Saturday, May 17, 2008

Silence, please

The image is titled 'Silence, please..' and is by Nick Palmer, with thanks to the artist and to All Posters who published it on-line.

As a curtain-raiser to my recent birthday, my wife and I travelled to Spain to visit our daughter in her valley home fifteen minutes drive from the small town of Xativa. After the flight, the bustle of the airport and an hour in a hire car, we stepped out into her yard and into a quite remarkable silence. I remember how lovely it was, that quiet stillness, and how much I presently live in the midst of so much noise. It wouldn't be true to say I hate noise, but I am rather noise averse, especially what seems to me 'unnecessary' noise - the sound of background music to which no-one seems to be actively listening, or the chatter from a television that no-one seems to be actively watching.

On the other hand, I can understand that people who live alone (or feel lonely even in company) may feel reassured to hear people talking, human voices, even if they aren't personally contributing their own. My wife is soothed by the chattering that emanates from a particular shopping TV channel where women discuss cosmetic products for hours on end, and I can see her point. She buys the products, and finds them good for her skin; I think they may be good for skin because she likes the people who sell them, and she wouldn't disagree I think. A perfect conjunction of happy experiences. And her skin is rather lovely too.

Next week sees the beginning of Noise Action Week in UK, promoted by the charity Environmental Protection UK. During the coming week we are encouraged to "consider the noise we make, the noise that bothers us, and what can be done to reduce it". I have a life-long tendency to sing sotto-voce, usually quite unconsciously, although I am sometimes roused to awareness by others telling me "You've got a nice singing voice", "You sound happy!" or (as today by a colleague at work) "That's an old one, Peter" - I was singing a wordless version of the Neapolitan aria "O Sole Mio", also known here in UK as the TV jingle "Just one Cornetto!" (a kind of ice-cream confection of doubtful Italian provenance). Of course, it's possible that other people find my tunefulness irritating or distracting, but are too tactful to say so. I'm aware of other traits of mine that people dislike or mistrust, but don't tell me. I'm aware also that they don't tell me because they don't see the point in doing so: I won't take it well, and am unlikely to change.

This intrinsic tunefulness (I hope) is something I can't explain, and I doubt I shall ever understand it, let alone curb it, and its potential for polluting the serenity of those nearby. I think it may be a side-effect of the depressive side of my nature, a way of dispelling the blues. During a long period of depression for which I was treated medically some years back, a doctor told me it was very probable that I had been depressed since puberty. I didn't find much to argue with in that statement; in fact, I felt a sense of relief and - almost - a feeling of vindication and freedom.

I have revisited that feeling of acceptance, of understanding myself, of being understood, many times since; but I've also wondered how deep my rationalisations go, and how impenetrable are my veils of self-deception. I usually end up convinced that I was never really depressed at all, but somehow nevertheless managed to convince myself and others that I was by my fiendish, self-serving cleverness. However, onwards and upwards! Or not, as seems more to be the case; where I am more "at home" and content to be, which could also be the reason I croon to myself.
A nice way to end, so I'll not spoil it.

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