Georgina Toni and Thomas


Toni was so keen to tell me stories, she couldn’t wait to get started. And yet, almost from the start, she seemed to falter. She had memories of her grandfather, fond recollections of her grandmother, funny stories about school. As if she was standing back from her life, looking at it from the top of a hill, choosing that which was in the sharpest focus. And yet no sooner did she start, than she paused. I waited for her to expand. I offered my own stories, shared memories. Unlike Georgina, who signed for hours with hardly a pause (a long, continuous, epic narrative) Toni and I had dialogue; reciprocal negotiation. In between our meetings, she made notes for me and for herself. She read and commented on the scripts I sent her. One day, she presented me with her “life in a bag,” a holdall full of songs, mementoes, diaries, photographs, drawings. She trawled through her souvenirs and talked round them: short stories, sense-making. We reflected on her family life as a solid foundation, the nest Georgina built. How each child was encouraged to leave when they were ready, to pursue their own path, in the knowledge that the nest was always there.

Toni smiled and laughed her way through memories of Thomas, of living in the Peaks, of moving from school to school. Yet I was struck by her loneliness, her rebellion, her resilience, her pain. I am not sure if this comes across in her story. It is often present in what she didn’t tell me. It is there in her travels, her love of the countryside, her bunking off school, her craving for hugs, for self-expression through music, her struggle to survive university. I want to pay tribute to her guts and determination, her unshakeable loyalty to her family, and her ever-optimistic openness to those she meets along her path. Toni is still searching for something.

Thomas, like his sister, was very keen to be part of the inquiry. Yet, from the moment we began, he resisted telling me his story. Most of what appears in this text is constructed not from scripts of filmed conversations, but from Thomas’s own writing, and from my notes taken from what he signed to me. His narrative is highly censored, not only through what he didn’t tell me, but also through what he wanted taken out. I struggle to know what to write about Thomas. His story is so complex, so fragmented, so minimal. And yet, there comes across a profound, contemplative, poetic self-observation. The reader is left to imagine what happened next. I cannot possibly tell you. The Thomas-scape is tricky terrain.

Georgina. We talked for hours and hours. As she said, she has wanted to tell her family story for a very long time. This is but a small part. I am so glad I simply asked, “What’s the story of your family?” She covered five generations almost without pause. She wanted to celebrate her family, and not only her children, as individuals. She wanted also to touch on, and pay tribute to the extended family. If only we had had more time. Georgina’s story is also a window on local deaf history, laced with recognisable characters, events and cultural referents. At its heart, however, it is a story of a deaf mother, and the journey she embarked on with her five children. It is at times very angry, hurt, regretful: we laughed and cried all the way through.


Nick … (smiles)

He went to the PHU

I had mixed feelings about sending him there

I asked how many children

There were four

All the same age

I thought it would be nice

Two boys two girls

That’s nice

If it was just one child

I would have reservations

But four children … OK

So he started there

Then                        I think             (smiles)

A bit later

Maybe when we was about six                        or seven

He came home

<tap tap tap tap tap>                         <fant>

“Sally mother father hearing!”

“Yes, so? They’re hearing … and?”

Amy mother father hearing!”

“Yes,  it’s all right …”


Yes! Right!

And I said to him

You’re lucky

Your family are deaf

All your family are deaf

You’re lucky!

And I explained to him

The world is hearing

And we’re deaf

And Nick        (trying to make sense of this)

“You mean next door, hearing?”


And then I think next Saturday

Nick and I were at the shops

<tap tap tap tap tap>

“That man there, is he hearing?”

“Yes”                         (penny drops)

And then a car went past

“Is he hearing too?”


And that’s when it really hit him

Oh! the world is hearing!            not deaf!

And not just a small number of hearing people

No                        Oh!

And when I look back

To when I was growing up

Looking around and realising

Wait a minute

<hearing hearing hearing>

All these people are hearing

And I’m deaf

OK         (start to get it)

I was out on my bike

With a hearing friend

And I realised

h o w   m a n y   h e a r i n g   p e o p l e   t h e r e   w e r e

And the penny finally dropped


I’m deaf

They’re hearing

And we’re different             (nods)


I remember

A long time ago now

But when I was growing up

I idolised my grandmother

I’d always be asking my mum

If it was OK to visit my grandmother

She only lived round the corner

So mum would drop me off there

no problem

And if my grandmother was cooking

Or doing the washing up            or whatever

I’d go chat with my grandfather

But the thing was

He didn’t sign

He fingerspelled            everything

I remember this one time

I’d asked him to tell me a story


I remember

It was something. to. do. with. war-time


He fingerspelled the whole thing!

And I was only about seven at the time

Or eight maybe

So I was still learning English

I was still building up my understanding

So I had to try to link

Each spelling

To the word

To the sentence

And put it all together

I could understand individual words

But couldn’t quite put it all together                         in sentences

            You know?


And at the end I had to think

So … what was that story about?                        (laughs)

But now of course

It means

I can get fingerspelling with no problems!

So it was really useful                         (smiles)

But fingerspelling has really died out now

It’s much more signing than fingerspelling


That was my grandfather’s way

F I n g e r s p e l l I n g

That was how he did it

Absolutely <his>                                     (smiles)


How I feel


The deaf world


The hearing world

I feel 50-50

Because every morning

I wake up

And look in the mirror

And see 50-50                         in so many ways

Like how light reflects off plants

Like light reflecting off a plant

It was from an art class

We learned to look at things

Really carefully

And to see the different ways

Light reflects off plants

I always remembers that            filed it in the back of my head

And then

It popped up

When I was thinking

About being 50-50

And different every day

And I knew it was the same

Like seeing myself in the mirror

Looking really carefully

And it was just like looking

At the way

Light reflects off plants

deaf -inside?

deaf person who can hear?



I’ve always said that

50-50?             Split down the middle?


It’s not down the middle

It depends

And sometimes it’s

Across the chest

And sometimes its diagonal

It really could be anywhere

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