The kids have already eaten by the time I get home and they’re watching something loud on the telly, so I’m in the garden with a plate of cold fish fingers, sheltering from the rain under a parasol. The robin has started his evening song, a rich mellifluous tune, and one that is being answered by a rival from a neighbour’s garden. It seems quiet and peaceful, compared to the oppressive racket indoors, but it isn’t quiet at all.
As my mind clears I begin to listen. I can hear the robins, and the peal of bells, Friday night being bellringing night. Behind that is the constant sound of cars on the main road, and the trains coming in and out, accompanied by the station tannoy. There are the shouts of people in the park, bottles being chucked into the bins behind the pub, dogs barking, children crying, breathing (mine), the rain on the parasol and sound of me chewing cold damp fish fingers. It’s a strange cacophony and, yet, this is where I go to escape the noisy hubbub of the house. It is only when you experience real silence that you understand how noisy “normal” quiet can be.
I found real silence last week, on a small island on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. In a sun trap away from the wind and the sound of the sea, I dozed off in complete and utter quiet. The extraordinary thing about such a silence is how deafening it actually is. The brain, instead of switching off, is so used to background noise that it starts to seek sounds – straining to hear something. The buzz of an insect or a gull’s cry. It takes a while to relax into the overwhelming absence of noises, but once you do, sleep is deep and refreshing.
It was my second al fresco nap of the day. Earlier, in a bay at the south end of the island, I snoozed, this time lulled by the waves washing over the stony beach. It was a delicious feeling – my woozy head and aching limbs, victims of a riotous ceilidh the night before, succumbed to the warm sun and I zonked, comatose, in a rare moment of abandon. No deadlines, no demands, no hurry.