We’ve always been hot on family words – most families have a vocabulary of their own – and one of mine popped into my head this evening. My grandfather had the opposite problem to me: he had very sensitive hearing, a form of hyperacusis, and I do wonder now whether this was partially induced by fighting in the Flanders trenches as a teenager (he was under-age when he joined up). He was acutely sensitive to noise of all kinds: family legend has it he strangled the cuckoo in a clock when it drove him cuckoo. Apparently the cuckoo uttered a mechanical dying squawk which must have been even more painful to his poor ears.
This affected his response to music: he nearly stormed out of a wedding reception back in the ’70s as he couldn’t stand the rock music being played (and I remember finding the same music uncomfortable as I couldn’t hear anything over it). My grandmother happily tapping her toes along infuriated him . . . and as for classical music, he enjoyed it so long as there was no element of ‘tweedlegrunt’ – which is onomatopoeically self-explanatory, yet untranslatable, a bit like those words in other languages which have no exact equivalent in English, but which have a universal appeal – like the German Schadenfreude (rejoicing in someone else’s misfortune).
Once tweedlegruntery was detected, he could no longer bear the music. I’ve been enjoying playing about with bits of music here and there over the last few days, but I had my own tweedlegrunt moment on the way home this evening. The Bear was playing a CD of folk music, whose beat I could just discern above the noise of the car. I kept hearing this particularly high-pitched noise and it suddenly came to me that this was what Grandad meant when he snorted ‘tweedlegrunt!’ It was so tweedly I could hardly bear it: and then it came to me. I tentatively enquired, ‘Am I hearing a violin?’ Yes! Yipppeeeeeee!