As a late deafened adult, losing my hearing quite suddenly at the age of thirty-nine, I hadn’t learned how to lipread until then as there was no need. It was not something that had ever even crossed my mind.
It took me a long time to accept that I was deaf and even longer to begin to adapt to my new life as a deafened adult. Things that I had always taken for granted, like being able to follow and join in conversations in places like work, home, in the pub and noisy restaurants, became increasingly difficult and frustrating for me. As my hearing deteriorated I struggled to communicate and follow even basic conversations with my wife, family and friends.
I started to go to lipreading classes about four years ago, shortly after my hearing suddenly dropped a lot. I enjoyed meeting other people at the classes, although I didn’t have much in common with them, as most of them were a lot older than me, in their sixties and seventies. I also found lipreading very tiring, as I struggled so hard to follow what people were saying. Over time, I gradually became better at it, although until I had my cochlear implant recently, I still struggled to communicate and understand everyday conversations.
Then just over a year ago, I heard about the NADP Rawson Bequest Events Programme, which organises regular lipspeaking events for deaf and hard of hearing people with a good understanding and knowledge of English, like myself. You do not have to be a member of the NADP to join an outing.
This programme has been donated to the NADP via a legacy bequest from the late Dr Annette Rawson. She qualified as a doctor and was one of the first female doctors to work at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. Then suddenly, at the age of thirty-two, she became profoundly deaf as a result of a rare debilitating autoimmune disease. She had to give up being a doctor as a result of her hearing loss and medical condition, which she struggled with for the rest of her life.
Through her experience of becoming deafened as an adult Dr Rawson learned how important it was to have good lipspeaking support made available to deaf people with a good understanding of English. She wanted the arts and places of cultural or historical significance to be made more accessible to deaf people. When I heard about the Rawson Bequest Programme I immediately felt a personal affinity to Dr Rawson because she had a similar medical condition to my own, which caused my hearing loss.
I went on my first NADP lipspeaking event at Bletchley Park last year and I was immediately amazed at how well I could follow the talk with the support of the professional lipspeakers Sara Scanlon and Lynne Dubin. It really helped me that Sara used visual cues and signing as well as lipspeaking to help me follow what the guide was saying.
Last weekend I went on another lipspeaking event through the NADP Rawson Bequest Programme – a tour of Chartwell, the family home of Winston Churchill, in Kent. This estate is owned by the National Trust and although there was no official guided tour of the House, Sara and Lynne did an excellent job in providing the lipspeaking support throughout the tour of the House. Then one of the official guides also gave us a short talk afterwards with lipspeaking support about Winston Churchill’s painting in his art studio in the grounds.
Chartwell is a very imposing country manor house with beautiful gardens and a huge estate set in the rolling hills of the Kent countryside, only about an hour’s drive from London. It was bought by Winston Churchill as his family home, but since his wife’s death in the 1970s, it has been bequeathed to the nation through the National Trust and a museum has been set up there.
I spent a brilliant day there with my wife and Jack Russell terrier Jake. I gained an amazing insight into the personal life of Winston Churchill and I learned a lot about some very important historical events in modern British and world history. He was friends with famous politicians, celebrities, artists and members of the aristocracy and Royal Family, many of whom visited him and regularly attended parties at Chartwell in the 1920s and 1930s, where he loved to entertain them.
Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister twice. He not only changed the course of world history for us all by playing a major role in helping us to win World War Two, but he was also a prolific painter and writer. He created over 500 paintings in his lifetime, and in the museum in the main house I saw the actual gold medal and manuscript of the original Nobel Prize for Literature for 1953, which was awarded to Winston Churchill for his life’s works, as he wrote forty-two books in seventy-three volumes during his lifetime.
His mother was American and because of this, Winston invented the idea of the “special relationship” between Britain and America, which we still have today. He was an MP for sixty-two years, being a great global statesman and diplomat. He was known for his rousing speeches, many of which he wrote in his study at Chartwell. He cultivated friendships with several American presidents, including President Roosevelt and John F.Kennedy.
His finest hour was when he served as Prime Minister during the Second World War. He was driven by his determination, sense of destiny and ‘British Bulldog’ spirit to win the war and always do what is right. His famous rousing World War II speeches inspired millions to fight for the cause for the sake of honour and duty. In one of his speeches in 1941 he said “Never give in – in nothing great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense”.
Churchill painted throughout his life to provide him with relaxation from his great trials and tribulations. He painted his last painting of Marrakech, a place he loved, at the age of eighty-five. Although he was an amateur painter, several famous artists mentored him, including Walter Sickert and John Lavery. A few of his paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy and one of them even won first prize.
When Churchill died in 1965, he left the world a completely changed place and he also transformed the course of world history. I found this tour of Chartwell absolutely fascinating as I had no idea about the extent of his life’s works as an artist and writer, as well as being a great statesman and one of the most iconic political figures of the 20th Century.
I hope to go on more of these Rawson Bequest events in the future. I have thoroughly enjoyed them and find them really educational and insightful. Lynne and Sara have also provided excellent lipspeaking and communication support to the groups. I would really like to thank them for making it so accessible to us.