Listen Up

Since I was 18, I´ve averaged a move once a year. Some places were short term, but I was usually there long enough to soak up some of the atmosphere, which is not necessarily a plus. Some places were good, some came in at the other end of the scale, but this current abode is definitely up near the top of the list. Some of the features are obvious – you can´t really fault a view of the ocean from a third floor balcony, even if it is partially obscured. Others are more subtle. Living so far north, the sun is going down late and coming up early, which means the birds are currently booting up around 3.30am. This is sufficient to kick off the cats, who announce their intent by, apparently, falling off the sofa and then inspecting every nook and cranny in the flat. This is usually enough to take me through to somewhere around 4.30, when the first tram trundles by.

I´ve ridden plenty of trams around Europe, but this is the first time I´ve lived next to a tramline. Fortunately, the window faces out to the rear of the building, I suspect it may not sound so quaint when a metallic construction the size of a local passenger train rolls past 5m from your living room window.

Living by the ocean, we also get a rumbling farewell toot or two from the passenger ferries departing for Denmark and various destinations along the Norwegian coastline. The other morning, as I lay there, listening to the dawn chorus of bawling birds, trundling trams and cats crashing around it got me thinking about other sounds that I associated with places where I have lived.

My earliest years were in a small village and every morning and night a farmer would send his herd up and down the road for milking. Although, upon reflection, I´m not really sure where the farm was, so he might have just been taking them out for a larf, cause congestion in the village, or litter the lane with cowpats. In any event, I think it´s smell that primarily lingers.

In the US, I rented a place that was close to the railway line that ran between Dallas and Fort Worth. At the time, this was a poorly maintained line that was only used by freight. (Even now, when they have a public service that runs once an hour, there is still no stop in Arlington because it was voted down based on concerns it would bring crime to the city).  This meant that trains would run sporadically, presumably one would set out only when they had enough freight to build a 106 car chain (yes, I sometimes sat by the line on a summers evening and counted them). Track conditions meant trains never exceeded 40mph (unless, of course, the brakeman was passed out and the train was running out of control) and the limited safety concerns meant you could sit by the side of the track in a lawn chair as it trundled past.

But mostly, I was aware of it by the sound of the horn when I was tucked up in bed and could hear the train horn a tooting as it rolled through city centre where there wasn´t a platform.

In China, we had several short term leases, primarily because they either started construction work (1. namely one 30 story building in front, a flyover on the right hand side for the new ring road, and replacing the drains behind) or finished construction work (2. opening a major new road outside one flat, and 3. opening a new road across a lake and then filling it in). There was also another flat which backed on to one of the major railway lines in China which meant trains passed through every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day.

But the best audio backdrop was at the last place we lived in China in an old building on the campus of an art school. In the summer, we would leave the windows open because of the heat and sleep under mosquito nets. Often there would be storms. These were announced by the gentle rustling of leaves the trees, which became progressively more violent as the wind began to pick up and the temperature started to drop. Suddenly there would be lighting and torrential rain. Often the lightning would take out the power in the area so we would end up sitting in the bedroom in candlelight listening to the sound of the rain dripping off the leaves and floodwater cascading off the roofs and on to the metal window ledges below.



One Response to “Listen Up”

  1. janh1 Says:

    So cosy.

    Lovely blog.

    If I’m on a train about to pull in at Paddington Station, I wonder about all those people in homes so close to the multiple railway lines that they can open their windows and look into our passing faces.

    How do they stand the noise and how could they stand moving away from the familiarity of it all?

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