I seem to have spent quite a lot of my time in the Big Smoke recently – including a mad dash thereto earlier this week to do a talking head segment for an overseas network programme. Suffice it to say that my piece will have been somewhat undermined by my windswept appearance, as I pontificated in the teeth of the wind, which got up on cue. It doesn’t matter what I do, I’ll end up having a bad hair day. Still, it was fun and not in the least the alarming experience which I am about to describe below. The interviewer was personable and friendly. I’d explained about my CI and she took it in her stride, texting me to arrange to meet and just speaking normally and clearly. Lovely – just to be treated as normal, no exaggeration, no fuss, no curious questions, just getting on with it.
I did get the curious stares on an earlier visit this week though. The Bear and I were returning from a weekend away and had just been decanted at the end of the Central Line after some bustitution, in lieu of a train to Liverpool Street. All went swimmingly until midway between Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus. A loud, loud, loud alarm reverberated throughout the train and nearly did my head in – there’s no better phrase. On and on and on it screamed to the point where it got physically painful. Naturally the train screeched to a halt, adding to the cacophony.
The Bear looked at me. I looked at the Bear. He looked at my ear. I took the CI off. As one the carriage rubbernecked to see what I was doing but no-one dared quite ask. I wondered if some of them thought I was the cause of the noise. (Hmmph, snorts the Bear: she’s quite capable of kicking up a racket, but was utterly blameless on this occasion.) Others, I think, looked almost envious. It turned out that someone had accidentally pulled on the alarm as the train lurched, and, having established it was a false alarm, we got going again. It took me a couple of minutes to recover, though. Even with the CI off, the din had been so loud it had triggered tinnitus and the exact same sound was repeating itself in my ear, banging on the walls of my brain.
Now that was a learning experience. I’m now well-used to alarms of various kinds – but that one was really out of my comfort zone. The Bear explained: it wasn’t so much the volume of the alarm, though that was bad enough, but the fact that it didn’t have anywhere to go. Trapped in a tunnel, along with the rest of us, it didn’t have anywhere to dissipate.
So I swivelled round to the Bear and asked if the Paris Metro sounded different. “Of course,” he said. “They have wider tunnels to start off with.” And it’s true. Platforms face each other across a tunnel, rather than one platform per tunnel as on the Tube. My dad pointed out that the Paris Metro trains have rubber wheels too. I just hadn’t thought about it specifically in Tube terms, but it seems the Tube follows the general rule that sound is infinitely variable depending on its context. I’d noticed it before, but it took the alarm to get me to think more about how sound behaves.
Why not have a go, as I did, on Youtube – just google whatever city transport system takes your fancy. You could even try the Newcastle Metro. The Bear has just walked in and looked at me: “Only you would think of trying to compare the Tube and the Paris Metro.”
Hmm. I can feel a Christmas shopping trip to Paris coming on. There’d be the Eurostar to listen to. Failing that, Newcastle’s Northumberland Street would be reet canny, an’ aal.