Sounds of Silence

“As much as I love hearing about Chinese New Year, do you mind if I close your door?”, a colleague asked me the other day.

I was editing some material for a project I’ve been working on, and I guess the sounds of fire crackers and drums emanating from my office had eventually gotten to her.

Even though I have an office, I keep the door open most of the time, except for those confidential meetings. I was totally oblivious to the fact I was slowly, maddeningly driving her up the wall.

Some people thrive in an open-plan, others hate it. For the most part I’ve always enjoyed open-plan. Working in radio, I’ve become accustomed to writing and thinking with noise in the background. I can even do this when there are multiple sources of noise. It’s something I guess my brain has learned to live with.

I’m reminded of being in Estonia a few years ago and watching a television program which was simultaneously dubbed into Estonian and Russian, as well as the original English, and it was if the Estonian and Russian didn’t exist, because I could only hear the English. It’s interesting how the human brain can filter out different noises.

The brain can also focus in on a particular noise. For example, the sound of the exhaust fan in my bathroom almost drives me insane. It’s not like it’s the sound a jumbo jet about to take off, it’s just that the sound occurs at a particular frequency that gets inside my brain. Years ago, I recall asking Damien one day if he’d left the exhaust fan in the en-suite on, to which he replied “I don’t think so”. He couldn’t hear it, but I could. Weird eh?

But sometimes I, too, need a “sound break”. Today, for example, was my “sound break day”. After a few intense weeks I needed a day of not talking to anyone, and not having the sound of a radio or television rumbling in the background. In short, some time for my brain to “re-set” itself.

Even though I live in an inner city location, close to some major roads, I live in a pretty quiet street where the sound of traffic is usually just a distant rumble. However, it was at about eight o’clock when the traffic started to get noisy. And then the leaf blower started. And then in the back laneway, they started to pull down a tree and throw it in the shredder.

I quickly realised that was the end of my day of silence, and so I turned on the television and watched the first two episodes of the second series of “Smash”.

  1. In 96 or 97 the organisation where I worked was planning a new building, A meeting was called with hundreds attending where we were told of all the “benefits” of open plan offices. These appeared to amount to the architect’s preference, being cheaper and “that’s the fashionable trend.” I was about to ask what fashionable trends had to do with it when others beat me to it. It was also pointed out that the architects did not have to work there and most likely had their own offices with doors that closed and the “senior” staff in the office most certainly would.

    So the new building had a cube farm. The lady at the next desk was Indian, and she had a pal on the same floor. Conversations in Hindi were long. One time she asked me if I was distracted by them. (Jyoti would distract most blokes as it happens, she is rather dishy) I told her I understood the one English word in fifty so they didn’t bother me at all.

    On the other side Justin had his phone turned up loud, and when his wife phoned him I could make out just about everything she said, sometimes I’d stroll off for a few minutes. One day a scream came from the phone. When he put it down i asked him what it was. “You heard that?” “I could hardly miss it.” His wife worked on the ground floor of a clinic that backed on to a reserve. Another woman happened to glance through the window, to see a fully grown stray llama looking in at her.

    Like you, I hear things that others don’t seem to notice. Someone around here had peacocks, and I frequently could hear them howling while I was outside the house, and once from inside as well, over the traffic on the 6 lane road close by. None of my neighbours ever noticed them. Either I have become deafer, or the peacocks have gone these past couple of years.

    Long ago I was sitting waiting for a chartered plane at a country airstrip with a companion who stayed to help load a lot of my equipment on to the plane. It was a calm day and very quiet. He had once been a stockman in the Julia Creek district and had a couple of yarns about that. But I could hear a faint low pitched whistling in the background. It came from my left and eventually I could bear it no longer, I got up and investigated. Three fence posts down, someone had left an empty beer stubby on top of the post, and the whistling was the faint air movements across the top of the bottle.

    On the genealogy side, I imagine you are aware of the ‘Monaro Pioneers’ site. my grandfather is on it, though the only time he was ever in NSW was on the way to the First World War.

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