Written by Jo Milne

Voices

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 her rollercoaster of experience gets literal.

Jo Milne at Blackheath festival

Jo at the On Blackheath festival in London.

As I arrive at Alton Towers with friends, the sun rays shine through a thin layer of grey cloud. I feel wide-eyed, almost childlike as the vast array of sounds hits my ears and I desperately try to pinpoint which each one is.

Brightly coloured cable cars like bunting adorn the countryside, the trees and open fields of natural beauty.

Just ahead a leaf tumbles from its weary branch. I deliberately tread on each one to hear the crunch. I pause to listen for the sound as it joins the ground, but it is lost in the drone of the theme park.

I hear the wheels of the rollercoaster. There are hundreds of butterflies in my tummy as I’m upside-down in a loop; dizziness washes over me. My heart is racing, the wind gusts in my face as I speed round a corner. The sound of people screaming and laughing.

Now and again, the ride slows down and I’m dangerously high; the ground disappears from beneath me. I spot the gothic country estate boasting the most beautiful gardens, a lake complete with swans and drakes. The Staffordshire moors so green; the trees show virescent hues of summer and autumn, with subtle specks of rust and gold.

To think in a matter of weeks they will stand in the frozen air, bereft of their leaves.

As I walk around the park, friends encourage me to go on the rides, something I haven’t done for over 10 years. My white stick is folded and carefully placed on a shelf ready for the exit.

Showing the vulnerable me isn’t always easy; being the girl holding a cane or a guide dog wasn’t the plan. I notice friends spot me struggling and I see the look of hurt flash in their eyes, one I’m now familiar with among the faces of those I love.

“That’s what music does, it transports you to a different time and place. Perhaps it’s the closest thing to a time machine we’ll ever have.”

By the weekend I’m in London at the On Blackheath festival. Those tickets were presented to me while sat on the oval Loose Women table. They knew how important this British rock band are to me. Elbow.

I’m standing among the festival-goers watching them perform One Day Like This. As the violins start and the beat kicks in, my skin never fails to cover in goose bumps. This song reminds me of a brand new life, a new beautiful start.

My memory lingers to March 2014 and hearing music for the very first time. A good friend of mine, Tremayne, compiled a playlist of 39 songs, one for each year of my life, which was presented to broadcaster Lauren Laverne on her BBC 6 Music show.

Back then, I had no idea the rest of the nation had come along for the ride with me as One Day Like This was played. They too, stopped in their tracks and imagined what it must be like if you hadn’t heard music before.

Discussions are now underway to feature my life story on the stage, telling how music has always been a part of my 40-year journey.

As a child, I pushed my head up against a speaker. The faint beat was, to me, music and something to dance to.

I knew nothing and now I’m head over heels in love.

“Showing the vulnerable me isn’t always easy; being the girl holding a cane or a guide dog wasn’t the plan. I notice friends spot me struggling and I see the look of hurt flash in their eyes; one I’m now familiar with among the faces of those I love.”

My heart dips and darts with the beat. Suddenly it all makes sense – why my Mum talks about meeting Dad whenever she hears Elvis. Because that’s what music does, it transports you to a different time and place. Perhaps it’s the closest thing to a time machine we’ll ever have – in our hearts at least.

Music is like the vital oxygen to keep the heart and soul alive. I’m barely scratching the surface but I’m getting a taste. I may be losing my sight but the comfort my cochlea implants have given me in introducing me to another world is astonishing.

Exhausted from the emotion of it all, my brain is often overwhelmed but when I sit in silence, peace and quiet now greet me like old friends.

@jomilne10

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