Been a busy day today: first thing we walked over to the neighbouring village to drop off some cakes for a fayre in aide of ye restoration of ye olde medieval landmark. The sun was beating down even at 10am and we walked across the fields which act as a soundbreak for the nearby motorway. Clangggg, clanggg went the kissing gate as we emerged onto the main road and heard the traffic, the sound increasing as more traffic whizzed overhead on the motorway bridge, while the cars below passed in an echoey roar. He of the longer legs and larger feet usually ends up walking ahead, but for the first time I noticed the sound of his two-part footstep: first his heel striking the ground, then the ball of his foot: not tread-tread, but tre-ad, tre-ad.
Walking up the lane towards the village we walked in single file facing oncoming traffic, as all good walkers in the countryside should do. I feel so much more confident now that I can hear cars coming from behind: no more horrifyingly fast cars hurtling past with a rush of air, leaving me nearly jumping over the hedges into a field full of surprised cows, but something anticipated and understood.
After dropping off the cakes, we pootled on to the shops, with the buzz of conversation between people who knew each other well to be heard on every corner. Back a different way across more fields, where the grass had been cut and left to dry: shick-shurr, shick-shurr as my feet shuffled through the thick layer. I didn’t hear Bear’s shick-shurring because he, as you’ve guessed, was half a field ahead! I heard a man shouting in the next field, and guessed from the tone of his voice that he was calling a dog rather than a child – and as we squeezed through the stone gap stiles common in our part of the world (shish-wriggle, shsssh-wrrrrigggle as the two of us made it through) I saw a joyous labrador racing towards his master.
Home, coffee, and papers. I actually fell asleep in the living room listening to the sounds of a simple sandwich lunch being made in the kitchen: cutting, clinking, chopping, rustling, opening, scraping, rattling, more cutting, water running. Clink-clink, I said: rustle-rustle. I’m sure the next sound was probably snore-snore. Then I heard approaching footsteps which woke me up – I have never, ever, in my life before been woken up by any noise at all, for, of course, you take out hearing aids and CIs alike before going to bed.
A trip to the seaside was suggested, so we headed out again in the car for the Victorian gentility of Clevedon Pier. Treading the boards takes on a new meaning: the numerous feet pacing up and down are no longer mere vibrato shuffle felt under my own feet, but noise in their own right: boingg-boinggg, bong-bong, tre-adddd, tre-add (I’ll leave you to guess whose feet those were), plonk-plonk, bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang (children racing up and down), st-stomp, st-stomp a large elderly dog with arthritis, panting heavily with the effort, churr-ricka, churr-ricka, as folks were wheeled along in chairs. Whooshhhhh-splosh as a fishing rod was cast and slapped into the sea. Up to the top of the Pagoda, where we bought coffee and cake – not much sound from the sea, as it was so calm and the tide was just coming in. Sudden happy shouting drew my attention to children below: I looked enquiringly at the Bear, who explained that the children were shouting about their parents getting married. A proposal had evidently just been accepted, and not the first one either, to judge by the commemorative plaques dotting the sides of the pier which helped to fund its restoration.
Suitably refreshed, we made our way back down the pier, trundling noises from the dinghies being wheeled down to the slipway, and a gentle slap-swish, slap-swish from the incoming tide on the stony shore. A continuous susurration from the trees as we made our way back to the car. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter from a passing Jack Russell walking his owner.
There’s a huge new dimension now when I revisit familiar places and it’s been making me think about the vocabulary of how I record these new sounds that I can now hear. Sometimes the old onomatopoeic words do the trick: pitter-patter, for example, does what it says on the tin, but noting the pawfall of a small dog is easy. Trying to find the exact equivalent of my husband’s distinctive footfall is much more difficult. Tre-add, tre-add is about it, but it’s not enough, because it isn’t onomatopoeic, it’s just a verb modified to fit what I hear, but I just can’t find the right word-sound output to fit the ear-sound input. I had to think very hard before coming up with shick-shurr of my feet through the hay drying in the meadow. Repeating back the sound is one thing, but how to filter it through in the words that match is another.
Yet when other people do it successfully it transcends language and enables the reader to understand sound. It’s even possible to hear the sound-effects intended by long-ago authors in Latin, even if you cannot understand their language: Lucretius on Molossian dogs is a famous example (De rerum natura, V, lines 1063ff) with its use of onomatopoeia, reduplication (like pitter-patter) and alliteration (words beginning with the same letter) – you can hear every sound they make from the moment they bare their teeth in anger to the plethora of threatening rs signifying a menacing growl:
inritata canum cum primum magna Molossum
mollia ricta fremunt duros nudantia dentes,
longe alio sonitu rabies restricta minatur . . .
I know you’re thinking growling in Latin is a funny way of ending a post . . . but try it for yourselves, folks, read it out loud and see what you think.