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20th October 2016
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1st November 2016

In pursuit of silence

Today sees the UK launch of a new film, In Pursuit of Silence, which describes itself as ‘a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound and the impact of noise on our lives’. Based on the trailers, and on reviews such as this one in the Guardian, I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. And it’s made me aware in a new way how I am constantly bombarded by unsolicited noise. I live in London, so maybe it’s not surprising.

Let’s take a random day as an example. It starts with the early arrival of the long haul flights into Heathrow, followed soon after by the alarm clock. I hear the builders starting up on the three building projects in houses along my road. The rubbish collection starts with its bleeper to warn that it’s going forwards or backwards as the bottles and rubbish are loaded and removed. The local fire engine with siren blaring may take off to put out a fire or rescue a cat up a tree.

As I stroll across the Green to the coffee shop, the buses thunder down the high road and a police car or ambulance flies past, again with sirens blaring. In the café, the coffee beans are grinding, and the cups and saucers are clattering as they are loaded into the dishwasher. Fortunately, before 8.30am, the music played is classical, which can feel quite restful. But by 9.00am it livens up into ‘beat-based’ music to accompany the mums coming in from the school run.

I then go to the local tube station, where I hear a random assortment of announcements on the loudspeaker:

Walk up the stairs on the left… Mind the gap… The next train to arrive on Platform 2 is… The 9.45 train from Upminster is running 15 minutes late… If you see any unaccompanied parcels please report them… There are minor delays on the Central line, all other lines are running on time… and so on.

Then the train screeches into the station and we are again reminded of what to do and what not to do. And so off to a client assignment, and again there are constant announcements both in the train and at each station (never in sync). My client arrives looking hurried or flustered or tired or all three. They too have probably been through a similar start to the day.

I wonder what impact all this auditory invasion is having not only on my brain, but on all our brains. How is this constant bombardment impacting on our overall well-being, and on our capacity to concentrate and be present with each other? And most of all I wonder how we might achieve some semblance of quiet, uninterrupted at least for short spells, and how this might enable us to function more calmly and resourcefully.