Do NOT fly Virgin Atlantic, addendum

So, I post the last blog, then go out to dinner with a friend.  She tells me the horrendous Heathrow Terminal Five story, which I had not read while in Scotland…Deathrow has just sent several thousand missing bags from its new terminal 5 to Italy to be sorted.  We wonder why they didn’t just bring the Italian sorters to Deathrow.  I try to remember which terminal I flew into, but can’t.  I had only had three hours of sleep when I began the journey.  All I can remember is being jolted around in a crammed bus, deep in the underbelly of Deathrow, to get from one terminal to the next, intensely craving coffee.  Thankfully, my friend and I move on to many more subjects, most of them pleasanter.

My cell phone never rings all evening.

At 1am, Chicago time, I think, aha!  Maybe no one at Virgin Atlantic has returned my calls because of the time difference.  Maybe I’ve just been dealing with an incompetent night shift these past six days. Hope springs eternal. I call.  A man with the most incomprehensible accent yet answers.  I tell him I’m deaf and ask him to speak slower and he has to repeat what he’s said (he doesn’t slow down at all) five times before I catch a word.  The word is: Chicago.  

I ask, “Was the bag sent to Chicago?”  He unleashes a flood of sound, none of which I understand. I say, “As I said, I’m deaf.  Can you please just answer yes or no, was the bag sent to Chicago?” Another flood of sound.  “Stop!”  I say.  I say again, “I’m deaf and I can’t understand you. I need you to answer by simply saying Yes or No.” He spews forth yet another barrage of words, of noise.  “NO!  Stop!  Please…answer…with…one…word.  Was…the…bag…sent…to…Chicago, Yes..or…No?”  And he simply yammers on yet again.  

I give up.  For tonight.

Do NOT fly Virgin Atlantic!

Friday, May 30: 

I arrive very late afternoon, monumentally jet-lagged, at O’Hare.

Go through customs, wait at the baggage carousel.  And wait.  And wait.  And wait.

Finally I see some Virgin Airlines people taking the last of the bags off the carousel, with a roster.  Go over to them.  They have a printout, which lists my bag, and says it’s still in London.  I get taken to a restricted area, where someone takes my customs form and a Virgin Atlantic employee takes all the claim info on my bag, says he’s definitely located it at Heathrow, and that it will arrive tomorrow afternoon, and he will have it sent to my house.


Saturday, May 31:

The bag doesn’t arrive.  I discover that the rubber-stamped claim info the Virgin Atlantic guy gave me has been stamped onto the space for it on their glossy brochure and is now too smeared to read.  I find the Virgin Atlantic web site, and the phone number.  I figure it’s late, so I will give them a call in the morning.


Sunday, June 1st:

I call Virgin Atlantic, and get someone with a Carribean/ British accent (which is actually the easiest to understand of all subsequent phone calls).  I ask her to speak slowly, and she has to repeat several times before I get a few words. She tells me that the bag is in still in London at Heathrow, but has not been “identified”, so I have to re-file all the claim info with her, on the phone.  She tells me that she has put in an ‘urgent’ call to Heathrow, and that my bag will be sent ‘immediately’ to my house, that I can expect it tomorrow.


Monday, June 2: 

The bag doesn’t arrive.  I call Virgin Atlantic .  Woman with a heavy Pakistani/ Indian accent says she needs to locate bag, and will call me back.  In about 20 minutes she does. I ask her to speak slowly, and she has to repeat several times before I get a few words. She says bag is on its way to Chicago and will be delivered on June 4.  I explain that I need the bag and its contents immediately for another trip, can she please expedite this; she says she’ll try.


Tuesday, June 3. 

I call Virgin Atlantic to confirm that the bag will arrive tomorrow. Man with heavy incomprehensible accent cannot locate it, and I have to ask him to speak slowly and repeat several times before I get a few words. He says, yes, it will arrive, if I have been told that.


Wednesday, June 4: 

I call Virgin Atlantic to see what time bag will arrive.  Man with a heavy incomprehensible accent, who I have to ask to speak slowly and repeat several times before I get a few words, says he will look it up and call me back.  He does not.  Bag does not arrive in morning.  I call Virgin Atlantic.  Another man with another incomprehensible accent, who I have to ask to speak slowly and repeat several times before I get a few words, says he will look it up and call me back.  He does not.  The bag does not arrive.  I call Virgin Atlantic.  A man, who I think is the first one with a heavy incomprehensible accent, who I have to ask to speak slowly and repeat several times before I get a few words, says that he cannot get hold of the Chicago airport to confirm the bag’s arrival.  Says he will call me back.  He does not.  I find and file a complaint form on Virgin Atlantic’s web site.  I find an e-mail address for Virgin Atlantic “customer service.”  I e-mail them the entire situation, titling it, “I am deaf, please help!”  I call Virgin Atlantic again.  A man with an incomprehensible accent, who I have to ask to speak slowly and repeat several times before I get a few words, says he cannot get hold of the Chicago airport, and that he will call me back.  Guess what?  He does not.


Thursday, June 5:

 No response to e-mail or complaint form.  I call Virgin Atlantic. A man with an incomprehensible accent, who I have to ask to speak slowly and repeat several times before I get a few words, says he cannot get hold of the Chicago airport, and that he will call me back.  He does not.  I call again several hours later.  A woman with an incomprehensible accent, who I have to ask to speak slowly and repeat several times before I get a few words, says she will call me back within two hours.  Four hours later, I call again. A man with an incomprehensible accent, who I have to ask to speak slowly and repeat several times before I get a few words, says he cannot get hold of the Chicago airport, and that he will call me back.  I send another e-mail.

No one from Virgin Atlantic has called me back since the first woman called to lie to me four days ago.


Tomorrow, it’ll be a week. I may go down to the Virgin Atlantic ticket counter at O’Hare, and chain myself to it until they hand me my goddamned bag.





Culture Shocks

Still waiting for my bag to arrive; I read on a friend’s blog that Heathrow has just  recently installed an updated computerized luggage tracking system, and that as soon as they did, they promptly lost over 6000 pieces of luggage.  (Why don’t I know these things?) Virgin Atlantic knows my bag is at Heathrow; they identified it there even before I landed.  But it’s still sitting there, it is not here, and there are five wee bottles of single malt lovingly packed inside. 

Breathing in the filthy, car-exhaust smell of the el was a terrible bit of jet-lagged culture shock after the delicious air and scent of Lewis and the Orkneys, the softer sweet air outside Inverness, where I did a lot of walking.  So was watching the eight lanes of stalled traffic on either side of the train, and the el’s grinding, jerking motion, snapping my neck back and forth, and its awful vibrations, felt in my teeth. But I’m less lagged now after sleeping 11 hours.  I woke thinking I was on Lewis at Mrs. B’s, and wondered briefly why my artwork was on the wall there.

I had wondered a bit, before going, about traveling alone while old and deaf, how well I’d manage. The further I got north, the easier it was.  The patience, kindness and courtesy of people in Scotland were noticeably better than in England (which itself was improved over everyday life in Chicago) and it reached its zenith in the Highlands.  Not only were there no real difficulties, I never once felt pitied, which is something I find exceedingly hard to stomach; nor did I ever feel patronized, which is worse. It was simply a natural, matter-of-fact reaction; people quickly adjusted to the fact of my deafness, asked me how they could help and were genuinely happy to. Not one person contorted their face to exaggerate their words, or shouted, and if I did not hear and asked for a repeat, no one ever became impatient or said the phrase most deafened people hate: “forget it, it wasn’t important.”

I had expected to have some reaction to being in the land of my roots, but thought that it would be a private, internal thing.  On Lewis, especially, it was shared.  In every conversation I had there that lasted longer than a few sentences, people asked about my Scottish connections. More than once, I was told, “that’s where you get your hair.”  (There were varying reactions when I said that the color came from a bottle, but the rest was mine; that could have something to do with a very strict religious atmosphere on Lewis, the only thing that sort-of worried me about it). I had some long conversations with an older woman who shared one of my ancestral surnames (which, she gently told me, I pronounce wrong). She looked exactly like my grandmother. I had to constantly remind myself not to stare at her teeth, which were exactly like mine, with the big front overbite that my dentist insists on calling ‘the Bugs Bunny’ look.  On Orkney, people never asked about ancestry at all, but did seem quite pleased when I said I wanted to come back.  On Lewis, and on the boat back to the mainland, virtually everyone asked me if I would be back, or said, “perhaps you’ll come back”.

Everywhere in the Highlands, people of all ages are out and about, mixing together, talking to each other.  There is a strong visual sense of community.  In Inverness, the most bustling city, I daily saw numerous people out on those motorized scooters or in wheelchairs; everywhere around the Highlands older (and some younger) folks were out with canes; blind folks had guide people, not guide dogs (though it seemed that everyone had a dog, and the dogs went everywhere; they waited patiently outside shops). Older folks and children are a vital part of the fabric.  If you are over sixty and a Highlander or Islander, you can travel anywhere in Scotland; you get so many roundtrip tickets a month, free.  The Scottish Tourist Board runs a service for finding places to stay; the fee is four pounds per booking.  In Inverness, I had two long in-person booking sessions with two lovely young folks, Sam and Heather, who did all the phone-calling for me, with a lot of jokes and story-telling and conversation in between, and though I didn’t ask for it, and though I was charged in Edinburgh, they waived the fees because I am deafened; they simply refused to accept them.

In my ancestral chauvinism, I like to think that this is all an echo of the old Gaelic culture, where everyone was valued, where there were leaders but no class system, and, as the old poem says, “widows and orphans (were) liberally provided for, without want was each pauper” (from the Gaelic ‘Song to the emigrants’, Ian MacCodrum, 1760s).  It could also be the superiority of the general British health care system, or even the fact that the population is smaller, so everyone is noticed more, but in my romanticism, cultural survival is what I want to believe. In any case, coming from the U.S., where all depends on money, where even the dignity of the most basic human needs depends directly on individual income, it’s utterly refreshing to see. 

Above all, people talked to each other, and to me, regardless of age, color, or anything else, especially on the islands.


There’s something else, and here’s where I picture all the Americans sniggering, or thinking how pathetic I am, but the hell with it, I’m writing about it anyways.  America’s culture, if we have one, is exceedingly youth-oriented, especially if you are a woman.  A woman can achieve enormous professional standing and respect no matter how old you are, but after a certain age, you become completely sexually invisible (or, possibly worse, one of the many women who are rich who start to pay out enormous sums to get chopped, to surgically alter the aging process). Older folks only seem to meet in personals ads, and men my age and older invariably seek women half their age, and if you choose to age naturally, you automatically become null and void.  That’s the way it is. It’s not much fun for women (assuming you’re heterosexual), especially if you always had a lot of male attention and inside, you’re still pretty damn well alive, thank you very much. Yeah, like me. 

Well, I got flirted with on a daily basis again, like it was years ago, and yeah, I liked it.  A lot.  Just silly stuff, mostly, a wink here and there, getting blown a kiss through a train window, or a cheeky, flirty comment that says, above all, I see you, see your vitality. It was just plain damn fun.

I never even considered the possibility of this happening, and at this confused point in my life, I was definitely not in the market for a wee highland fling, but there were two situations that were more intense, and that’s where my American orientation let me down (or saved me, depending on how you look at it); I couldn’t interpret them, figure out what was going on.  There are cultural differences, definitely.

But I had a conversation with a white-haired woman in her seventies and mentioned one of them, and she said, “He must fancy you!” I mumbled something about being too old, and she, may all the goddesses there are love her, immediately and very, very seriously replied,

“Oh, no, you’re never too old for that, dear!”


So: If I should end up old and alone, I know where I’m retiring to!

Mural in the Invergordon train station


Blahg Gone, Blahg On


OK: This is it.  

Blahg has now moved permanently here, to WordPress. 

After a year of just winging it intuitively (basically the way I begin any new mode of expression), I’ve been thinking over what blogging means to me.  It’s opened me to a wider world, to new people and continued contact with old friends.  For this deafened person, blogging has become an unexpectedly satisfying way to be connected…sort of a substitute for a corner pub, in an odd, time-delayed way, where I can hear effortlessly, relax, drop all pretensions, and just be myself.  

I definitely want that to continue, but I need to experiment with a change in how it will keep working best for me.

WordPress allows selected individual posts to be password-protected.  I intend to keep Blahg public for the most part; the new pub will still be open to anyone who walks in.  But, every once in awhile, I will protect a post, and essentially gather with a group of friends in the back room.

If you would like to join me in the password-protected back room, you can do one of two things: Leave a comment after this post (only I will see your e-mail address), and I’ll contact you.  Or, if you have one of my addresses, e-mail me and tell me who you are. 


I hope you’ll continue to hang with me here at the new pub for the odd dram, a bit of conversation, a song, some dancing or the occasional game of darts.



Yesterday I made the dreaded annual visit to the audiologist.  (Well, supposedly annual; it had been more than 18 months).  It’s dreaded, because with a progressive hearing loss, no one is ever going to say, “Hey!  You’ve improved!”  Those little lines on the audiogram sink slowly towards the bottom of the chart each visit, bit by tiny bit.  And, sure enough, I’ve lost a bit more of the lower-pitched tones. I had already guessed that, because it’s been more difficult to hear men lately.  It wasn’t a huge drop, though.  Thankfully, though my hearing is always declining, it’s doing so at a fairly slow rate.

I lost the most in my left ear, which, according to the audiograms, has always been my ‘bad’ ear; it’s deafer than the right.  I simply hear less sound with it when they test me with pure tones. But the oddest thing is that my speech comprehension is much higher in the ‘bad’ ear. Though it hears less sound, it understands words better.  Go figure.

The other thing that’s been happening over the past 18 months is, without my hearing aids, whether or not I hear a loud-enough sound depends on the direction it’s coming from.  It happens with sound from a concentrated source, like the really loud old fan Paul runs every night for white noise.  If I’m directly across the room from it, with it facing my ear, I hear it.  If I turn my head in either direction: nothing.  In March, at Ragdale, that began to happen with a few people’s voices, mostly men.

The audiologist has no explanation for either of these things.

I also began my video project while there, recording parts of the examination.  (The camera shut itself off right before the word testing, which I wanted to record…but it was on its tripod in the corner, and I was hooked up to earphones and a variety of wires, and couldn’t reach it to turn it back on.  Dang.).  At one point on the video I did shoot, the audiologist is just offscreen, with my hearing aids in her hand, talking to me, and I am relying entirely on reading her lips.  I look really fierce, squinting, my mouth set in a line, my head thrust forward.  No wonder some people think I’m angry, or that I disapprove of what they’re saying. I’m only struggling to hear, but I look like I might jump up and start punching.

So, my head is quite odd, in a number of ways, even apart from my brain.