Saturday, November 17, 2007

Someone To Watch Over Me 

There are half a dozen or so kids on the train, in their early teens, slightly frazzled and sugared out from a day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. They chat happily, joshing amongst themselves, joking about this and that. They are unsupervised by adults and perfectly well behaved.

Two slightly older kids settle into the seats in front of us, maybe sixteen years old, a boyfriend and girlfriend.
She is pretty, sports long eyelashes almost certainly assisted by some product of the beauty industry, and has clear, glowing skin. She wears a pristine white beanie hat.
He's not one of those 'pretty boy' boyfriends that a certain type of teenage girl seems to be drawn towards – presumably because they're so like themselves. But that said, he is also wearing a beanie.
They sit in a companionable silence, relaxed in their own company. They're studying some photos of the pair of them strapped into harnesses, laughing as they clutch each other's arms. The pictures are on a single A4 sheet, arranged in a T-shape, in such a way that you can create a photo-cube with them, and were taken on one of the rides - Infusion, I think. After a while the girl carefully places the A4 sheet back in its envelope, puts it in her bag, and gives her boyfriend a little kiss on the cheek. Then I notice that they are signing.

The teenage couple are deaf. And because I don't often come across deaf people, I'm now fascinated.
When the ticket collector comes along, it's the girl who does the talking, in barely a whisper. The ticket collector takes a moment to twig that she's speaking with a deaf person, but when she does is patient and sympathetic, and shows her the display on the ticket machine to try to help explain the transaction.

As the train pulls into Preston the couple sit up, eagerly looking for a sign with the name of the station. They're clearly unfamiliar with where we are - not fretful or panicky or anything, but simply concerned not to muck up their journey. It's Saturday evening. You don't won't to miss your stop, or hop on the wrong train and find yourself late at night in, say, Glasgow or Plymouth, when you promised your parents you'd be back in Chorley by teatime. It's easily done.
We leave the train and climb the steps to the footbridge, and I look over my shoulder to see the two of them standing on the platform, speaking with the conductor again, just trying to clarify where exactly they are and where they need be to get to where they're going.

I'm trying hard here not to sentimentalise or patronise – Hold The Front Page! Deaf Teenagers Perfectly Capable Of Looking After Themselves Shock! - but I found this little tableaux terrifically moving.
It's that old 'Two drifters off to see the world' thing. Two people plucking up their courage and saying “Sure, we can do this,” then heading out into a bewildering world – not to say an occasionally hostile one. I felt like I was watching a story unfold, and wanted to turn the page to read what happened next, to see how the plot would develop. It was genuinely humbling.

And – but of course! – you take a scene like this and internalise it to inspect what it says about yourself.
When I was sixteen and utterly hopeless, I would have dearly loved to have somebody sweet and companionable to walk the world with, someone to look out for and in turn be looked out for by. Who wouldn't? It would have transformed me, and God knows I was ready for transformation.
So I guess what we're discussing here is envy and regret. And that's never pretty, is it? Move along people, there's nothing to see. No, really.

I try – not very clearly or succinctly – to explain all this to Girlfriend as she tugs my arm, and we head up the steps, over the footbridge and out into the rain to look for the party.
“That couple in front of us,” I say. “Did you notice they were deaf?”
“Yeah,” she says.
“Yeah. Me too.”

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