Noises off

We had key differences to resolve so inevitably our meeting was going to be strained. Ben had suggested the tea room on the first floor of one of London’s grander main-line station hotels. It was seedy and costly with waitresses over-ingratiating and over made-up. But discussions went well. The quietness there allowed us to hear each other clearly and to relax a little. Indeed it was this absence of background music that had led Ben to choose the venue. When we met he explained how he hated meeting in noisy place – he had a list of music-free venues. We had at least one thing in common on which we could build.

Unsurprisingly I too have a list of tea houses and restaurants that are music-free but it is small and shrinking. I can even cope where the music is quiet but so often there is someone, or some agent, who manages to turn it up. Complaining, or moving away from the business end of a loudspeaker, can help but is never entirely satisfactory. Usually it means that there is one less place at which to meet or relax.

To my ears, as the noise levels increase so the burden becomes invasive, sometimes painful, and certainly antisocial. It was the invasion-plus-pain sort that helped curtail my visit a pub gig recently. Not a usual pastime – I was there to hear one of my sons on the piano. Despite pulling a woolly hat over my ears, and using serviettes as impromptu ear plugs (his ideas), it was all too much. How others in the audience managed was beyond me. I rather assume it is an age thing; I was by far the oldest person there. Much worse was my evening eating at a Georgian restaurant in Bayswater. There, on a packed Saturday evening, the conversation of others (plus a singer and a pianist) simply drowned us out, with communication across our own table completely impossible. Even shouting our order to the waiter was fraught. We were rendered dumb and helpless, staring ahead or at our place settings. How horrible.

But as well as being an inconvenience, noise can also be dangerous, sometimes sufficiently so to cause permanent deafness. Moreover scientists say that low decibel counts for long periods are as troublesome as high counts lasting only minutes. They add that the source is not only machinery, in sufficient amounts music, or even conversation, can be equally troublesome!

It might be that I don’t like background noises because I am going deaf or frightened of deafness developing. Against this is the fact that I don’t even like music in cafes when I am alone, and my attitude to music in my private life has also changed. Not long ago a classical piece, or some other favourite, playing in the living room or in the car was the norm. And settling down to work without some background music would have been unthinkable. Nowadays quietness increasingly prevails.

Let’s get it straight – I love listening to music but pray for no extraneous interference (viz mobile phones, coughing fits). I love conversation but that again should be audible with no competition. I also love quietness, and while this can be managed at home, in cafés and eateries it is becoming a rare commodity; indeed, a luxury.

2 comments on “Noises off
  1. Robert Pigott says:

    I have much sympathy with what you say Joe, and wonder whether it’s something to do with how much we value good conversation. As noise levels rise, the kind of thing you can talk about changes, and when shouting becomes necessary it is not surprising that what you talk about is forced toward the trivial. I doubt whether Samuel Johnson would have had muzak at his chosen venues.
    Warm regards

  2. Man Mountain says:

    My answer to Joe’s problem is what I do with unwanted or overly loud music, I used to be a bouncer in a night club for a few years the music was loud and not to my taste but I needed the money so I stayed. I learned to think of the music as muzak like you here in a lift or on the phone holding for a call. It became background music something I just no longer listen to, like walking through a crowd and not hearing every conversation, or not hearing the clock ticking, the cars going by, the birds singing or any other of the legion of sounds and noises that inhabit our daily lives. So when I am on a train or in a cafe and some fool is speaking to loud on the phone or some stupd music is trashing out across the room, I just unfocus and ignore it, after all it’s only background noise.

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