Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Sound of Silence

I seem to spend an awful lot of time in search of silence.

My definition of silence has, however, changed somewhat in recent years.  It used to be the thing you only got deep in the countryside, when the wind wasn’t blowing from the direction of the nearest main road, and only when the local owl population weren’t having the avian equivalent of a parish meeting in the nearby woods, and when there wasn’t a squirrel in the eaves, doing its best impression of a fairly determined poltergeist.

These days, my quest for silence is not a search for the total absence of noise – it’s just a search for noise that isn’t actually directed at me.
Does she honestly think we're
going to play quietly in there?

Take soft play for example.  Put about a hundred small children in an enclosed space with sugar and as much brightly-coloured plastic as the world is capable of producing without completely wiping out its oil reserves in one fell swoop, and the ensuing noise is probably audible from outer-space. 

Soft play is, however, my current favourite writing venue.  The thing about the noise created by Other People’s Children is that it is surprisingly easy to tune out.  The noise created by your own children, however, is a sort of auditory heat-seeking missile.  Thomas, for example, can be about a hundred yards away, at the bottom of a pile of children, entirely submerged in a metre-deep ball-pit, and yet his cry of “Mummeeeeeeeeee.  Have you got caaaaaaake?” arrives in my ears with as much force as if he was standing right next to me with a loudhailer pressed against the side of my head.

I know babies are programmed to have a particularly penetrating cry, in order to reduce the risk of their parents going hairy-mammoth-hunting and forgetting to come back and retrieve their offspring from whichever bush they’d hidden them under.  But surely this evolutionary skill should have reduced by the time they reach pre-school age?  Is there really a biological need for their parents to be able to identify that they “neeeeeeeeed a weeeeeeeee” at a hundred paces?

Soft-play occasionally provides sufficient distraction for me to have five minutes when none of the wails of “Muuuuummmmeeeeeee” in my vicinity are directed at me.
Keep going, my son -
I can still hear you...


If the stars align and the wind is blowing in the right direction, and the plastic car that Thomas likes is free, and Ben’s attention is caught by just the right combination of coloured plastic balls.

Oh yes, Ben is well and truly in on the noise-creating act.  For someone who can’t actually talk, he has an awful lot to say.

Like “Mumumumumumu”.  Not, as you might imagine, a loving tribute to his beloved mother. 

It actually means “MoremoremoreNOWmoremoreBEFOREIDIEOFHUNGERmoremore.”  And in case you don’t get the point, he illustrates it with a pair of little grabby hands opening and closing like two particularly impatient clams.

And then there’s “Dadadada”.  It might mean “Daddy.”  Possibly.  Once in a while.  But it is far more likely to mean “ThatthatthatthatINMYFACERIGHTNOWthatthatthat.”

And did I mention the moan?  Ben has pretty strong views about the world around him.  Specifically, the requirement that it should revolve around him at all times.  If the world fails to live up to his fairly high expectations in some way – if, for example, there is food in the vicinity that isn’t instantly in his face, or if his doggy has disappeared from his sight for a micro-second, or if he has hit his brother over the head with a bicycle pump and is experiencing that sinking feeling that you get when you know you’ve really done it this time – he expresses his disapproval loudly and persistently until the problem is rectified.

So I’ve given up my search for silence.  I’m just going in search of a better quality of noise these days.  In the absence of enough peace to actually do some writing, I’ve started going to listen to people talking about writing.  Bath currently seems to be the literary centre of the universe, with all sorts of eminent author-type personages being sucked into its gravitational field.  The recent literary festival saw appearances by serial prize-winner Hilary Mantel, and the stratospherically successful J K Rowling.  J K Rowling’s talk was something of an eye-opener – there were actually people screaming.  Grown adults screaming like pre-teens at a Justin Bieber concert.  Ms Rowling looked faintly startled. 

Although I can’t exactly talk.  One of the local independent bookshops seems to have the kind of literary contact list that could be mistaken, at first glance, for the Times Literary Supplement’s Top One Hundred Authors of All Time.  They recently produced Kate Atkinson.

I ran about screaming.

In my front room, you understand, not at the Kate Atkinson talk.  I have some self-control.

The announcement of Neil Gaiman’s appearance in June produced more arm-waving and screaming.

And when Margaret Atwood was confirmed as coming to Bath in August I achieved levels of high-pitched squealiness that were probably only audible to the local dog population.

And possibly bats.

Thomas and Ben looked at me disapprovingly.  I was, as Thomas informed me, stopping him hearing the television.


[whispers]  Margaret Atwood.  Squeeeeeeeal!


  1. You're hard pushed to find peace in those awful soft play centres. I used to take my daughter years ago and even she hated them!

    CJ x

  2. As long as it's not noise I have to do anything about I can tune the rest of it out!