It’s a good question. Any time of the day or night, there will be cars, lorries, a train, aircraft; or humming machinery: the fridge, restaurant ventilation fans. Even listing them raises my blood pressure.
Today I had a couple of hours alone at the L’Arche Glebe garden: I can still feel a ‘noise’ in my finger tip which received more than its share of stings whilst I was weeding. But generally I could dismiss the traffic noise, the passers-by across the River Stour, and just be nearly silent in my own (nettled) skin.
One interruption I welcomed, a sound familiar from childhood when I lived near an RAF training ground: a Tiger Moth biplane, which turned an arc around the city centre before leaving me to my nettles. No harm in feeling six years old again, if only for thirty seconds.
Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
I was already allowed my own patch of garden by the time I was six; now I am growing flowers for my daughter’s wedding!
But back to silence. We were at a concert last night and I enjoyed how a big kettle drum could be louder than all other instrument in the orchestra, yet two of them together suggestedprofound silence.
Between 7.30 and 9.00 in the morning must be the noisiest time of day but most people have to filter out the noise, just to do what we have to. Young Abel often draws our attention to sirens, trains and loud machinery, but I did not need his advice this morning.
The Builder’s dog is with us and needed his morning walk. Today he was sniffling round a shrub when I heard a woodpecker drumming somewhere nearby. Not that I saw him, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. Trying to place him – somewhere in the treetops – without binoculars was futile, but it made me aware of the din around me, even though I was some yards from the nearest road. The school playing field was being mown with a tractor and a mower; the main roads and inner ring road were still very busy, but a motorbike and ambulance stood out. There were trains and planes, and children winding down to go indoors for the morning.
But I could still hear the woodpecker. And the chaffinch and the blackcap … and the herring gulls and rooks overhead.
Sometimes we must dive into whatever silence is around, even if no-one else can hear it, even if only for a moment.
They were both seeking attention, each in his own way singing for his supper and disturbing the peace. First of all we heard the guitarist, plucking a Spanish concerto from his strings, playing against one of those recordings without the soloist, the over-amplified sound carrying a hundred yards and more across the harbour.
Even he was not loud enough to drown the pathetic cries of a fledgling gull, wheedling crumbs from whoever cared to toss or drop them, though he was not risking getting under the feet of any human or dog wandering the quayside. The whine continued, now from one side, now another, as he chased down anyone rash enough to occupy a bench.
The Jackdaws’ more dignified method was to watch from a vantage point and once the humans had got up and left, to circle down, without fuss, and snap up whatever crumbs and trifles the people had scattered about in their usual messy fashion. A most efficient tactic, and managed without the chatter these birds maintain on our rooftops or, as we saw them today at dusk, returning to St Petroc’s tower.
Just before twilight, as we enjoyed a cream tea, we observed a fourth, silent, species of scavengers, scuttling across the roadway, retreating down the steps onto the harbour pontoon if dogs or children took too close an interest – a troop of our tribal totem, the Turnstones. Cream tea crumbs seemed as tasty to them as the delicacies discovered along the tideline. I hope they are getting all their vitamins, but they looked healthy enough and certainly had their wits about them.