Pissed-off Toff

Noise 1

in The Way We Live Now

Pissed-off Toff does not like the noise of the modern world. Here are his introductory thoughts on the matter. Much more is to come …

Some time around the year 2000, I read a review of a book written by a man who so abhorred all forms of noise that in order to avoid it he eventually moved to the north of Scotland. Although I failed to note the name of the title or the name of the author and have occasionally regretted this, the review rather cheered me up, because I had always feared that my own deeply-rooted intolerance of noise was a fuddy-duddy foible, a sign of hopeless eccentricity; whereas this man’s personal odyssey demonstrated that there are people – perhaps many of them – whose dislike of noise is even more marked than my own.

As the excellent Harry Mount wrote not long ago, in the modern world “silence is considered a perversion”. Indeed, I wonder how often any of us have experienced absolute, complete silence for any length of time. As a boy of eighteen, when I walked round the Peloponnese on my own, there was the solitude of the hills, where the only noise was the incessant beat of the cicadas, which after a while one hardly heard at all. So that was silence of a sort … and did the solitude create its own impression of silence? Many years later, at the top of Monte Pizzuto forty-odd miles north of Rome, I experienced absolute and complete silence. And then, unexpectedly, in London some time in early 2009, when a blanket of snow covering the whole capital brought with it a silence which was not far off total. I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

It is indeed in London that the stress-ridden modern citizen can be sure of experiencing almost every form of intrusive noise known to the city-dweller, and I fear that I am familiar with them all.

There was the time when I found myself housesitting and dogwalking for a friend in Battersea. The house itself left nothing to be desired. However, from early in the morning till late at night the din was incessant. From dawn onwards, there was no respite from the noise of aeroplanes overhead; nor did the nearby heliport help. To my surprise, what annoyed me even more was the bus stop right outside the front door of the house; because modern London red buses make a sort of enraged roar which is quite unlike the gentle purr of the old Routemasters. So never buy a house near a bus stop. It will drive you mad. And when I retreated into the garden, hoping to enjoy the summer warmth, there was the loud hum of an extractor fan attached to the outside wall of a nearby restaurant. How often did I fantasise about sabotaging it …

In subsequent temporary lodgings, I must have experienced almost all the other noises that Londoners have to put up with. The obvious ones, of course: road repairs, traffic, sirens and alarms, school playgrounds. Less obvious ones, too (and perhaps these are more personal hates of mine): helicopters hovering overhead, the radios of builders on scaffolding outside, neighbours’ TVs blaring away … and, worst of all, my absolute complete top hate: leaf-blowers. Don’t get me going on leaf-blowers, reader; just don’t go there.

Actually, do! Because I have this very moment decided that I am going to write a whole series of pieces about noise, and this is just the first. So that in subsequent editions of this column, I will explore such fascinating subjects as what it is exactly that makes any given noise so very annoying; why we don’t mind some noises and just can’t stick others; and then I will tell you a few of my all-time top-favourite noise horror-stories. So watch this space …

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