Juliet England: Should I bother going to the cinema when the headphones don’t work?

Posted on April 23, 2015

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Saturday night at the movies, and I’m queueing at Reading’s Vue cinema with a couple of friends, sorting out popcorn, all set for what should be a relaxing high point of the weekend.

We go quite often, hopefully not because we’d have nothing to say to each other if we attempted actual conversation.

Whatever, this time it’s the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel we’re off to see, thanks for asking, and I know I am going to struggle with my cloth ears.

So I ask for a seat near the front. In fact, rather to my friends’ alarm, I insist on sitting in the very front row.

Gormless Youth serving us demands to know why we have chosen that particular row. Insolent young puppy, I think to myself. What business is it of his where I sit as a paying punter?

“I have a hearing impairment,” I say, looking him squarely in the eye.

“Oh, right,” comes the clearly not very interested response.

This seems as good a time as any to take Vue Cinemas, or this picturehouse at least, to task for an issue which has long plagued my frequent trips there.

Although they have a listening device, few staff know how it works, to the extent of being unsure whether it goes over the hearing aids or whether you have to whip them out first.

It’s a kind of stethoscope thing that fits in or over your lugholes somehow, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. (And, frankly, that of most of the Vue Reading staff.) To be fair one or two have tried to help but never successfully.

What’s more, it takes so long to fetch the wretched thing from some distant room that, as you wait, governments change, empires rise and fall – and movies start. And credits roll.

Not only that, but even when it’s produced it never, ever seems to work. Not once has it actually made the sound of the movie better.

So I have sat in the dark, silently fuming, munching on pic’n’mix and reflecting bitterly on what else I could have spent a tenner on and how else I could have used my Saturday night.

We often go for a cup of tea afterwards (such is the hard-living nature of my endlessly rock’n’roll lifestyle) and I usually have to ask for a recap of key plot elements, or why there was raucous laughter in particular places.

Back to the weekend evening in question and I’m telling Gormless Youth all this with weary resignation – bitter experience has taught me it will make not one iota of difference.

But it’s his reply, offered with genuinely bored shrug, that really takes my breath away.

“Yeah, well, it’s because it’s so irregular,” he says, meaning, I presume, use of the hearing device is so irregular that no-one can ever really be bothered.

Irregular? Let us count the ways in which that is preposterous.

Firstly, should it matter how regularly people need to use it? Secondly, if wheelchair using cinemagoers went there “irregularly” would they get the same shameful treatment?

Thirdly, is it really any wonder it’s “irregular” it’s not much used if it’s neither advertised or ever working properly?

Subtitled films are so few and far between (child-infested Disney showings on a Sunday morning anyone? I’ll pass, ta) that this device could make a real difference.

But if it’s never working, if no-one knows how to operate it, how can I, or anyone else with a hearing loss, ever know? Perhaps I should just join my mates for that cup of tea and hear about the latest releases secondhand.

Juliet England is a Reading-based severely hard of hearing freelance copywriter and journalist and is the author of two non-fiction books. As a child, she was bitten by the author Arthur C Clarke’s monkey in Sri Lanka, but has since recovered from the experience. 

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