Ears are strange things. Photo: Getty
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Suzanne Moore: I clipped the hair from pensioners’ ears and prepared to insert the pink goo

How I became a Trainee Audiology Technician. In an actual hospital. I wore a white coat and everything.

When I was on the lovely dole at 16 my mother insisted I got a job. She never cared that I barely went to school but she had some insane idea that I should work. Years later I realised this was something to do with being working class. At the time I thought she was just being a cow.

This is how I became a Trainee Audiology Technician. In an actual hospital. I wore a white coat and everything.

Even now, it’s something I struggle to explain. It never entered my head I would get the job, though I did have loads of science O-levels because my school was a sort of Govian paradise. Only stupid girls did things like English or art.

So there I was in a hospital, having to mend people’s hearing aids.

“I’m getting Radio Caroline, doctor,” some old biddy would say to me. They were not only deaf but gaga if they thought I was a doctor, I reckoned, so I would twerk around with a soldering iron and tell them it was all fine.

The serious part was doing hearing tests, playing different frequencies while they flashed lights if they could hear and I plotted some sort of graph.

Hearing tests can flag up brain tumours. As I made pretty patterns on the graph paper, I only hoped that there would be some other kind of medical indication. Anyway my boss said a lot of it was fake deafness. “It’s all for insurance claims,” he said mysteriously.

A lot of people, especially the old ones, did seem quite deaf as they shouted at me in my white coat.

A better person than me might have enjoyed such a level of responsibility. I merely thought it was better than working in a shop.

The worst thing was having to make ear moulds for the hearing aids. A liquid and a powder had to be made into a pink paste as the patient lay down. Revoltingly, I had to clip the hairs out of their inner ear. You stuck in the paste and moulded it: the trick was to get it out in seven minutes as it heated up and set.

“Try, if you can, not to burn them, Suzanne,” my boss Mr Dryhurst would say.

I didn’t know if he knew that I’d met his son at a Gong gig, where we engaged in lengthy snogging, but certainly he tolerated my utter incompetence with resignation.

One day an old Suffolk boy eyed me up and down with incredulity as I explained the procedure. “The likes of you are not putting that in the likes of me.”

I mixed up the goo and stuck it in his ear, nervously.

Thirty seconds later he was wailing, “Miss! Miss, it’s coming out of the other ear.”

I started screaming. “Mr Dryhurst, I’ve stuck it right through his skull!”

Mr Dryhurst rushed in. “Do not alarm the waiting room,” he said. “Ears are funny things. All sorts of strange sensations can be felt.”

“In one ear and out the other?”

“Indeed.”

What a great boss. I’ve never worn a white coat again, nor been treated with such respect. The NHS is truly a wonderful thing.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, ISIS vs The World

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In Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to absorb the spirit of the whistleblower

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard. It is reassuring that a film in which people are spied can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable.

Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning 2014 documentary Citizenfour captured the precise moment at which Edward Snowden turned whistleblower after quitting his job at the NSA. Is there room for another film on the same subject? Oliver Stone’s fictionalised account, Snowden, would suggest not. In effect, it admits defeat from the get-go by using the making of Citizenfour as a framing device, incorporating flashbacks to show what led Snowden to commit the security breach that exposed the extent of US government surveillance. Cooped up in a Hong Kong hotel room with him as he spills the beans are Poitras (Melissa Leo) and the Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), who put on their best ­listening faces and try to forget that all of the most interesting scenes are happening in other parts of the film.

What Snowden has in its favour is an economical performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt which is mysterious without being aloof, cool but never cold. The actor gets the voice right (it’s a benign rumble) and though he is physically dissimilar to the real Snowden, that need be no barrier to success: look at Anthony Hopkins in Stone’s Nixon. Gordon-Levitt is absorbed by the role like water vanishing into a sponge. When the real Snowden pops up to stare wistfully off into the distance (there’s a lot of that here), it can’t help but be a let-down. People are so bad at playing themselves, don’t you find?

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard, and it is reassuring that a film in which people are spied on through the webcams of dormant laptops can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable. The script, written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, pulls in the opposite direction, allowing every character to deliver a remark of nudging innuendo. When Snowden is discharged from the army after injuring himself, a doctor tells him: “There are plenty of other ways to serve your country.” When he is approved for a job at the CIA, Snowden tells his employer: “You won’t regret this.” What we have here, give or take the strip club scene in which a pole dancer is filmed from an ungallantly low angle, is a more sober Stone than the one who made JFK and Natural Born Killers but he still can’t resist giving us a few deafening blasts of the old irony klaxon.

Though we know by now not to expect subtlety, Stone’s storytelling techniques are still surprisingly crude. When Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), complains that he has become distant, that he doesn’t touch her any more, the viewer is likely to wonder why that point had to be expressed in soap-opera dialogue rather than, say, action or camera angles. After all, the film was more than happy to throw in a superfluous sex scene when their love life was hunky-dory.

But when Stone does make his points visually, the cringe factor is even higher. He used carnivorous imagery in Nixon – a bloody steak stood in for murder – and the new film doesn’t take the vegetarian option either. Snowden is already starting to be alarmed by surveillance tactics when he goes hunting with his boss, Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans). The pheasants they kill are barbecued in sizzling close-up, providing a buffet of symbolism. Snowden is going to be grilled. His goose is cooked. He’s dead meat.

An early scene showing him establishing contact with Poitras and Greenwald by an exchange of coded phrases (“What time does the restaurant open?” “Noon. But the food is a little spicy”) suggests that Stone intends to have fun with the story’s espionage trappings. The movie falls between two stools, however, lacking either the irreverence of satire or the tautness of a well-tooled thriller. At its most effective moments, it floats free of irony and captures a quaint, tactile innocence. We see Snowden communicating in sign language with an NSA colleague to avoid being eavesdropped on, or sitting in bed with a blanket over him as he taps away at his laptop. He is only hiding his passwords but he looks for all the world like a kid reading comics by torchlight after his mother has said: “Lights out.”

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump