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At my boarding school in the early 1960s, we boys used to carry on gruesome debates in the dorm after the lights went out, speaking in low voices to avoid detection by any master or matron of passage.

Discussion topics could include: “What is the most painful method of torture?” » ; “Would you rather be hanged, shot by firing squad, or executed in the electric chair?” ; or ‘Which of us would you eat first if we were shipwrecked on a raft with no food?’

But I remember one favorite in particular, who kept coming back: “Which would you rather be—totally blind or totally deaf?”

The most painful method of torture? I would put noisy pubs and restaurants in my top ten But perhaps the worst part of my pervasive deafness is that it sucked away much of the enjoyment of social gatherings, which I enjoyed above all other enjoyment of my job.

It was a subject on which I professed to speak with some authority, since my dear father, a victim of infantile glaucoma, had been completely blind since the age of nine, while a war wound had left a close family friend with extreme hearing difficulties.

In these whispered debates, I always said that it was better to be blind, influenced as I was by the serene resignation with which my father accepted his affliction as the will of God, of which there was no point in complaining.

Indeed, he seemed to enjoy life immensely, often laughing until his shoulders shook, and his blindness didn’t seem to bother him much.

Besides his dazzling intelligence, what I remember most about him is his rich laugh.

True, his disability caused him occasional embarrassment that lesser men might have found humiliating. For example, there was the time he was the guest speaker at a meeting of the Conservative Association (he was one of the founding fathers of Thatcherism) – and got up to start his speech facing the wall behind him , back to the public in the room.

Until the president of the association gets up, grabs him by the shoulders and turns him around.

Then there were the mornings when he worked at The Spectator magazine, in his old offices in Bloomsbury, and my mother used to put him on the bus to work. She would ask the driver to help her get off at Gower Street, where his secretary was supposed to meet him at the bus stop.

The problem was that the girl was usually late. Well-meaning passers-by would see this blind man standing by the side of the road and assume he wanted to cross. No matter how hard he protested, they took his arm and led him across the road – until someone else spotted him and brought him back again. I remember he told me that this sometimes happened several times in the same morning before his secretary finally arrived.

But he laughed at all those experiences, treating them as part of the divine comedy of the human condition that kept him happy, I like to think, until the end.

It was another matter with our deaf friend, Stevie. Although he was one of the nicest men I’ve met, he always seemed uncomfortable during our family gatherings, isolated by his disability from our conversations and laughter.

Often we would try to involve him, raising our voices to repeat a joke or explain the topic under discussion. But he looked at us with a plaintive smile, still unable to understand what we were saying.

That look seemed to say, “It’s all right.” Leave me out of this. I’m happier sitting here and watching you have fun.

As the years have passed and my own hearing has become progressively less acute, I feel like I have at least a taste of Stevie’s suffering.

I hasten to say that I do not claim for a second to be deaf: indeed, my hearing loss has never troubled me enough even to consult a specialist. But at 68, I find myself asking people to repeat things a lot more often than I did when I was younger.

I also came to bless the subtitle button on the TV – an innovation that came too late for poor Stevie, who of course couldn’t enjoy the radio either.

As the years passed and my own hearing gradually became less acute

As the years passed and my own hearing gradually became less acute

Meanwhile, Mrs. U constantly accuses me of selective deafness, that is, pretending not to hear when I prefer not to listen.

In turn, I accuse her of selective repetition – why else, when I ask her to repeat something, does she always repeat the piece I heard, with perfect clarity, while lowering her voice when it gets to the one word I missed (which is often rude)? Other married life veterans will know what I mean.

But perhaps the worst part of my pervasive deafness is that it sucked away much of the fun of social gatherings, which I enjoyed above all other pleasures of my job (we hacks get invited to a lot of parties ).

In a crowded room, where the acoustics are poor, I find it increasingly exhausting to concentrate on what is being said. More often than not, I forego asking my other guests to repeat something and just laugh if I think they’ve made a joke, hoping they haven’t told me they’ve received a diagnosis of cancer.

I find the struggle to concentrate particularly tiring in pubs with loud music playing, or restaurants in banks or converted warehouses, with high ceilings, bare floors, no curtains and stripped pine tables without tablecloths. .

In such establishments, even drinkers and diners with perfect hearing must raise their voices to be heard. And as others turn up theirs, of course, everyone has to turn up the volume.

So the noise level goes up and up, until people like me are forced to give up hope of a conversation.

It’s like the price-wage spiral, which causes so much misery today. As prices rise, workers demand higher wages, which, in turn, drives up business costs and prices even more.

All of which brings me finally to the news that prompted these thoughts. I mean this week’s report that restaurants in my hometown of London are the loudest in Europe, beaten only in the global decibel rankings by those in San Francisco.

Released by SoundPrint, an app that rates the world’s restaurants, cafes and bars based on users’ recordings of sound levels, the figures claim to show that more than half of the capital’s restaurants are too loud to hold a conversation comfortably, with decibel levels of 76+, or as loud as a lawn mower.

Among the worst offenders, levels of over 90 dBA were recorded, about the same as a garbage truck. To put this into context, the Health and Safety Executive requires employers to provide their staff with hearing protection if they are regularly exposed to noise levels of 85 dBA or more.

Now, of course, I realize that some people—most of them decades younger than me—actively enjoy loud music and the deafening thunder of high voices in establishments with tin box acoustics. As a proponent of individual choice and freedom, I would be the last to suggest legislating to limit noise unless it disturbs the neighbours.

But at the same time I would remind pub and restaurant owners that there is money to be made with the gray pound. They should consider that many of us over 60 would eat out more often and enjoy the experience much more if they took steps to tone down the din.

As to whether it is better to be totally blind or totally deaf, I no longer feel the certainty that I expressed in those whispered debates. I’m just grateful that I’m neither.

But on one of those other topics we discussed — “What is the most painful method of torture?” — I think a good number of us, over a certain age, would put loud bars and restaurants in the top ten.