I like general noise. I work best when in cafes, surrounded by the hubbub of gossip, coffee machines, the clink of cups. At night, I often drift off to sleep with Radio 4's Book at Bedtime murmuring in my ear. Silence worries me and makes me restless.
However, there are some noises I can't tolerate. Let us talk about them.
1. My husband using the pressure cooker
My husband makes stock if we have chicken bones left over or sometimes puts a soup together with all the root veg from his allotment. He likes to use the pressure cooker but he knows to warn me before it starts the hissing phase. I have to know the exact time because I hate to be taken by surprise by that hissing: it makes me want to slap people. Maybe it's some kind of primal warning system of danger - a throwback to long ago (hissing serpents ... temptation ... No, Eve, don't DO it!) but that hissing noise crawls under my skin. I've typed 'hissing' several times now and it's recreating the tension in my chest; my heart is beating faster. When the pressure cooker is h ... making that noise it makes, I go to the other end of the house and turn a radio on, hoping it's not this song that's playing.
2. Clicking pens
Some years ago, I began a new teaching job. A class of fourteen year olds resented having a different teacher and one way they communicated this was by clicking their ballpoint pens on and off in the lessons. I won't judge them too harshly and perhaps it was cosmic justice; I was a pain in the butt to teachers as a fourteen year old and clearly remember humming at the back of the room or tapping a ruler, just to rile the poor man or woman doing their best to teach me about coastal erosion.
My Year 9 class must have googled 'Things that will drive Mrs Hill crazy-crazy' because they were spot-on. It would begin five minutes into the lesson. Click. Click. Click-click-click. Clickety-click. They did it under the tables, but gradually I isolated the noise to a group of girls on the left-hand side of the classroom.
'Someone is clicking a pen,' I'd say, trying to stay detached despite every nerve ending in my body screaming RESCUE ME FROM THIS TORTURE. 'In fact, several of you are. Stop it now, because if I find out you're doing it on purpose just to be disruptive, I will
The only thing that stopped it was, sure enough, to catch someone at it and keep them behind, however much they protested that they'd 'done it by accident'. This, combined with some jokes of mine they found vaguely amusing, and a few bags of Jelly Babies, saw an end to it. We got on with some Shakespeare instead of reenacting High Noon with stationery items.
But it's like a trigger. If I hear a pen clicking, my toes curl up like a jester's. That posse of mutinous girls psychologically damaged me. One day I will talk to a therapist about it, if I can find a way of starting a conversation about penclickyphobia.
3. Our new boiler
Let me introduce you to our new boiler. We are calling it 'The Moaner'. Our landlord kindly put in a new central heating system for us just before Christmas but it involved taking away our old boiler (whom we are now calling Our Old Silent Friend). Our Old Silent Friend was in the kitchen and provided warmth and a listening ear should one have had no one else to talk to about one's problems.
The Moaner has been installed upstairs in an airing cupboard. It's in the bedroom I use for my study. This is the Moaner's daily itinerary:
7-10.30 am - Switch on. Get on with business without causing too much disruption.
10.30 am - Start moaning, quietly at first.
11.00 am - Build up the moaning to a crescendo, hitting the top note (werewolf) at around 11.30.
The rest of the day until the heating goes off at 10pm - keep the werewolf impression going, but make him sound hungrier and hungrier.
Have we had the gas man round? Yes, three times. Has he mended it? Yes, each time he says he's mended it. Has he really? No, despite his best efforts and we're most grateful (if you're reading this, Jason). What's going to happen now? Someone from the boiler company is coming this Wednesday.
Since the Moaner moved in, my study has been off-limits. I have a spacious pine desk by a window overlooking ancient trees and it's my favourite place in the house now. It's where I read, write or mark when I'm not in cafes making a cappucino and a free biscotti last four hours. The Moaner, of course, knew all this. Maybe he also Googled 'Things that will drive Mrs Hill crazy-crazy.'
If we sit in our downstairs back room directly underneath the airing cupboard where the Moaner lives, we can hear him, werewolfing away above our heads. I am sure our next-door neighbours can hear the noise. They are probably saying, right now, 'Do you think they've trapped a live animal behind a wall like that man did in that Edgar Allen Poe story The Black Cat? Should we call the RSPCA?'
No, I'd like to say to them. Call me a therapist. I'm going crazy-crazy here, almost crazy enough to say to my husband, 'Make a soup, for heaven's sake. We have to drown it out somehow.'
|'The Black Cat' by Poe. A fabulous but disturbing short story. Recommended.|
Warning: Do not teach this to eleven-year-olds without re-reading it very carefully.
They don't sleep for weeks.
I found that out the hard way.