A Little Peace & Quiet
I’m in a little place called Aiguafreda, where there’s nothing to listen to but the lap of water and the birds in the trees. And, it seems, my tinnitus. Of the six of us who met up a few days ago, four were sufferers.
The process of gathering your thoughts in a moment of calm reflection is, to me, one of the most important parts of being a writer – or indeed, anyone. Stress is insidious, sneaking in wherever it can, and you don’t notice how harmful it has become until it causes poor judgement in a crisis.
In London I live off one of the world’s noisiest thoroughfares; an arterial road that’s also the main road to one of the city’s busiest hospitals. A siren curfew is meant to exist between midnight and six but is ignored. And because it’s a high security risk (having been bombed by terrorists) police helicopters thrum through the sky regardless of anyone’s attempts to sleep.
In Barcelona there’s no traffic noise at all; I live in a pedestrian zone. I sleep two hours longer a night. Research on the adverse effects of noise and sleep is conclusive; sleep longer, stress less. Quite when the tinnitus arrived I don’t know; in London things are rarely quiet enough to hear it. My brother suffers far more badly than me, but it seems we all have it to a degree and maybe haven’t noticed.
Did it start at the rock concerts we attended as teens? Did it continue via the earpods we wore with our Walkmans? I can’t be the only person to complain that the volume doesn’t go high enough on my iPod. I’m amazed at the number of offices wear staff now live in headphones all day.
In all of this nerve-stretching, noise-encroaching chaos the biggest stress-reliever I can think of is not a chemical or medical remedy, but a book. It has got me through situations of grief, impatience, nerves and anger.
Placing your head into another world must be one of the most calming things you can do, and yet the fact that it is clearly not recognised as such is shown by the way in which governments fill our few oases of quiet with audio-detritus. London underground trains are the worst; endless health and safety warnings and absurd station announcements (‘You are approaching Russell Square – please alight here for the British Museum’) break your concentration. On the platforms, guards bellow needlessly through speakers.
In Tokyo or Dubai, Paris or Berlin you hear nothing. London is no respecter of calm except in its parks, which is why I’ve written about them in the next Bryant & May novel, ‘Bryant & May: Wild Chamber’.
Cities can’t be silent, of course. We don’t live in a vacuum. But New York improved its noise levels (I remember NYC in the 1970s and it was cacophonous) so why can’t London?
Until then I’m keeping my nose in a book (who am I kidding, I always have, always will). I’m finally getting around to reading James Ellroy so I need some peace and quiet to follow his complex stories.
And while I’m reading, the noise, pandemonium, rush and lunacy of modern life will fade away to a faint burbling, and my thoughts will belong to the words on the page before me.
The book ‘Quiet London’ is by Siobhan Wall and lists places where you can find peace with a book. ‘Bryant & May: Wild Chamber’ is out in March 2017.