All posts by bertvdc

Berts brilliant inner-ear adventure, pt1: How I found out I needed hearing Aids

(These events originally occurred in the Fall of 2016.)

The nice thing about colleagues is they tell you when you’re annoying. After spending most of my career as a freelancer, suddenly having co-workers in an office tell you when you have bad breath, slurp your coffee or have terrible taste in deodorant came as quite a shock to me. After a while, though, I grew accustomed to it – and now, I’m even thankful, because my colleagues did more than point out my bad breath.

But we’ll get to that part of the story later.

Right now: My hearing.

I don’t really hear all that well on my left-hand side. I have no idea why, or how long it’s been going on for, but it has to be longer than a year because I remember this being my first exchange with my boss during my job interview:

Boss: Want a coffee?

Me: Excuse me?

Boss: COFFEE. YOU WANT?!

That was December of 2015, and things were already not quite okay. Looking back now, I can think of a million different situations where my hearing’s been sub-par. I tend to sit left at the table. I turn the right side of my head to people I’m talking to. When on a walk with my wife, I walk on the left. Subtle, tiny things, which have almost made me (and the people surrounding me) forget I have a problem at all.

In my office, though, I sit on the right, with my left ear aimed at the door. People barge in and ask me questions I don’t understand. And there’s nothing I can do about it, because that’s the way my desk is positioned.

So when a director wants to do script edits with me, I turn away from the computer screen and take notes on paper. When someone needs me to consider switching around scenes, I pace around the room like I’m working really hard to come up with a creative solution. And more often than not, I’ve told colleagues to come get a coffee with me – in the kitchen I then proceed to position myself as to better understand the conversation. I hope they then don’t actually grab a coffee, because I won’t hear them over the damn espresso maker.

These are not things I do consciously. It’s just my body adapting. No one noticed – except for my direct colleagues. And they were fed up, so they sent me to an ENT doctor. Which, ever the agreeable co-worker, I did.

My ENT doctor is a nice, young lad that looks like he’s been shoved in lockers of different sizes during his educative career – a bit crooked, with glasses that don’t sit quite straight not matter how often he adjusts them. But he is a good diagnostician and a very empathetic human being. I figured I’d at least humor him. Sure, I had bad hearing, but it couldn’t possibly be that terrible, right?

I sat down in the waiting room. It was September, Flu season was not fully in swing yet, so I was surrounded by nothing but two categories of old people. The coughing ones were called by a shouting nurse at the front desk, the rest was summoned personally by a nurse who waddled over and went to get them because they could not hear the nurse say their name anymore.

You can probably guess what group I belonged to.

Three times the nurse had shouted my name, then re-pre-diagnosed me from the “what is that dude doing here” into the “probably bad hearing” category and came to get me. We did a hearing test, during which I had to repeat words I heard through a microphone. The more words I repeated, the gloomier her attire, and what started out as a joke was soon confirmed by the slightly crooked doc as a honest-to-God diagnosis:

Left-hand ear hearing loss: 51 percent. Synapses had already begun to deteriorate – my brain had started to forget how to hear on one  side. I needed a hearing aid.

That was a lot worse than I had thought it would be. After all, I was 31, relatively fit, I had never heard loud music or otherwise damaged my ears (as far as I knew). The ENT shrugged it off – sometimes, shit just hits the fan. He gave me two transfer sheets, one for a control MRI and one for an audiologist and sent me on my way.

A little dazed and confused, I left the ENT’s office. Called my wife (phone on the right ear exclusively, another one of those coping mechanisms). Then proceeded to make some short-term appointments with various audiologists, called the MRI and got scheduled for Christmas (yep!) and went back to work, where I would carefully google the day away and find out as much as I could about the bionic man I was about to become.

Next time: Audiologists or the people who talk to you like you’re eighty.

The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild

Sometimes, things come together nicely. Case in point: Pre-ordering a Switch – Nintendo’s console-handheld-hybrid – and having it come out three days after my brain surgery (more on that soon). I was hospitalised for three weeks with nothing to do but to practice closing my eyelid, smiling and walking in a straight line, and the Switch and Zelda gave me something to look forward to.

And boy, was this something. Breath of the Wild does away with ninety percent of the core Zelda tropes, strips it of the baggage the series has dragged along over the course of thirty years, and just delivers a breathtaking open-world experience that’s all about exploration – and all that without even needing a minimap.

It’s amazing. After two hours of a very open-ended tutorial, you have all the skills you need and one quest in your log: Kill Ganon. You can just storm Hyrule castle and have a go at him. But that’s not where the fun is at – it’s in discovering the world, looking for shrines (this game’s version of miniature dungeons) and using whatever means the game’s environment gives you to defeat the baddies and grow stronger.

And while there is a lot of that, it never gets old. There is a seemingly endless stream of content to explore, from lava-filled lands to scorching deserts and jungles and plains. I couldn’t stop myself from discovering every nook and cranny and even after 40+ hours of playtime, I still felt surprised at all the creative situations the game threw me in.

And then, when I finally stormed the castle, armed to the teeth with the finest armor and the best weapons, it felt like catharsis.

I don’t know if the Switch will be worth it in the end – the console feels very bare-boned as it is – but Breath of the Wild is a true classic. This might just be the best Zelda ever made. And it’s certainly going to be the one I come back to most often.

I seriously couldn’t wish for any other game at a time like this.

Fantastic Beasts and where to find them

“My philosophy is worrying means you suffer twice.”

Whoa, hey, he lives! Yes, in fact, I do – but I’ve been so caught up in work and life that I’ve had no chance to update this blog. But seeing how we’re on winter hiatus until after the holidays and I’m just gaming the day away, it’s high time for a little post.

It should be no secret I’m a Harry Potter fan. I read the books on a regular basis. I rewatch the movies every couple of years. And I actually bought a gargantuan box set a while ago and watched all of the extra bonus stuff (very interesting!).

So when I heard Fantastic Beats and where to find them was a thing that was going to happen in a cinema near me, I was wary almost immediately. Sure, this could be great, and I could get that giddy feeling I get when reading or watching Potter coupled with some fresh materials – but it could also be a disaster that, viewed pessimistically, could even destroy the original story. If you think I’m being overly dramatic: Star Wars did the exact same thing for me.

Thankfully, Fantastic Beasts is not a catastrophe. One could even say it’s a really good film, with brilliant and dynamic new characters, gorgeous locations and a nifty story almost worthy of the original seven books.  And the original story? Still intact, enhanced even, as Fantastic Beasts expands upon some parts of the original Potter lore with things like the Obscurus and Grindelwald.

But what Fantastic Beasts evoked most of all was that original sense of wonder the Harry Potter universe transports. The moment I saw the Niffler – a creature not quite like a platypus – I felt that uncanny “just out of reality’s reach” feeling these stories do so well. And one moment in particular, where we finally see Newt’s secret plan, is just breathtaking.

All in all, worth a watch! Even if it spends quite a lot of its time (and its most exciting story twists) setting up a new franchise in ways that feel like a poor storyteller’s bad photoshop, with bits and nuggets of a broader (but very obscure) framework tacked on the otherwise brilliant narrative. It’s small moments in this story that irk me and wonder how much of it was rewritten while shooting to allow the franchise to grow from three to five movies – and I guess only time will tell how well that gamble payed off.

(PS I cannot say how often I typed Fantastic Beats writing this post. I think that should be a thing)