Sunday, 20 November 2011

happy noise

My earliest memories of Spain are of lying critically ill on a hard bed in a hospital run by nuns. Looking back it was in stark contrast to the hushed corridors of illness we Brits are accustomed to  - trolleys rattled, doors banged, families gathered loudly, the nuns fretted and cooed over me and I lay there quietly terrified of the next injection into my boney bum.

I lived in Mallorca not so long ago and that was noisy too. For a while I was in Palma, in the centre of the old town whose backstreets seem quiet to an unsuspecting tourist wandering through, but the reality of living there is different. My housemates and I laughed at how the houses were so close together that no one bothered to come down to answer the door they just yelled up from the street and had their conversations there from the window down to the pavement for everyone to hear or join in. We called this phenomenon the Spanish Doorbell . Come siesta time during the heat of summer people would flake out in front of the TV with their doors and windows wide open. I think a lot of our neighbours must have been deaf as the volume was up so loud we could hear it right down the street. Once I heard a couple debating life and the universe working their way through a bottle of Tres Estrellas at 4am - they were across the alley and a few doors down but with the street being so narrow, I was able to yell at them from the comfort of my pillow to shut up, which they duly did. Then there was the all night partying, singing on the way home, rowing couples on doorsteps, mopeds screeching and dogs, lots of dogs, howling, barking or just wanting to join in the fun and the dogs would wake up the babies so that would set them all off and oh my goodness. And being in the middle of the building boom there was always the sound of concrete mixers and drilling and banging and workmen yelling over it all.

I moved out of Palma to the coast after a while and lived in an apartment block with a direct view of the bay. It was heavenly, but certainly no quieter. I had an alcoholic neighbour who sang and cried and threw things and her teenage son who played rave music as soon as she left at full volume. Dogs howled  to be let out from the balconies, people sang when they came home and girls threw things out of the window at their errant lovers. The apartment block was on a narrow one way street so when delivery men stopped to unload groceries the bus would get stuck for a while unable to pass and then a string of cars would start tooting their horns and there was much waving of arms and general shouting. It was the same every morning, and when that subsided the concrete mixers and drills and banging of construction would kick off again.  At the time I didn't really think of it as noisy, it was just part of the rhythm of life.

Now I'm working in the City the sounds of demolition and construction are once again part of my regular soundtrack and while my colleagues tut and complain about pneumatic drills and falling girders I don't mind at all. Once those drills start up I'm transported right back to that era of dusty heat when I lived my life absorbed in a different language and culture.

We are due to move premises soon to a lovely building close to the Thames. My colleagues heaved a collective sigh of relief when they found out that we'll be surrounded by listed buildings which means no more renovations.  I'm a bit disappointed though. I'll miss the sounds of rumbling machinery and smashing glass.