I once asked my father, who was deaf, which faculty he would rather lose, and he said sight. Shocked by the notion of not seeing, I asked why. He said that not hearing is isolating, that he couldn’t join in conversations, that he was left out. Maybe he didn’t use the word isolating.
About a year ago I developed problems with my vision; the affected eye, while gradually improving, has good days and bad days. A problem focusing on text means a difficult time for an avid reader, editor and writer. But I am not deaf, and I have been saved by the voices — not only the comforting voices of loved ones, but also the digital voices: podcasts and audio books and online radio.

My favourite podcast is BBC Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage, best described as humorous science. In Canada we tend to think of a British accent as one thing: British. After five years in London, I can hear some differences (if I were British I should be able to place the accent right down to a city or in London’s case a part of the city). Co-hosted by Brian Cox and Brian Ince, the panel guests vary from priests to comedians to doctors and scientists. A science show that makes me laugh out loud. The podcast doesn’t come out that often, so in between I listen to CBC podcasts Spark with Nora Young or Bob McDonald’s Quirks and Quarks.

photo: D. MartensI passed two Hebrew courses but I still don’t speak Hebrew. I started listening to Streetwise Hebrew even before I came to Jerusalem, and I still do. The host, Guy Sharett, is a quirky combination of kind and curious. I’m not saying I learn to speak Hebrew by listening, but I do find it a pertinent peek into the culture.

Among the ambitious podcasts, the “I might as well learn something” ones, such as BBC’s Open Book with Mariella Frostrup or The Reith Lectures, or the stories read on The New Yorker: the Writer’s Voice, I regularly listen to only one: Shakespeare Unlimited, produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library. The American accent of Barbara Bogaev is not as fun as those above, but she always sounds keen, and the interviews are enlightening.

By now you are saying, She’s lying. She must listen to music, or at least something silly. Indeed I do. I still follow The Archers, a holdover from listening to BBC4 while cooking in London. The show works topical issues into its village stories. It has moved on from last year’s marital abuse to depression and more; as with all series, one has the impression the village might be a statistical anomaly in the number of problems it has. Still, it provides a short quick hit of drama.

Speaking of drama, I haven’t even mentioned audio books. I don’t consider listening to books the same as reading them, but they help me through energy slumps and long rides and the 3 AM collywobbles. I was catching up on some Canadian books on Audible.ca just fine, enjoying Wagamese’s Indian Horse (read by Jason Ryll), Moore’s February (Mary Lewis), Johnston’s First Snow, Last Light (read by several), until I made the mistake of listening to Colin Firth read Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. This perfect pairing of voice and story put me off audio books for several weeks — nothing seemed as good. I’ve wandered off into the history aisle lately.

There is one thing I don’t like about these voices that accompany my domestic tasks: if I don’t listen, they crowd my storage. And that’s how podcast subscriptions differ from the radio, when you would tune in at a certain hour to hear a programme or miss it. Tell me, friends, will CBC radio hold my interest in my new old home?