On nature and noise: The sound of silence


Why noise isn’t just about sound.

Some of you may have seen me repeat-tweeting a distant relative of Puffles that got stuck indoors at my place recently.

A male Emperor Dragonfly comes to visit Puffles & friends. Note the similarity of greens between this creature and the baby dragon fairy in the background
A male Emperor Dragonfly comes to visit Puffles & friends. Note the similarity of greens between this creature and the baby dragon fairy in the background

It was a bit of a challenge trying to catch it without damaging its wings – fortunately I seem to have managed not to harm it judging by how it flew off when I released it. I spent several minutes staring at this magnificent creature. It was only on closer examination that I noticed just how similar its colours were to Puffles and the recent arrival of little dragon fairies.

Caption competition anyone?
Caption competition anyone?

If you want to get hold of your own little dragon fairy/become a dragon fairy guardian, see here for details.

Back to nature

Years in urban environments have detached me from the time in the countryside I had during childhood. Years ago, my aunt and uncle lived in a village in Hertfordshire. We’d stay over there annually as a sort of summer holiday – and at Easter sometimes too. It’s easy to forget that until the late 1990s and the rise of budget airlines, holidays abroad were not nearly as common as some of the TV documentaries might like us to believe. It may have been only over the county boundary, but such was the change in environment that it felt like we were somewhere really far away.

When we arrived, me and my siblings were pretty much the only non-White faces in the village – other than the owner of the village shop who seemed to have an extremely foul temper towards everyone. Even us. For the rest of the village, we were…well… ‘exotic’ – which Shappi Khorsandi told Puffles and I in Cambridge that this means ‘foreign, but not in a threatening way but in a way that we like’. Actually, to be fair, the locals were brilliant with us – both in terms of us being young children and otherwise completely unfamiliar with the country way of life.


My aunt and uncle had a field that they had no use for, so allowed friends with horses to graze during the long summer months. It was the little tips that still stick in my mind – such as when feeding apples to horses, always hold your palm out flat so you don’t lose any fingers. Or not standing behind a horse because it might kick you. Or not running in a field full of horses because you might frighten them and they may trample you. For a child from suburbia, coming face-to-face with a fully-grown stallion or mare is something that takes a bit of getting used to.

My late aunt – the big C took her, had something of the old school about her. If it was a warm and sunny day, we weren’t allowed indoors. Not that daytime TV during the summer holidays in the days of 4 channels was anything to stay in for. Also, such was the size of their garden and the grounds beyond that why would anyone want to stay indoors anyway? With everyone else in the village on school holidays, many local children would make their way over to play with us in this huge field. We’d sometimes head over to what was the manor house of the village, to the local woods or to a couple of families that had swimming pools in their back garden. (The daughter of one of those families I stayed in touch with and who now works in Cambridge, designing bespoke jewellery). When we were outdoors, it would be just other families that would come and visit, but the horses too. Sometimes I’d be balancing on the fence and one of the horses in the field would wander over to see what the fuss was all about – or probably to see whether we were going to pick some apples from a nearby tree to feed it. Over the years, we became used to the presence of each other.

The darkness

One of the things I miss about the countryside is the darkness. The feeling of what is otherwise pitch black unless the moon is out. Last week after a late night out, I stopped to look up at the stars while walking down a side street on my way home. I used the palm of my hand to block out the blinding light from a streetlight. And I stood there. And wondered. And pondered.

The vast awesomeness of the universe and our tiny place in it.

And yet, because of the way our streetlights and buildings are designed, the ‘noise’ from the street lights drowns out the night sky in an orange hazy glow. I’m not saying we should turn off the street lights. But can we design them in a way that ensures the public stay safe while not casting out the stars and galaxies that surround our planet?

On traffic noise

Yeah – I hate that too – with a passion. It’s one of the reasons why I struggle sleeping. I had an internal window fitted in my bedroom because of the noise. It’s made some difference, but not nearly enough. How can it when you have lorries and ‘sports’ cars with illegally souped-up engines driving around all the time?

It’s not just me that’s moaning. It’s impacting on urban wildlife too. If you are a feathered and often flying creature with a beak or a bill, why bother singing during the day if your calls get drowned out by traffic? Far more sensible to sing and communicate at…I don’t know…three o’clock in the morning?

It’s not just the noise, it’s the emissions too. I remember a couple of years ago walking along the South Bank (of London’s River Thames) and looking up at what was a cloudless sky. The problem was the haze of brown smog that sat over the city. It was only when I moved to London did I notice that when I blew my nose, what came out was no longer snot-coloured, but soot-coloured. But what can you do?

Light noise, sound noise, electronic noise

You may have seen Puffles tweet something along the lines of:

“I tried to have a Twitterbreak *****BUT SOMEBODY ON #NEWSNIGHT WAS WRONG!!!*****”

Last night’s case being a cleric in a discussion about p0rn0graphy (yeah, my thoughts entirely).

While I might be able to choose to switch off social media, (actually I can’t – I’m both addicted and also rely on it as a means of earning a living), switching off the light and sound noise is not something I can escape from. It’s not as if the jobs and housing markets make things easier for people either – note that Cambridge is feeling the ripples from London, with a semi in my neighbourhood (South Cambridge) currently on the market for £750,000. (London being out of control as Frances Coppola describes here).

Living in the country?

Not really an option – but even so I don’t think I’d like it. I’d get too bored too quickly. At the same time, there’s much to be said about having access to the countryside. If only it was more accessible and more affordable for more of us. Perhaps then we’d have less of a town vs country divide, may help boost rural economies and give us urban dwellers regular breaks from all the noise of urban living.


One thought on “On nature and noise: The sound of silence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s