Written by Jo Milne


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. This week she heads north of the border and over the water for a sensory feast.

Filming with STV: with Spud the Piper and Mr Willie Cameron.

Filming with STV: with Spud the Piper and Willie Cameron.

The harmonic yet mellow call of the Last Post flares out; the bugler remains stoic. Heads are bowed, weapons inverted and flags lowered. The power of this sound to arrest our souls feels so strong.

A similar scene echoed in towns, villages and cities across the UK at 11am on November 11 as we showed sincere respect for those who died for our freedom; numbers of survivors among the crowds may be declining, but the desire to honour them is stronger than ever.

My own grandfather was a sergeant major during World War II. In those 26 years I was lucky to have Grandad close by, he’d tell me stories of his travels. As a child, I’d snuggle up to him; his thick woollen jumpers tickled my cheeks and the familiar aroma of Imperial Leather soap was present. I’d lip-read in fascination, aware by his facial expressions there was more to the story; he never knew I always spotted the single but fat tear falling from his eye.

It wasn’t until the days before he died that his war stories became a difficult topic of conversation and one he no longer wished to discuss. It goes to show how those that survived the war witnessed unimaginable horrors, but tried to resume normal lives for their families back home so we could live the lives we do now. What an amazing sacrifice.

I am looking out of the window aboard a train as it slowly jerks and shunts over the River Tyne. These days I can’t see as much of the Tyne Bridge as I once did, just a bit of the arch here and there, not the whole way she bends her protective arm, keeping watch of the two sides of the Tyne like a mother guarding her precious boys.

As we cross, I marvel at the thick bolts holding fast to the joints, each one solid, strong, identical. There’s magic and beauty in the steelwork – or perhaps only a Geordie can fully appreciate this beacon of our city.

I softly smile as I’m snapped out of a daydream, hearing the dialectal words which mark out our regional identity. It gives us a distinction from the rest of the country. Like Marmite, love it or hate it, there’s no mistaking the Geordie accent. Mam and I chat to our fellow passengers as we head north to Inverness.

Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness.

Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness.

A special surprise has been arranged as I film with STV to raise awareness and discuss Usher Syndrome. As we walk, something stops me in my tracks; a distinctive sound – I spot a grand piper in traditional Scottish dress.

The tartan fabric blowing in the wind sweeping down from the Highlands. The expression of admiration on faces of strangers as they stand around listening, and watching me: overcome with emotion as I hear the haunting sound of the bagpipes and view one of those ‘take your breath away’ scenes for the first time.

Within 24 hours, I’m walking through the rainy streets of Dublin and appear in the unmistakably cosy corners of Irish pubs – complete with uneven floorboards and breathtaking chandeliers. The whiff of Guinness hops and the faint tin whistle of Irish folklore among the chatter and hubbub of masses of people.

“As we cross, I marvel at the thick bolts holding fast to the joints, each one solid, strong, identical. There’s magic and beauty in the steelwork – or perhaps only a Geordie can fully appreciate this beacon of our city.”

Catching up with friends has always been a favourite pastime; we discussed the atrocities of Paris, unsuccessful at tearing communities apart. These stories are what make us human, setting us apart from all other species. Your own life story goes a step further and I love how no two people are the same, as we share our experiences, observations and words of wisdom in our intimate social circle.

So from Scottish charm to Irish craic, I’ve had an eventful two weeks, but as I land back into Newcastle Airport, I discover a friend had unexpectedly died at the weekend… a precious life gone in a blink of an eye.

None of us get out of life alive so be everything you want to be; be gracious and grab opportunities. Learn from those who walked before you and those who walk beside you.

The last thing on your mind before you sleep and those images you visualise are a reflection of who you are. No matter what you pretend to be all day long, that one last thought is enough to sum up our entire lives.


Jo Milne’s book, Breaking the Silence is out now. Her Facebook page can be found here.

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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