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, crashing waterfalls and Crazy Horses both add to her store of precious memories.
“Don’t look yet!” someone excitedly blurts out as I walk along a secluded country lane, eyes tightly shut, trusting those guiding me to a spot. And I’m allowed to open my eyes when they say so. I gasp as I see a picture perfect scene. Like a postcard you’d happily buy to keep in your prized possessions, a souvenir of today.
I see a sandy bay with pretty sailing boats and shimmery black rockpools scattered along the shoreline. It’s surrounded by tall green grass, thousands of butterflies grazing the pretty white picket fence. A focal point of a medieval castle stood on a hill, the almost orange molten sun shining through its windows. To the right, rooftops of quaint fishermen’s cottages with seagulls facing the sea; all noisily chattering away, little pink shrimps hanging from their beaks. And a backdrop of the British countryside.
I’m on the Northumberland coastline filming for BBC Inside Out. Listeners of BBC Newcastle nominated wonders of the north east to Anna Foster on her mid-morning show, ones you’d recommend someone to capture, take a visual memory snapshot of and store it in case I never get the chance to see them again.
There were thousands of nominations over an exciting few days and now the final three have been chosen. I’m taken aback at the sheer kindness of these strangers; a National Trust ranger, a sailor and a housewife, who explain why they nominated these views.
We chat over crab sandwiches and share our childhood memories – giggling at how whelk is pronounced ‘wilik’ in my native Geordie and the findings in rockpools. I’m transported back to my own; those memorable warm summers at the caravan in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where my mum always ensured me and my sisters wore our jelly shoes to prevent slipping on the rocks.
We are on the road again to visit High Force in Teesdale. The waterfall in the distance had been like a silent white stream cascading over the rocky ridge. As I draw closer, for yet another ‘visual’ surprise, the noise increases steadily, then the roar of the waterfall hits my senses. I stand in awe, my face damp with emotional tears and spray from the water as it crashes fiercely against the rocks.
I’m sitting by the lakeside at the Lake District, hearing the variants of whistling sounds from the steamboat behind me and a faint tannoy announcement. The sky looks dramatic as black clouds hang over the hills. Pretty, colourful sailing boats are randomly scattered; as I spin around, this amazing view spans 360°.
“Action,” I hear and start to process what now feels like second nature, similar to being in a race, setting your feet and hearing, “On your mark, get set… go!” It signals the last few moments you have to double-check everything and get in the right state of mind. I answer the presenter’s questions, trying to hold tears back. “How do you feel that strangers have suggested these places for you, Jo?” he asks, with a genuine look of happiness for me, a beaming smile.
I don’t really think I’d appreciated living in our region as much as I do today. So many places of outstanding beauty and the ability, one we take for granted, to live in a part of the UK which means we can get to the coastline and the countryside by easy reach.
Before this, recent sights tended to be from my view while aboard a train. I’d admire the steelwork of the Tyne Bridge and especially for me, Geordie black and white running through my veins meant my heart would always, always skip a beat when I could spot The Angel of the North. Standing tall as if guarding the north east, surrounded by vivid yellow meadows; signalling safety and all comforts of home.
Now I am standing in front of my French white mirror at home, one of those that hang from floor to ceiling. I apply some lip gloss and reach for my vintage dress carefully laid out for tonight. For I am hosting a special red carpet affair at Newcastle’s Bonbar. There may be a miniscule amount of sand left in my hair but it’s now all glitz and glamour.
The word “Action” rings out again and this time I’m being interviewed with Merrill Osmond, lead singer of the legendary Osmond family. We talk about The Hearing Fund UK and the connection we all have with deafness. As he sings Crazy Horses to a small audience, including all my family and close friends, I’m dancing on the stage behind him, clapping away and truly experiencing one of those ‘am I dreaming’ moments, lightheaded at just how joyful I feel.
Exhausted by happiness, my feet sore with dancing, the week draws to an emotional finish. I attend my first funeral since my implants were switched on last year. Such a sad realisation that us born in the 1960s and 1970s are now beginning to say goodbye to our parents. The cycle and a fact of life.
I can’t take my eyes off the colourful twinkly stained glass of a biblical scene right in front of me as I sit among the pews in church. I glance around and I’m instantly transported back to being a six-year-old child and the Christmases past. I hear the Minster give a beautiful speech about the life of this lovely lady, who as well as being the mother of good friends, was in fact also the lollipop lady at the local school. I fondly remember her in her florescent waterproof jacket and little peaked cap.
Amid the tears during the service, I smile as I can remember her in thin-rimmed spectacles and beaming at me every time she spotted me cantering along the road, bunches in my hair and clutching my pale blue Mr Men plastic packed lunch box. As I drew closer, she would instantly hold out her hand, fingers stretched to ensure with extra caution that the little deaf girl was safely across the road.
As everyone sang All Things Bright and Beautiful, including me, it truly took my breath away. I knew the words from crumpled hymn sheets at school but had never heard it. With their descriptions of nature and the simple beauty of the world we live in, the words couldn’t have been more fitting for the week I’ve had and what I’ve witnessed. Those “purple headed” mountains, the colourful carpet of Welsh daisies, cornflowers and poppies – all so wild, bright and beautiful.
Another first, another day and I feel my positivity jump another notch. To continue to enjoy life and all that’s in it. I can keep looking, so as long as there’s something for me to see, there’s always beauty to drink up, to take it all in and truly appreciate it. And I’m adamant that I will.
Jo’s book Breaking the Silence is available now.1993 Views
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