Return of the Voice


(C. Comeau [CC / Flickr])

Should I say something? Anything in particular you’d like to hear? You want to hear about my radical student days, back in the nineties? Yeah, I know, I was two decades late. Sitting around gabbing about how the fascist regime would electronically tag us as we passed the bong wasn’t hip anymore. We were a last outpost of the seventies, besieged by Thatcher’s children telling each other how they’d start their own business the moment they graduated and be millionaires by the time they were thirty. I was a hippy in a nursery for yuccas.

Yuccas? I think something went wrong there. The word I was thinking of was spelled Y-U-P-P-I-E. Can we update its dictionary for an old fogie? OK, I’ll keep going for now.

The noughties. Or rather the two thousands – OK, it understood noughties? That’s a relief, it was starting to make me feel old.

I wore a suit, went to work, got married, forgot about the fascists trying to tag us and spent two hundred quid on my first mobile phone. I didn’t occur to me for years that I was subsidising that tagging program we’d talked about when we were stoned.

I’ve had time to do a lot of thinking since then.

Fast forward to twenty seventeen. Nine years ago. The divorce. The boozing. Or was it the other way round? I’ve never been sure about that. The boozing and driving didn’t start until after the divorce, I’m sure of that.

I know you’re wondering if I ran off the road deliberately. The truth is, so am I. My memory of that evening gets blurrier and blurrier and blots out completely when I leave the pub. I was in what several people told me was a downward spiral at the time. The court had barred me from seeing you because of the drinking, so I drank more and the more I drank, the less likely the court was to rescind the order. I know I wouldn’t have got behind the wheel drunk when I was looking forward to seeing you again, so…well, I’ll say this for complete paralysis: it got me on the wagon a damn sight quicker than Alcoholics Anonymous ever did.

Which is ironic because I’ve never needed a drink like I did when people peered down at me and discussed whether I was in here. I spent years wanting to scream, ‘yes, yes, I’m in here! Can’t you hear me?’, which was stupid of me because of course I knew no one could hear a word I was thinking. All I could do was blink and hope someone got the message.

You did. The first time you were in here. I didn’t know it was your eighteenth birthday, the first day you weren’t bound by the court order. The first thing you did was rush to the side of the father who walked out on you for a bottle.

That was the day I stopped wanting a drink.

You were well on the way to being an electronic engineer by the day of the patch. You used to study by my bedside in the months it took to synch my motor impulses to it. Once I got it right, you couldn’t shut me up. Words flowed on to the screen as fast as I could pretend I was typing them.

It seems so primitive now. The walker took it a step further. You have no idea how it felt to have control of myself when I took a walk outside. Not to depend on someone else pushing me around. I still missed the feel of the sun and the breeze, but I could see the sun and hear the wind. In spring, I can sometimes smell the flowers, though that comes and goes.

Does this thing do emotion? I’d be breaking down in tears right now if it was my own voice. Oh well, perhaps you’ll be able to put it in the next version.

Am I babbling, like I did when I worked that patch out? It’s weird to hear myself. I never used to like the sound of my voice in those recordings you used to synthesise it. I can’t imagine how I managed to feel like that now. It’s like hearing an old friend.

And now I’m talking about my voice, I suddenly don’t know what to say. What in the world can an old man say to the daughter who gave his voice back to him?


Inspired by a recent report on High performance communication by people with paralysis using an intracortical brain-computer interface.

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

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