Written by Jo Milne

Arts

Jo Milne: A diary of firsts and lasts

Since the world watched her hear for the first time, Jo Milne has been on a journey into sound, all the while knowing her world is getting darker by the day. In the first of a regular column for Standard Issue, she reports back from breaking her Glastonbury duck.

Jo at GlastonburyWorthy Farm, Somerset.

Masses of colourful tents resembling rainbows, festivalgoers scrambling by in hats with flowery braids eager to get a glimpse of the many stages.

The molten pink sunset and how the light ebbs from the darkening sky – as if someone has switched on a torch and it gets my attention. And there it is.

I’m truly bang-in-the-middle of our glorious British countryside. A sense of overwhelming poignancy because I’m at Glastonbury and I’m hearing live music for the very first time.

It has now been a year since the moment my implants were switched on and, aged 39, my silent world exploded into sound. Just an ordinary girl from Gateshead, Tyne and Wear who celebrated her joy with millions of people around the world via that joyous yet emotional YouTube clip.

And here I am singing along to Happy Birthday to the Dalai Lama at a surprise appearance for his 80th birthday with Patti Smith and feeling incredibly emotional at hearing Lionel Richie belt out All Night Long, the lyrics I already knew from lip-reading my elder sister Julie back in the 80s.

And how my heart jumped a beat listening to Burt Bacharach a few feet in front of me, oblivious until now that he wrote a few of my newfound favourites by Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield.

“I constantly ask the identity of the instrument I hear as I consciously build up a sound library. One I can turn to and imagine when my sight has gone.”

 

The Family Stone at the West Holts Stage… the funky rhythm, moving in time to the vibrations that pulse through my feet and the sheer miracle of it; how the modern scientific world has now introduced me to new sounds, many of which I’m experiencing this weekend.

I constantly ask the identity of the instrument I hear as I consciously build up a sound library. One I can turn to and imagine when my sight has gone.

For I have Usher Syndrome, the genetic condition that caused me to be born deaf, and since my teens, has been slowly robbing me of another sense.

Jo at GlastonburyI view the world from a small tunnel, and although my view of the Pyramid Stage was breathtaking – even if it seemed I was looking through a telescope – my new world of sound becomes the main dimension of the world around me.

One of the biggest things I’ve learnt over the last 12 months is how music truly brings feelgood memories to people’s lives, something the hearing world can be guilty of taking for granted. But it’s the closest we’ll have to a time machine – in our hearts at least.

The Proclaimers gave me one of ‘those moments’ as their 500 Miles song played. Strangers danced barefoot with one another, children giggled uncontrollably, all of us from different walks of life enjoying a moment in our lives; one we’ll never have again.

When we are sat behind our desks, doing the school run, making mad supermarket dashes – all the mundane things in our everyday lives – we have the ability to switch to a memory. To me that is a miracle in itself.

Now I’m at home, those muddy wellies are put away and I’m thinking of the popular Somerset cider bus, a vivid blue painted double decker which was a meeting point, or of the BBC compound as I was thrust into the media spotlight once again.

Breaking the Silence book coverThe same burning questions. What was my favourite? Was it too loud? And people shook my hand or cried out of sheer happiness for me.

And happy is what I am.

As I prepare dinner in my familiar kitchen, my feet gently march da lat da (da lat da), da lat da (da lat da) to ‘the memory’ of 500 Miles’ lyrics; then my memory quickly darts to vintage mod band The Who, and I suddenly feel an overwhelming excitement to discover more.

Jo’s book Breaking the Silence is available now.

@jomilne10

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Written by Jo Milne

Gateshead-born author of Breaking the Silence, ambassador and campaigner. Jo has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition causing deafness then the onset of a retinal disease leading to gradual loss of vision. Those who know Jo describe her to be inspiring as she continues to wring the joy out of life. @jomilne10