if I can avoid it.  My portion of good hearing round about 4 KHz is the bit currently holding the cookie bite speech clarity show together, and is the bit which is most vulnerable to noise damage. Dr John Drever’s hand dryer study has demonstrated alarming noise levels in the high frequencies, and that tallies with my subjective experience of ear rattling discomfort. The problem is, I don’t want to have to remove my hearing aids and put in earplugs every time I go to the toilet.

The solution? Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve now got my own secret supply of Health and Safety endorsed paper towels…


paper towels

High Speed Hand Dryers from Hell

high speed hand dryer


The environmental credentials of the new building at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour mean that paper towels are a thing of the past. Hand drying is now done the 21st century way, by noisily blasting water and germs off the hands on to the nearest wall with a high speed dryer. There is a certain morbid fascination to be had from watching the skin and veins on the back of your ageing hands being grotesquely remodelled by the airstream from a modified jet engine, but the novelty soon wears off. Especially if you wear hearing aids. High speed dryers may be quick and efficient, but they’re also very, very noisy.

They have other drawbacks as well. As I stood helplessly with toothpaste dripping from my chin, I yet again lamented the passing of the paper towel. I realised that even if it was physically possible to get my face under a dryer mounted at wheelchair height, it might not be such a good idea to get the ailing cookiebite ears that close, since the noise even at arms length feels deafening.

Irritated by this 21st century technological oversight, I surveyed the toilet cubicle for my remaining face drying options. I didn’t fancy dabbing my lips on the toilet roll balanced unhygienically on the waste pipe behind the toilet, and chose instead to have a furtive wipe on a carefully selected area of my cardigan. Far more energy efficient than a hand dryer any day, and a darn sight quieter. It even gave me an idea.

I briefly contemplated designing the world’s first towelling clothing range for hearing aid users, so that we can reserve the right to silently dry our hands by wiping them on highly absorbent trousers, but decided I look strange enough these days as it is. Trouser idea abandoned, I decided to find out if I was alone in my enforced hand drying noise misery.

A casual search on the interweb turned up a paper on this very interesting research study by Dr John Drever of Goldsmiths College London. Concerned, amongst other things, at reports of hearing aid users and children being scared witless by the noise of dryers in public toilets, Dr Drever decided to compare sound measurements of dryers made in situ, with manufacturers’ measurements made in a sound absorbing anechoic chamber. Apparently the readings taken in the hard surfaced surroundings of public toilets revealed sound levels of up to 11 times those advertised by the manufacturers. Intrigued, I decided to recreate his experiment in the fully tiled ceramic splendour of the disabled toilet at work.

Last week, I emailed the institutional Health and Safety officer to invite him to an intimate hand drying tryst in the toilet near my office. I cited Dr Drever’s study and mentioned my fears for my delicate hearing-aided ears. I was delighted to receive an almost instant offer of assistance, and the experiment was successfully conducted the same afternoon.

My experimental protocol was almost as rigorous as that for my Hearing Aids and Dental X-rays experiment, and the results just as surprising. More next week…

Not Quite Pitch Perfect



‘Alumni wanted to sing one single note each’ said the intriguing email, which invited past graduates of the Institute of Artistic Endeavour to come forward to be recorded for an interactive sound piece. The resulting installation will be part of the forthcoming official opening celebrations for the shiny new building.

It felt as if the invitation could have been written especially for me, and my response was immediate:

‘I am an alumnus’, I began proudly, ‘and have a fantastic singing voice, I’ve been told I sound just like Whitney Houston after she turned to crack. Just let me know when I’m needed, and I’ll pop a pair of fresh batteries in my hearing aids.’

“If that doesn’t get me the gig,” I said to the spouse excitedly as I hit the send button, “I don’t know what will. Wonder what note I’m going to get?”

“The bum note, going by this morning’s performance in the shower”, said the spouse, rolling his eyes. Just as I embarked on a croaky practice scale, an almost instant reply came back from the sound artist. It was good news:

‘You sound perfect!’ it said, ‘We will select a note together that you feel comfortable with. I won’t be supplying crack.’

Both of us soon came to regret our email frivolity. When I turned up for my recording session on Wednesday, the fact that I wasn’t kidding about the hearing aids, as well as my repeated inability to match my note, became rather apparent. I await my public vocal début on April the 9th, with some trepidation.

More Music for Cookiebiters


Thanks to our very own Rose Rodent, the arrival of a carefully addressed box of native British songbirds at the Institute of Artistic Endeavour this week caused great consternation in the janitors’ mail room, and has also prompted a revival of my peculiar interest in music for cookiebiters. See what you’ve gone and done, Rose.

For cookiebite easy listening, I didn’t think anyone could top Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson’s ill fated 2010 Music for Dogs which I’m very fond of mentioning on here, but Dawn Chorus by Marcus Coates is my new fave rave. It’s an epic piece of sound art which could almost have been made specially for the pre-presbycutic cookiebiter or reverse sloper. It dates from 2007, when I first began remarking to the spouse that there didn’t seem to be as many birds around first thing in the morning as there used to be, and when the dystopian world of NHS audiology was still a far off place.

The birdsong you hear in the videos, if you are lucky enough to still be in possession of either natural or technologically enhanced high frequency hearing, is actually generated by the human voice. The participants mimicked slowed down recordings of birdsong, and the footage was speeded up to match the speed of the original recordings of the birds. The resulting human vocals and body movements are eerily birdlike.

The clip embedded here presents all the recordings in a linear fashion and, interestingly, when I listened to it on a loud volume with hearing aids on, it produced the nastiest set of hearing aid distortion artefacts I have yet encountered, so I hope nobody’s hearing instruments explode when listening to it…

You can view an explanation and a better quality version of the clip here. Clip 2 on that page also lets you experience the pieces as they were presented in the original installation. Clever stuff.

Hear, hear

TED talk

“Sorry, didn’t mean to make you jump,” said Hearing Aid Avenger apologetically as he appeared beside me in the office on Friday, “but why is your desk facing the wall… wouldn’t it be better facing the other way so you don’t have your back to the door? You’ve always sat facing the door…”

“There isn’t enough room”, I said glumly, “but jumping out my skin every five minutes is the least of my problems. Where have you been the last few weeks? I could have done with your help round here.”

I was in a bad mood and it was just about to get worse.

It turned out that Hearing Aid Avenger was just back from delivering a TED talk on Hearing Aids and Noise in the Learning Environment. I was slightly jealous of his all expenses paid trip to California, but when I heard he’d had a bit of a mixed reception for his ideas, which were remarkably similar to mine, I changed my tune. His hard-hitting presentation had ruffled a few feathers, with the unveiling of a manifesto which was as radical as it was brief:

TED projection

Apparently, when the manifesto appeared on the screen, there was a loud cheer from the audience, and a group of hard of hearing lecturers in the front row threw their hearing aids on to the stage in rapturous appreciation. Meanwhile, a fight broke out amongst a bunch of architects in the back row, some of whom were outraged by the suggestion that hearing and concentration were more important for learning than sensory stimulation. When they were unable to make themselves heard because of the poor acoustics, a riot broke out in the auditorium and Hearing Aid Avenger had to be escorted backstage for his own safety.

“Wow”, I said, “I wonder what would have happened after this TED talk by Julian Treasure…”




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