Early Christmas shopping – is there any point?

You might have to rub your eyes and wonder if you really do need to go to Specsavers. But no, there’s no mistake.

We’ve just been enjoying an Indian summer, and Halloween is still a full month away, but take a walk today down certain aisles of your local supermarket and there is a good chance you will see them.

Mince pies. Selection boxes. Christmas cakes and puddings. And just in case you think they were put there by mistake, they are surrounded by distinctly seasonal displays.

Tesco seems to be quite actively engaged in the practice, judging by the reports on Twitter, Facebook et al and readers who have posted photographic evidence to satirical news websites.

Indeed, as reported in this paper, Tesco had rolled out its selection boxes and tins of sweets in early September — when there was still over 100 shopping days to go to Christmas. The supermarket chain said it had been doing this for the last four or five years.

Other supermarkets, including Supervalu, hinted that their Christmas campaigns would be starting soon.

But as well as the supermarket aisles, Christmas lights have been spotted in Limerick city centre, while a large inflatable Santa is reportedly atop a hotel building in west Dublin.

Faced with difficult trading conditions, traders here seem to have decided that Christmas needs to start even earlier.

1 But why? It’s still three months away.

“Retailers have had a very difficult trading year thus far and they are now relying on the Christmas season to buoy up sales,” says Fionnuala Carolan, editor of grocery trade magazine Shelflife.

Industry figures show that the Irish grocery market has fallen 0.5% in value on this time last year, so retailers know they have to try and take advantage of any way they can to make up lost sales, she said.

Susan Birrell of Deloitte says: “Based on CSO figures recently released, which show that retail sales fell by 3.6% in August, retailers may be trying to pull back some of sales from over the summer months by making Christmas products available earlier.”

2 Okay, fair enough, they have to try. But do they have to try so early?

Stephen Wynne, editor of another grocery trade publication Checkout, says: “I agree, it does seem very early, but if you talk to retailers they will tell you it fits in with people planning their shopping in advance.

“Just as people might budget for the weekly shop, they will argue that there is a certain demographic that will plan Christmas shopping in advance.”

He says it is also worth noting how major retailers increasingly try to build ‘events’ around certain times of the year, such as Halloween and Christmas. “Big events generally have long lead-in times,” says Wynne.

3 Well, I’m still keeping my money in my pocket for now.

It certainly may be too soon to tell if retailers’ efforts to push Christmas trade even earlier this year will have the desired effect, but consumers probably won’t be tempted to spend more anyway, says Birrell, who oversees the research for Deloitte’s annual Christmas spending survey.

“One of the trends that we have seen from the annual Deloitte survey of Christmas spending over the last number of years is that consumers have been diligently sticking to their Christmas budgets, and these are unlikely to increase significantly this year,” she says.

“People will still have the same amount of money to spend.”

4 But if I do my Christmas shopping now, am I likely to get better value?

This is the big question. On the one hand, some smart shoppers are now planning to do the trick of holding back on their Christmas shopping until the last minute because so many shops last year started their January sales before Christmas.

“The temptation to hang on for a bargain has long been a feature of Christmas shopping in Ireland, with people holding out for Christmas Eve buys at January sale prices,” says Birrell.

On the other hand, some retailers may also be planning more promotions and sales in the coming weeks than they normally would at this time of year, mainly because consumers now expect them.

“Increasingly, retailers are more flexible in their strategies, and so increased promotional offers and discounts may well be more prominent throughout the entire festive season,” says Birrell.

“Retailers have recognised that consumers are determined to get the value they expect, and will shop around to do so.”

5 Besides the advantage of getting it out of the way, is there much point in buying Christmas stuff early at the full price?

A quick visit to our local Tesco, Supervalu and Dunnes Stores shows that stocking up on Christmas-themed items is a false economy unless they are actually discounted.

In Tesco, there is a whole aisle dedicated to Christmas confectionary with 850g tins of Roses/Heroes/Quality Street retailing at €6 instead of around €12. Even in the toiletries section there are ‘3 for 2’ offers on gift packs of aftershave or perfume.

There are some similar offers in Dunnes and Supervalu (mainly the half-price 850g chocolate/sweet tins), but no seasonal displays just yet — thankfully.

Your favourite mince pies can be bought anytime from your local supermarket, so do look out for a useful discount if buying early.

For non-food items, buying early may only make sense if you’re buying online, as you won’t have any delivery issues.

6 I would like to support my local traders, though.

Well, the good news is that some local retailers are already thinking up Christmas loyalty promotions to try to encourage shoppers to stay with them from now until the end of the year.

According to Carolan, the owner of a Gala store in Co Kerry is offering its customers a free turkey and ham this Christmas if they fill in a loyalty card between now and then.

“Within two days of launching this promotion, sales had picked up in the store,” she said.

“Consumers are constantly chasing value these days, and retailers are responding in any way they can.”

Early shopping pros and cons


1 No panic buying, less stress

2 More time to plan what to buy, so less likely to go over your budget

3 You’ll come up with better, more spontaneous gift ideas because you’re not under pressure

4 More time to make stuff, including home-made gifts

5 More time to enjoy the festivities, see friends and family and soak up the atmosphere

6 Santa and his elves get more time to fulfil orders


1 More time to stress out about what to get people

2 The longer you have, the more presents you might end up buying (particularly if you have small children or relatives)

3 You’re reinforcing the commercialisation of Christmas by shopping so early

4 No one wants the homemade gifts anyway

5 More chance of irritating others around you with your smugness

6 More chance of friends or family finding the presents you’ve hidden

– John Cradden

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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Confessions of a haggler

The very idea of bargaining sends some shoppers into a cold sweat — but there are savings to be made if you know how, writes John Cradden

For the average Irish consumer, haggling is still a bit of a dirty word. Many of us are reluctant to roll up our sleeves and give it a go.

It’s more associated with the kind of price negotiating you might do with sellers at a Moroccan souk, not with sales assistants at M&S.

It’s a similar story over in the UK. Research by Invisible Hand, an online shopping company, suggests that three quarters of consumers are too shy to haggle for a better deal, and this is costing them an average of £220 (€258) a year.

While no similar studies have been undertaken here, consumer experts readily point to our timidity when it comes to negotiating over price.

“The majority of us do not know how to haggle and even if they did, would prefer not to as they are too embarrassed, shy, nervous or afraid,” says Dermott Jewell, chief executive of the Consumers Association of Ireland. “The remainder see it as either pointless or unseemly.”

1 Well, I hate the idea of haggling too. Even the idea brings me out in a cold sweat. Should I be trying to get over it?

While keen to encourage haggling in general, the National Consumer Agency (NCA) suggests that first-time hagglers should check out local markets and second-hand shops.

But rather than haggle with someone face to face, an even easier approach for a first-time haggler might be through online shopping, for which practically all communication is by email anyway.

John Madden from Dublin emailed a hotel in Cork he had stayed in before to ask if it could match a special offer price he had been given before, and added that he would like to stay there again but a nearby hotel was cheaper.

“I got about 25% off,” he said. “It’s easier to ask [by email] and you can edit it down to a well-reasoned argument before you send. Politeness is the key, either way.”

2Hotels do seem to be more open to negotiation than before, given the economy. But what about other sectors?

You could try negotiating on things like major dental treatment or work on your house, or services such as gyms, crèches and garages, says the NCA.

“There is often some room for manoeuvre on price when you are paying for someone’s expertise rather than for a physical item, especially where you have competing offers to choose between,” said a spokesman.

You may have more luck in general with haggling on high-value items, such as furniture, cars, electrical goods.

“There is often some in-built wriggle room for salespeople on these items,” he said.

Also, if you buy multiple items or bulk purchases, such as home heating oil, coal or electrical goods, you can try asking for a discount.

3Are there certain firms more open to negotiating on price than others?

Research by UK personal finance site Moneysavingexpert.com revealed that almost 80% of Sky TV, broadband or home phone customers who tried to barter down costs secured a better deal, while 73% of AA customers who had haggled said they ended up with a cheaper deal on their breakdown cover.

It’s not clear if Sky Ireland and AA Ireland would show a similar willingness to bargain with consumers, but there is certainly no harm in trying.

Mind you, be prepared for some shops giving you the short thrift. “When people casually insult me by trying to haggle, I tend to respond irately,” says the proprietor of a small, independent bookshop, Raven Books, via Twitter.

4At what places would haggling be unlikely to work?

You’re unlikely to get a discount just by asking in a supermarket, petrol station, restaurant, hairdresser or other similar shops because their “prices are either determined by law and the need to display them or simply that negotiation is impossible due to the structure of the business”, said Jewell.

“Information is power, however, and if you can approach a seller and knowingly tell them that you can do better by going elsewhere, then they have the choice to better that price or suggest you go to that other business.

“What have you lost? Nothing. What will they lose? A sale, and income,” he said.

5What sort of information will give me that power?

Finding out a variety of prices online has never been easier through price comparison websites such as Bonkers.ie, Compare.ie, Toprice.ie and Economiser.ie.

There are loads of search engines for hotels and accommodation too.

“Haggle or at the very least shop around and use competing offers to negotiate on renewals, especially for home and motor insurance and so on,” said the NCA spokesman.

You should also look out for companies that offer “price beaters”.

Retailers such as Harvey Norman, Windsor Motors, DID Electrical and Currys all state on their websites that if you find a similar item or service elsewhere for cheaper, it will match that price and, in some cases, offer to refund the price difference.

6Any other tips?

Jewell says it is worth asking what discount you might be offered if you pay by cash or debit card instead of your credit card, because this limits the retailer’s charges and they might be willing to share some of that gain via a price reduction.

“This is a softer form of haggling because you know you are only asking for a fair deal in how you pay.”

If you think you might become a regular customer, you could ask for a deal on the price or any additional benefits, says the NCA. Some companies offer a 10% discount off the next item you buy from them.

“Many companies will offer good deals to get repeat business and whilst a price reduction may not always be possible, you might get some additional add-ons or benefits that would be of value to you.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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A steeper mountain to climb

Bless me father, for it’s a full week since I last posted. It’s been two weeks since my switch-on and while all is fine, I’m realising I have a bit more of a mountain to climb than I thought in terms of reaching the optimum benefit from this CI. Of course, what everyone has been repeating to me more or less ad nauseum since I got the implant is that it takes time (by everyone I mean my audiologists, other CI implantees, well-informed relatives and my wife Sorcha. Even our four year old Ana chipped in once).  But being the impatient person I often am, this reality hadn’t quite sunk in until my first mapping session on Monday 13th, one week after switch-on.

Jacki switched me to two faster programmes than the one I had been on since switch-on the week before. Then afterwards I did the same speech recognition test as I did pre-op, and in which I had only gotten 14%. What did I get now? 20%. While Jacki assured me this was OK, and not to expect too much (it mainly serves as a baseline for future tests, to measure your improvement as the months go on), I was hoping for a bit more, so I was slightly disappointed. Some people seem to do very well straight from the word go, while others can take many more months, even years before they reach a stage where they can get scores of 80pc or higher in the speech recognition test.

It seems hard to believe at this stage that I will reach those kinds of heights,  over the last few days of working at my listening rehabilitation (basically someone reading out stuff without me lipreading them and trying to recognise what they say, as well as things like listening to audiobooks), I sense a small improvement in recognising speech. The odd word here and there. Hearing with the implant alone is still hard, but the two together is much easier.

The other thing is that I’ve belated realised I’m hearing those beeps and squeaks that I thought I didn’t comprehend in the hours after my switch-on, but which I now recognise as er… beeps and squeaks. Jacki tells me I probably need some further tweaking to my programmes.

So all in all, no miraculous progress; more of a slow burner. The brain needs time to rewire itself, after all.

While I’m on the subject of rehabilitation, I learnt a while ago that many CI programmes would not have included any aural rehabilitationtraining- at least in the past. In other words, implantees would have gotten the implant, gotten switched on, and then were more or less left alone to figure out how to get the best from the implant. I’ve a strong feeling already that my rehabilitation programme as directed by Lesley at Beaumont Hospital, while it seems a slow, often boring and ponderous business, will be hugely important on my journey back to serviceable hearing.

But in the meantime, everything else is working as it should, which is really reassuring, particularly given the news of the Cochlear (which makes the implant hardware) recall recently. Onwards and upwards.


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An understated moment

If you’ve been following my updates on the subject of cochlear implants, and since it’s been over five days since my much-hyped CI activation, you may be dying to know how I got on. Or maybe not. But here it is anyway.

The first thing to say is that I now fully understand why people say everyone’s experience is different. Over the past few months, I had read many of the best CI bloggers’ descriptions of their activations, which had together combined to create an expectation that my own switch-on would be an event filled with huge drama; a truly in-your-face sensory experience that would be almost overwhelming. One blogger in particular comes to mind (although she doesn’t blog anymore): Kate Locke wrote a terrifically entertaining and thoroughly dramatic account of her switch-on a couple of years ago.  It’s well worth a read, and there’s a link to a video of her activation that contains a lot of screaming.

Would mine be like that? Would I be skipping a merry dance of joy and tears on hearing the first beeps and squeaky voices?

As we (my wife Sorcha came along) walked into the activation room at Beaumont hospital, I was expecting to be quite nervous, but I wasn’t. It might have been because Jacki, my audiologist, led the process at a very relaxed, easy-going pace. Indeed, given the huge significance of the switch-on moment-of-truth for implantees like me, the very ordinariness of the whole situation was probably a calming influence.

The implant contains 22 channels, so Jacki had to calibrate the sound levels of each one by running a series of beeps and asking me to indicate for each channel when the beeps were getting too loud. A bit like tuning a piano, in some ways.

And then she switched it on. The strange thing is I almost didn’t realise it. It sounded surprisingly normal – at least normal compared to my experience of hearing with powerful hearing aids for the past 35-odd years. No beeps or squeaks. No R2D2 or even Donald Duck. The other big surprise was that – besides the first few seconds – it was nowhere near as loud as I was led to expect from other descriptions of activations. It was quite faint and low-pitched. Jacki and Sorcha’s voices sounded a bit like they were slowed down, or under water. A bit muffled. Very high frequency sounds like cups and cutlery clattering are very loud, the closest it comes to those beepy sound sensations that many other implantees seem to hear a lot, but not very distinguishable just yet. I think my left ear – always my worse ear – has probably never heard sounds at the very upper end of the sound spectrum, so it’s kinda scratching its head, trying to figure out what the hell they are.

But overall it certainly didn’t sound weird, or disorienting or overwhelming, even after exiting the room and then the hospital on a sunny but very windy September afternoon.

I always suspected that I would get used to it fairly quickly. My auditory cortex is a pretty resilient dude, coping with all kinds of hearing fluctuations over the years, particularly over the last two, and therefore has become quite efficient at extracting lots of useful information out of even the weakest of signals from my damaged hearing system. So while this new hearing is a totally different set-up to a hearing aid, it seems to be settling just fine and getting stuck in.

After five days of living with the CI, the implanted ear and my hearing aid ear are already proving a good team, more than the sum of their parts. The predominant sound sensation in my implanted ear alone is predominantly the same: low-pitched, with high-frequency sounds very loud but flat and indistinguishable.

Sorcha (and any adult for that matter) still sounds as if she’s utterly depressed, even though she patently isn’t. The kids still sound like normal, happy kids, with no issues or anything.

But my first mapping (or adjustment/fine-tuning) session is tomorrow, so hopefully things can be jigged around a bit then.

A great start, I think.



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Start me up

Activation is scheduled for 2pm today. Quite late in the day. I’d prefer if it was in the morning time. I’m so ready to go I can’t concentrate on my work this morning, even with a deadline looming large. I managed to sleep fine though, surprisingly enough. Start me up.

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Oh dear, this is not what i wanted to hear…

From the website of the company that made my implant, and which is the very same one that is the subject of this recently announced action:


(via Tina Lannin’s blog: I Look So I Can Hear.)

This follows a major recall by another cochlear implant maker, Advanced Bionics, which it is only just emerging out of now.

This has put something of a dampener on my excitement about the swtich-on tomorrow. Still, going by the company’s figures, my implant has a 99.4% chance of working ok, which can’t be too bad.

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Mechanical brain to meet computer hearing

When you explain to people what happens when a cochlear implant is activated for the first time, it probably does sound very unnerving (literally, as it’s my auditory nerve that will be subjected to a merciless cascade of electrical stimulation). It certainly is for me, but at the same time I find there is something deliciously exciting about the idea of something inside me being switched on, or activated. It is, after all, likely to be the start of something totally, utterly new.

In a way, I’m surprised that the whole cyborgish weirdness of it doesn’t bother me that much. After activation, my processor headpiece will boot up every morning after latching itself onto my skull, and transmit millions of bits of data to the implant electronics inside my head, which converts it to electrical pulses and sends it down to my much-modified cochlea. At regular intervals over the next few years, my processor headpiece will be hooked up to a laptop which will upload new data, software or parameters, as if to give my ear an electronic service every so often.

I’m not someone who is naturally drawn to new technology or computers, possibly because it just means more things to go wrong. My brain prefers mechanical problems rather than ones of a digital or electrical nature. That’s why I like classic and older cars than modern ones, as you don’t need a laptop to diagnose a problem – just watch the temp gauge, and look out for leaks and any displacement of engine fluids (ie. water and oil) to places where they’re not supposed to go. I love fixing bicycles too. The most technical thing I’ve done with a PC is set up a blog and customise the typeface, and while the problems I encountered in doing so were very minor, they were enough to stress me out. It was only thanks to the online developer community that supports the open-source WordPress blogging software, who make fixes so easy, that I managed it.

But I’m still comfortable with the digitisation of my left ear – as long as everything works as it should. I quite like watching popular sci-fi films and TV shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who, which often have stories about the interface between technology and the human body, so maybe it’s my predilection for them that puts me at ease about all this.

So, at the stroke of a laptop key, my life will change. My brain has already booked a five-star suite in its long-term memory cortex for the arrival of this moment, even if its an unpleasant guest to begin with.


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Don’t skimp on car maintenance

Our cars are getting older, but looking after them needn’t cost the earth, writes John Cradden

Thursday September 08 2011

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that our cars are getting older. After all, new car sales fell off a cliff in 2009, and only recovered last year thanks to the scrappage scheme, which ended in June.

According to figures from car history checking website Cartell.ie, the average age of a car in Ireland has risen from less than six years old in January 2006 to 7.4 years in January 2011, with a month-by-month increase.

Shane O’Donoghue, director of Completecar.ie, says: “People are holding onto their cars out of necessity and not, in my opinion, because they suddenly think that older cars are just fine now.”

It may be one of the first things to fall victim to a tightening of the household purse strings, but skimping on a hard-working car’s maintenance is a false economy.

Anecdotal evidence from garages suggests that while people are holding on to their cars for longer, many are putting off their service or repair work until something serious goes wrong, according to the Society of the Motor Industry (SIMI).

Keith Colton of Colton Motors in Tullamore, Co Offaly, told Smart Consumer of a car with an engine knocking noise that came into his garage recently.

It ended up needing an expensive engine repair simply because the owner had not changed the oil — never mind checked it — in over two years.

“There was very little oil left in the sump and the small bit that was left had turned into a thick treacle-like substance, which had no lubricating qualities left,” he said.

“If the car owner only checked their oil more regularly and kept it at the right level, the engine will last a lot longer, and also will save on fuel.”

But while the cost of maintaining a car begins to rise once it reaches four years old (according to AA Ireland), there are lots of ways to save money on running costs without skimping on essential maintenance.

1 But if the average age of cars has been steadily rising, does that not mean that cars today are more reliable?

Yes and no. “The rate of development of the car in the past 20 years has been nothing short of astounding,” says O’Donoghue.

“The downside to that is that there is now more to go wrong than ever before.

“However, I’d maintain that cars are inherently much more reliable now. The issue is that the average car owner can’t fix it for themselves.”

Not surprisingly, SIMI agrees. Spokesperson Suzanne Sheridan says the greater complexity of cars, particularly diesel ones, means that garages need to be well up to date on new diagnostic technologies and methods, something that might not apply to a nixer or back-street mechanic or someone unqualified.

2 Right, so if today’s cars require a degree in computers to fix or maintain, is there nothing I can do myself?

Yes, there are still lots of basic, simple checks you can do that will save money.

“Before you bring your car to be serviced, check all the lights and fluid levels for yourself, as it’s easy to do and garages charge more than it would cost you to remedy anything for yourself,” says O’Donoghue.

Sheridan says motorists can still carry out basic maintenance themselves on a regular basis, such as checking tyre pressure, thread depth, oil, coolant levels and so on, “which will all make the car run more smoothly and improve a car’s miles per gallon”.

Savings: Up to €100 for a basic service

3 I’ve been doing this basic maintenance for years, so I’d be quite confident in doing more complex jobs with the help of my trusty Haynes manual.

The Haynes manuals are still regarded as the bible of the DIY mechanic with its easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions, and they also contain ‘difficulty’ ratings for each job, which is very useful. You can get them from any motor factors, Halfords or from online car parts retailer Micksgarage.ie for about €25-30 — well worth the money.

Savings: Up to €250 for a full service (if no major work needed)

4Ever since my car’s free servicing and warranty expired, my local dealer has been charging me an arm and leg for a major service.

There is a lot to be said for maintaining a dealer-stamped service history from new because this reassures prospective buyers when the time comes to sell. But once your car reaches four or five years old, this becomes far less important, as long as you keep all receipts for work done.

This means you can shop around for cheaper car servicing at independent garages, or perhaps from other franchise dealers who are seeking to win more servicing business by offering competitive-priced servicing packages for all popular makes of cars. Nissan dealer Windsor Motors, for instance, offers servicing packages for all makes from €69 to €139.

5I hate the hassle of visiting garages.

There are a growing number of mobile mechanic services that can service your car at your doorstep.

One of the newest entrants to this market is AA Ireland, which now offers such a seven-day-a-week service starting at €179 for an ‘interim’ service and from €229 for a full car service that includes 74 checks.

According to AA spokesperson Miriam O’Neill, the service is currently only available in Dublin and Cork, but there are plans to roll it out to other parts of the country next year.

You don’t need to be a member, either.

6If I do some servicing myself, or get an independent garage to do it for me, can I shop around for car parts myself to save money?

Yes, you can certainly check this out. Main dealers will usually be the most expensive place to buy original replacement parts, but you can get the same parts (or pattern or second-hand parts) much more cheaply from your local motor factor.

You could also try online shops such as Micksgarage.ie. If you need a replacement engine or body part cheaply, you could also check out scrapyard part finders, such as Partfinder.ie.

Savings: Pattern parts can be up to 50% cheaper than original replacement parts


This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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To be a cyborg, or not to be a cyborg, that is the question.

Lots of cochlear implantees often talk about becoming ‘cyborgs’ as a result of getting their cochlear implant.  Most do so for comic effect, others because they think it sounds cooler than the term ‘prosthetic’ (which is essentially what a CI is), but others are deadly serious. The term isn’t very useful as a label, though,  as it means different things to different people.

Michael Chorost, a cochlear implantee who wrote an excellent memoir of his journey to getting a cochlear implant entitled ‘Rebuilt: how becoming part computer made me more human’, provides a clear and convincing definition of the word cyborg: “The essence of cyborgness is the presence of software that makes if-then-else decisions and acts on the body to carry them out.”

By this reckoning, someone with an artificial hip or limb is not a cyborg. Someone with a pacemaker is, and so does someone with a cochlear implant. But, as Chorost notes, pacemakers and CIs are two very different cyborg technologies.  In doing the simple job of making sure your heart doesn’t stop, you can easily forget about about a pacemaker. “When the control is over your senses, however, you can never forget about it. You are living in a new version of reality.”

Profound stuff, but that’s for another day. In the meantime, I’m practising my robot impression.


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A week is too long when you’re waiting to be switched on

OK, just over a week to go. I’m battling with a mix of emotions, including excitement, trepidation and frustration.

The frustration comes out of the increasing feeling that my life is kind of on hold, partly because I only have one ear together with a hearing aid that is providing, at best, 20% hearing. I haven’t much work on and I haven’t talked to friends or family that much since the op. It’s only thanks to her indoors and two young girls that the daily wheels of life are moving at all….

I worry about things going wrong. For example, I worry about making sharp movements in case my electrode ‘slips’ out. This is probably a very irrational, as this type of thing doesn’t happen very often. I haven’t been warned not to over-exert myself beyond the advice to take it easy and no flying for six weeks post-op.

I still feel the thing in there, and my ear is still numb, but at least i can forsee a point in the not too distant future when i will forget it’s there, judging by the gradual but steady dimunition of the soreness and numbness.

On another level, I’m battling against my instinct to be highly optimistic about all this, as everyone keeps warning me not to set them too high. Even if my hearing history suggests I should benefit well from a cochlear implant, outcomes can apparently be very disappointing, even for those who are expected to do well. Sometimes there is just no way of knowing.

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