Crumbs, I hate the sound of children screaming.
If that sounds random, well, never mind: I’ve started and abandoned a number of blog posts recently, hence the radio silence on my part. They went to strange places I hadn’t envisaged when I first started them. I really do understand how writers say their characters take on a life of their own. For example, hearing the bagpipes at Clevedon recently, drowning out the sound of the parade of motorbikes they were piping in, started off a disquisition on D-Day. Piper Bill Millin had just died at the time of writing. By all the laws of the universe he should have been picked off by a German sniper’s bullet as he piped Allied troops across Pegasus Bridge 66 years ago. I imagined the sorts of sounds of modern warfare drowned out by an instrument more suited to claymore and Culloden three hundred years ago.
Anyway, here I go again. I think the D-Day episode just goes to show how much I’m capable of imagining sound now I can hear it for real instead of it fading away with my memories inside my head. It seems as if it has always been there, somehow, but the key to unlock it all has been lost for so many years. I’ve got to find all the little sound treasures, blow the dust off them, then polish them off brightly with my little rehab duster.
But the shrieking really is something else. It’s just horrendous. Why on earth do some parents allow their children to shriek and scream so much? The sheer noise nuisance of some children – note I don’t say all! – really does my head in and can be almost quite physically painful at times. Over coffee in the Chapter House after the service on Sunday, I was actually doing better than everybody else at chatting – as I could at least lipread over the sheer din of childish shrieks permitted by over-indulgent parents, being beamed back into the room after splintering into a hundred magnified echoes on the ribs of the vaulted ceiling. When I was first switched on, I was convinced every door in the world squeaked, now I’m haunted by every child in the world shrieking, or so it seems. They’re high-frequency noises, and my brain is latching onto them, and one half is saying, “Ooh, look, lovely high-pitched noise, lots of lovely high-pitched sounds, let’s give ourselves a treat, shall we, and home in on them like nobody’s business,” while the other half wearily replies, “Come on, we’ve seen it all before, let’s hear something new and more interesting instead!”
For me, the key to hearing well seems to be hearing sounds in balance with one another, each one with its own place in the hierarchy of sound – that’s probably the best way of describing how it works for me – and when the sounds are preternaturally loud or piercing it becomes a bit overwhelming. At my age most folks have over 40 years of experience in dealing with sound, I only have a few months and I’m not fully there yet even if I have adjusted well. It almost seems as if working in a very busy and very large open-plan office hasn’t really done me much good in a way. I have to block out an enormous amount of noise and there’s one particular phone with an exceedingly insistent ring that makes me think: “Why doesn’t someone answer the damn thing?” (One day I shall march over to it and astonish the entire office.) If I didn’t filter out the noise I think I would end up round the twist: I just have to get on with it in the cacophony. After 5pm the noise melts away, but then I find myself distracted by hearing conversations, and it’s always the people with really distinctive voices chatting away. But I have to stop myself from listening, or I’d never get any work done, and it goes against the grain when every fibre in my being wants to find out more about what is going on out there, interpret it all, and build up my bank of noises and music. All of this is the bagpipe effect – drowning out what I want to hear.
Yet, bit by bit, my brain is adapting. Against the will of one part trying to dampen down the racket pouring into my head, another part of the brain twists my neck round to respond to the person calling me in the eddy of sound. I’ll beat those bagpipes and shrieking kids yet.