Noises Off

Of all the different sounds there are to wake up to – a tuneful dawn chorus, the dulcet tones of Radio 4, the miaow of a hungry cat or the gentle snoring of one’s better half – I would say construction noise from a nearby building site is one of the least pleasant. And out here everyone has a building site nearby – the place is one big building site. It isn’t so much the hum of the generator or the churning of the cement mixer – those noises are fairly consistent and, after a while, I stop hearing them – it’s more the sporadic metallic banging, the pneumatic drilling, brick cutting and the sound of half a tonne of rubble making its way down a twenty storey rubble-chute. At six in the morning.

The term ‘noise pollution’ is an apt one – I’m sure ongoing aural assault can be just as corrosive on a person’s equilibrium as acid rainstorms on a limestone statue. Due to the extreme heat out here, construction work often starts early in the morning, before the sun reaches its most menacing. I long for peace and quiet; for the only sounds to be the breath of summer wind in the trees and the songs of garden birds. On a recent trip home, whilst out for a walk in the woods near my parents’ house in Kent, I recorded some beautiful birdsong on my iPhone (it’s a new toy and, having scathingly rejected such things for years like the pig-headed Luddite I am, I have become an unbearable born-again zealot). I’m not an expert on birdsong by any means – I find it hard to tell my “witchety-witchety-witch” from my “little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese”, to be honest – but I could pick out a blackbird, a robin and something warbler-esque.  The symphony of these British birds, when played softly on an airless, dusty evening out here, serves to transport me to a cooler, greener, more tranquil place.

Writing about birdsong reminds me of the delightful passage in P. G. Wodehouse’s Summer Moonshine in which a young man has been asked by his admirer to mimic the call of a linnet to let her know when he is hiding nearby. The young man, unfamiliar with the linnet’s song, asks for help from the butler who, as always in Wodehouse’s world, appears to be not only omniscient but also utterly unfazed by the most peculiar of requests, and he obliges accordingly: ‘The rough song of the linnet, sir, is “tolic-gow-gow, tolic-joey-fair, tolic-hickey-gee, tolic-equay-quake, tuc-tuc-whizzie, tuc-ruc-joey, equay-quake-a weet, tuc-tuc-wheet.”’ ‘Oh, hell!’ responds our young lover, ‘I’ll whistle.’ As you can imagine, the works of P. G. Wodehouse have been a tremendous comfort to me in my years of exile.

We do have birds out here of course – charming hoopoes, eye-catching Indian rollers, bright little bulbuls, green bee-eaters and cheeky common mynas – but they don’t tend to frequent our neck of the woods, preferring the city’s parks or the mature gardens of the older villas. It’s nice to see them and hear their songs, but it’s never quite the same as the lazy, repetitive cooing of a fat wood pigeon on a summer’s afternoon, or the joyful, liquid melody of a happy blackbird on a warm spring morning.

Technology has been my saviour in the battle against noise pollution, and it’s not just because my iPhone plays recorded birdsong to me. At night I can use it to listen to an assortment of relaxing ‘white noise’ audio tracks which drown out the sounds of traffic and construction. My current favourites are the gently crackling log fire and the sound of heavy rain, both of which belong to a world far, far away from here and help to soothe my subconscious to sleep. That is, until the sun rises over the desert and the building site starts up its own discordant dawn chorus.

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