I was riding high and in a hurry to get to an appointment, but drearily cruising Bank Station.

Bank Station always has spawned all kinds of interesting interactions that I would never have had if I had the wit and sight to work it out for myself.

It’s proving to be a rich seam for unintended


In the hunt for help I stumbled across, well let’s call him Brendon. Brendon was what you might describe as ‘high viz’. High viz is what gets me through Bank Station and on to the train. He works for London Underground and he was super helpful in his high viz jacket.

I gave my usual explanation about not being able to see and he said “No problem. I’ll take you there myself”, and off we set.

“That’s a very striking hat you’re wearing”, he said.

“It’s an Ushanka”.

“I thought you were a Grenadier guardsman”, says Brendon and so we fell into a conversation about how my enormous Russian fur hat came to be mine.

“They used to sell them in C&A,” Brendon said. “No one wears hats anymore, not a hat to really protect you against the cold. In the countryside, in the days before central heating, everyone wore a hat, even inside. I wasn’t always a city boy. I’m from a farming community in Ireland”.

“Colraine?” I venture.

I’ve got a pretty good ear for accents. A long time ago, when I lived in Ireland, I could tell an accent to within a few miles. This was a bit of a guess though. Brendon stopped dead in his tracks. “Now how would a nice English Lady like you know a thing like that?”

“Actually, I’m Irish.”

“Are you what they call a plastic Paddy?” he asks, and I confess that I am and I’m proud of my Irish heritage.

Brendon wonders if my good ear for accents has developed because of my terrible sight. This is a myth of course, or is it?

A 2004 study reported that blind and sight impaired people do have better skills at discerning pitch, but only if they lost their sight early on in life or are born blind. In early life the centres for vision, hearing and other senses are all connected but this naturally diminishes over time. So if you are born with little or no sight then you are far more likely to develop and preserve these connections. It doesn’t always follow that people do though.

I’ve also got excellent directional hearing. If I drop something on my kitchen floor I can usually pick it up at the first go, even if I can’t see it. That includes crisps where the three second rule is strictly applied. We all have directional hearing but I’ve been using my hearing since the day dot to help me navigate the world. I do it very consciously as well as unconsciously. I like to think of it as a sort of sonar system.

My family think I have selective hearing. Requests for kitchen bin emptying often pass me by. I’m also prone to auditory confusion in crowds. “Pass the butter,” can easily turn into “pasta button” or worse. I plead my age. I can’t help it. They just find me annoying.

When we arrived at our destination Brendon said, “Well I enjoyed our conversation. I can’t believe I’ve just spent fifteen minutes talking to a Catholic.” He was pitch perfect. We both threw back our heads and roared with laughter. He knows he could throw out a bit of old style Northern Irish humour and I’ll pick it up no trouble. It didn’t take me three seconds.

“Lucky you” I say.

“Lucky me indeed” he says.

I’m not even going to try to explain how we got from Ushanka to C&A to Colraine to crisps to Catholicism, but he and I knew how we got there. We didn’t just hear one another, we took the trouble to listen. We pitched it just right.