Saturday, 11 June 2011

Noisy noise

A friend said to me the other day that they really liked the sound of light aircraft passing overhead.  I wasn't convinced, so nodded politely.  Admittedly this was in a rural setting, so I can understand the implicit romance of a Tiger Moth wing-waggling over a crowd of waving peasants, growling and whining its way off over the hills to a faraway landing strip on a deserted beach, with an eagerly anticipated assignation at the arrival (see Robert Browning, 'Meeting at Night' for the back-story) ...  But come to urban Reading.

Just after I've poured the first drink, the helicopter arrives.  I know what's going to happen.  It's going to circle and hover over my house for as long as it can.  On top of the traffic in the road, the high-up but nonetheless incessant drone of the flightpath to or from Heathrow, the trains at the bottom of the garden (which I don't really mind since I got the secondary double glazing)  and the distant rumble of the M4, I find this intolerable.  Noise perturbs my brain.  When I was about six, I was taken to the station to see off some relative, and the hiss of the engine releasing steam scared me for months.  The first time I ever visited my relative L's house, we were sitting in the garden at lunchtime, sipping a Pimms, when all of a sudden this plane (they live right under the Heathrow flightpath on bad days) screeched over, so low you could see the bolts, you could see the tyre treads (to quote Joni Mitchell).  I covered my ears: but they just carried on talking - they were so conditioned, they didn't even hear it, let alone react to or against it.  That's probably why they're all mad.

I once phoned the police to enquire politely what this helicopter was there for (even though I knew the answer - nice evening, let's go for a joyride).  I was politely informed that they were looking for a missing child.  I pointed out that it was dark.  They responded that they had heat-seeking equipment.  I nearly went on to point out that there might be more than a few heat-emitting bodies in the Oxford Road area, but then I couldn't be arsed (LWON please note the demotic).

My latest technique is to go into the garden, staring up at them with the mobile in my ear, whilst mouthing vehement complaints and pointing at the sky.  Not actually phoning anyone, you understand, that's a waste of phone credit points.  Anyway, it seemed to work this evening - they spotted me and immediately boggered off to terrorise Caversham instead.

Some noise can become music in the right ears.  But not all of it.


  1. I usually forget to warn visitors that they are sitting directly beneath the cuckoo clock; a bit less traumatic but still cruel.

  2. I've always lived near a railway line but One's brain quickly becomes desensitised to the regular trains. Not the heavy cattle lorries, tractors, stunt aircraft or the International motor racing circuit though. It's not very quiet in the countryside you know.

  3. We had a very noisy helicopter yesterday. It sounded like a microlight coming in to land at Soar International but fortunately it passed on its way. It wasn't red so can't have been going to Scilly.

    And at 10:50 when all good country soles (other than the partying well-heeled) are abed, to be up before dawn to do something with fields (though not us, we knew it would rain today - also, we have no fields), the fireworks started.
    A splendid display down at the nearby hotel which lasted 10 minutes or so. But I bet the poor local dogs were stirred, & shaken.

    Now I know where the chopper was going.

  4. Well, I'm relieved, having initially confused Meeting at Night with Porphyria's Lover. Investigative helicopters would then have had a much more sinister mission.

    And until I fully took in the capital R on 'urban reading' it seemed to me you might live in Windsor Castle.

  5. I was a navigator in a previous life. The sound of aircraft engines gives me goosebumps. Just birds singing here...

  6. ElizT – a friend of mine has a clock that does a different birdsong for each hour of the day. Now that is traumatic.
    Rog – tell me about it! I frequently visit an idyllic remote part of west Wales. All you can hear is generators and strimmers.
    Soaring – 10.50? My helicopter could just about have reached your area by then. Did they not drop off my message?
    Christopher – it’s a little known fact that he actually strangled her because she’d fallen asleep and was snoring like a helicopter.
    Rosie – I need someone to navigate me to the world’s end, if you could oblige.

  7. I would suggest that you shine a very bright spotlight up at it but I should warn you that there could be one or two repercussions from that! It could think you were a landing light, which would not be good or you could get thrown into prison for up to 40 years for trying to dazzle the pilot. If you do decide to do this, and either of the above happens, just make sure you are fully dressed! The disgrace would reflect on the family :)