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Simon Parke: Silence in retreat

23 September 2009

I AM on holiday, and I do not wish to ruin the wedding celebrations. But, in the end, I have to say, like Luther at the Diet of Worms: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

I am trying to sleep, but I can’t. The music is too loud. The sax­ophonist is playing the unabridged encyclopedia of rock-classics, and we are now well into the second hour. He may be in the restaurant up the road, but it sounds as if he is perched on my pillow.

It’s not that he isn’t good at his trade; indeed, there is much to admire in his musicianship. Neither is it that I don’t like the songs: I could sing along to every one. It is just that, on this occasion, I do not feel I have had any choice in the matter of whether I listen or not; and choice would be nice. The baby in the next-door flat clearly feels the same, as do his parents.

It is well known that 24-hour music blaring in the prison cell is a fruitful form of torture. It dis­orientates and breaks the victim, and I sense a little of that now; so I dress, and step out into the night. I walk

up the road to the restaurant, and find the man who seems to be in charge.

I explain that the music is very loud, and he says he will speak to the manager about it. I say that I will speak to the manager myself. It then emerges that he is the manager, and he assures me that I can leave it with him; and that he will deal with it.

I am glad he will deal with it, I say, but add that I won’t be going until it is dealt with. “It’s a wedding celebration,” he says, claiming the moral high ground. I say it may be a wedding celebration here, but it is a nightmare for those not invited, for those who are trying to sleep.

In the end, he goes across to the saxophonist and his backing track, but he seems unwilling to quieten down. It is loud or nothing. So we agree that the next song will be the last.

We have all experienced it: the blasting music on the bus; the car stereo playing not only to the driver but to all within a half-mile radius. One person’s choice of noise spills without boundary on those around, in one of the great tyrannies of consumer-land. “I have the tech­nology; so I must have the right.”

The invasiveness is total, but somehow allowed. Were I to stand on the Tube, or in someone’s bedroom as they tried to sleep, shouting my favourite passages from the Gospel of Thomas, I would rightly be removed by the police, as either dangerous or insane. But music? Different rules apply, apparently.

I return to my holiday bed in a wonderful stillness. As Sartre nearly said: “Hell is other people’s music.” But the sweet silence that follows; the still small voice of the murmuring breeze — well, that is heaven.





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