Emily Howlett: Noticing the things I don’t always notice

Posted on August 9, 2012

Since leaving the bright lights of London to return to the warm arms of the Derbyshire countryside (and Birds Bakers), I’ve felt little desire to head back again. Inside my fickle memory, the bustling metropolis has rapidly become a heaving necropolis, filled only with coffee-cups marching to work, carried by their zombie slaves

Unfortunately, the nature of my chosen ‘career’ means I can only put off a jaunt to London for so long before I have to grit my ee-by-gums, swap the scum-encrusted wellies for sparkly sandals and catch the 7.20 to St Pancras. Generally, I can console myself with the fact that it’s only for one or two days and at least it isn’t the 8.16 to Birmingham.

However (I think I have yet to write an article that doesn’t ominously contain the word ‘however’), not too long ago I agreed to a job requiring a longer stay in the Big Smoke.

I was very brave.

Upon arrival, I walked out of the station, already tapping into Google Maps on my phone and promptly fell over a homeless person. He wasn’t too worried, and even helped me put my phone back together out of the several pieces it had smashed into. I warned him not to be alarmed but I was, in fact, Deaf and he warned me not to be alarmed but he was, in fact, a hobo. Randomly, and brilliantly, he knew the BSL fingerspelling alphabet and made sure I knew he was a ‘hobo’ and not a ‘tramp’. (Tramps are a lower class of homeless person, apparently.)

I wasn’t in much of a rush, so we had a particularly disgusting McDonalds coffee each (he insisted on paying for half of his even though I was responsible for falling into his last one). We watched the world during a slow, finger-spelled conversation. People passing by briefly looked with pity, or smiled, or threw down some money, or ignored us.

In London, I have met a lot of homeless people. One time I was walking home from Tesco, carrying nothing but bananas because I fell for the trap of BOGOF. There was a homeless youth outside the bank and I wondered if he might like one or two. In the end he ate a whole bunch. He must have been pretty damn hungry. Another time I caught my finger in a door and was shown the way to the nearest pharmacy by a homeless lady who had seen it all happen. She wouldn’t take anything, but we talked for over two hours in the park and I still see her now.

In Derby, I have met hardly any homeless people. They are there, of course they are, but I just don’t notice them the way I do in London. I am not the girl sitting sharing a coffee or bananas; I am one of the passer-bys. And this intrigues me; what does it mean? Are we less observant of suffering in our home towns? Are we numb to the familiar, but can see more clearly when we are in a different place?

Or is it just me?

Do I unknowingly ignore situations close to my home, but find those further away easier to deal with? Is it because London is so busy and bustling there are more things to notice?

And why do I only buy healthy stuff like bananas when I’m away?

Emily Howlett is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer and horsewoman. She describes herself as being “equally fluent in English, BSL and Gibberish, and completely rubbish at French.” Emily can be found all over the place on various escapades, but divides her time between Derby and London. She can often be found behind a large packet of crisps or any halfway decent book, and insists she can still play characters in their early twenties despite having a grey eyebrow hair.

The Limping Chicken is supported by Deaf media company Remark!, training and consultancyDeafworks, provider of sign language services Deaf Umbrella, the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Look, Smile Chat campaign, and the National Theatre’s captioned plays.

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