Noise Abatement

Category: Writing

A few years ago, before I ever really cared about quiet, I heard somewhere that it was Ivor Cutler who had started the Noise Abatement Society. I mentioned this interesting titbit to my aunt, whose household is a musical one, and who Likes A Perty. She said (I paraphrase, but not much): “Doesn’t surprise me – he always did seem like a miserable old git.” But she is family, and I love her very much, so we spoke no more of Ivorgate, as I came to think of the incident.

I have recently come to sympathise with him on the noise issue. It’s The Flood wot done it. Not the post-apocalyptic Margaret Atwood novel, during most chapters of which one feels the pressing urge for cake, or whatever your denial substance of choice may be; not that The Flood, but the Katie Melua song, The Flood.  Despite my miserabilist concerns that Katie Melua is the herald of a twee apocalypse in which we will all die by kittens, or tea cosies, or something, I did actually like this song. I say “did like”, because however good it is or isn’t, I can promise you that when you have heard it six times in a row, rising up through your floorboards in a muffled-but-still-recognisable way, it begins to lose its charm. I fear anything might - my love for Gimme Shelter took quite a knock last week following a morning of half-audible repeats.

If I liked to have music of my own choice playing while I worked, I could resort to the questionable tactic of a war of attrition with them downstairs; one where I crank <insert venerated and obscure band> up to eleven, and they crank Katie up to twelve, and so on. But I just really, really like it quiet to write. It’s not helpful, being so precious, and I can’t help feeling that if I wanted to be, you know, a ‘proper writer’, that I should be able to scribble on discarded quaver packets with a burnt match in the middle of the apocalypse. But for now, quiet seems to be what I need. Oh, Tat Usher, you’re so right, I need to let go, but I CAN’T, I’m new at all this.  

The Katie Melua festival has happened on two separate occasions now, and the list of all the other mad beatz with which my over-sensitive ears have been assaulted in the last six months is long, long, long. I didn’t appreciate until these darlings moved in quite how quiet my stair was – and, in the spirit of full disclosure, it’s still not that loud, just a bit too loud for me.  Best to think of it as a kind of writing assault course, I suppose. Build those writing muscles in the face of adverse conditions.  Occasionally, I remember that I am a pampered petal who has not the barest notion of adverse conditions, and I get over myself a little.

Fear not: when I am Queen (I said a little, okay?), I promise not to introduce a ban on fun and pleasure of the noisy variety. It’s good for us, I know. I do understand my neighbour’s desire to hear something they like more than once.  Repeat buttons would not exist unless most of us enjoyed that manner of thing.  I find myself wondering how this kind of instant multiple repeat might work with reading a short story.  What if I read “Miss Pinkerton’s Apocalypse” by Muriel Spark four times without a break? I might try it, but I’m wary.  

I see I have mentioned the apocalypse three times in six hundred words. It must be January.


R A Martens

R A Martens received a New Writers Award in 2010.