Writing about NOISE!

How do you write your blogs? Are your subjects meticulously planned out weeks in advance? Book reviewers structure posts by publication date or genre, gardeners by season, travellers by route. Mine are more random, with the proviso to involve words, reading, writing, language. When I taught, we defined four language skills in order of acquisition: listening which comes long before speaking (think of a baby absorbing and imitating sounds), much later reading and a little after that or concurrently, writing. For an adult, those skills may be conflated or even reversed – most adults feel more comfortable reading than trying to speak, although the phonetic way they do it plays havoc with their pronunciation. And many adults, as we shall see, can’t listen.

house 16Anyway, recently, I can’t do any of those. I can’t listen to words or music, because of noise from masonry drills and other power tools. A masonry drill works at between 110-147 decibels, depending whose health and safety advice you read (this is from New Zealand, but we have the same anatomy). A builder using such drills should wear ear protection to reduce (not completely prevent) sudden and irreversible hearing loss. A neighbour of a house which is having its chimney breasts removed has no such protection. She can shut the windows but since the house next door now has no back wall, she’s shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted (noise can confuse a writer: there isn’t now and never was a stable).

I can’t speak because there’s no one else here. My daughter who works from home as a translator has gone to head office in despair. If I phone anyone up they go “What? Pardon? Wh…? You’ll have to speak up! Who?”

33870669I can’t  read because although I’m in the middle of the delightful Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes Hallett, it’s hard to concentrate on the construction of a landscape garden in the 17th century when the china is rattling in the cabinet and it feels like tanks are about to roll onto the sofa. Of course, works then must have been just as disruptive to the locals: a right of way was threatened, bogs were turned into lakes, statues rolled in from Italy on rumbling carts with outwalkers to check the axles didn’t collapse. There were no masonry drills but gunpowder may have been used.

I can’t write. Well, yes, I can. I can write objections to planning applications, requests (ignored) for notice of dates of especially loud work or the erection of scaffolding next to my bedroom window, and this moan of a blog post.

I had builders when I moved here. The project expanded, because the house was in a worse state, underneath the pebble dash, than the survey had shown.

house 17
In fact the pebble dash had been holding it together.

But we were not extending beyond or above the existing building line. My builders were jocular, working from about 9.30 to 4pm with lunch breaks. One reason they took over a year was because while I was at work they did other jobs for my new neighbours up and down the road. At weekends they gave us all a break. I lived in the house as the work dragged on, available morning and evening to be complained to, but I didn’t have one complaint. Could be I’m complacent, of course. Could be the households around were all full of wax models of me, and their occupants were busy sticking in pins.

I’m afraid I’m intolerant too. I’ve complained about the new toilet and washing machine and dryer that will rumble against a party wall with my living room. I’ve objected to losing light from my ground floor, views from my kitchen and garden, sunlight for my plants. I’ve objected to the building line of the whole terrace being disrupted by an extension pushing into what was coherent green space (we border a conservation area). A new loft will also disrupt the terrace roof line and three new RSJs will bore into my party wall. I have no formal right to object to this or even to refuse access to my land so the building work can be done. (Many other houses already have standard dormer designs. When those lofts were converted there were appropriate planning regulations keeping them to scale and protecting the environment and neighbours. Such guidelines have now been relaxed so permission is automatic.)

house 15

The new owner doesn’t listen to objections. He repeats, bewildered: “But, it’s property development.” Property development is, for him, a virtue in itself and any wound to the environment, to local relationships, to neighbours’ health and homes is simply collateral damage. (Oh, there’s that war metaphor again.) “It’s my dream, for my family,” he says.

His planning application for the ground floor extension was rejected, on the grounds of my objections. Hooray! Now it’s been resubmitted. It will stick out 80cm less, otherwise it’s identical. The time consuming stressful rigmarole of objecting begins again. Sooner or later, one of us will lose. I don’t say one of us will win. Relations are sour. My new novel is, broadly speaking, about neighbours getting on well. I can’t do any revisions in these circumstances and anyway, I’m inclined to think: sod that. Maybe I’ll turn it into a war novel, immersing myself in ambient bangs, booms and thuds while I have the chance.

noise 2

Ah me, silence is golden. I wrote about it once. Meanwhile I’ll try watching Wimbledon. As an English (wo)man whose castle (house) is under siege, my assaulted brain can only think in clichés: every cloud has a silver lining. The power tools are very loud, but at least they drown out John Inverdale.

©Jessica Norrie 2017

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Writing about NOISE!

  1. And extending the war metaphors ” Its that man again!” You’ve mention this wretch before. All I can say is that I truly feel for you. It is awful that you are being expected to put up with this. But I doubt there is anything that can be done other than to don ear defenders and send for the SAS!

    Like

  2. Oh dear, Jessica, this sound pretty awful. The people directly across the road from our house did extensive alterations like this a few years ago. The noise wasn’t too bad but the dust! My younger son has chronic asthma and I nearly went balmy trying to keep him out of hospital.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That must have been really distressing for you all. I’m feeling increasingly guilty about what I put people through with my own renovations, but I’m sure they weren’t quite this bad. And the one who got asthma was me! Part of my point is that everything seems to be so weighted on the side of the people doing the building, and there’s only lip service protection for the people who get the fallout. I’d better not get started…Thanks for your comment, hope your son is ok now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    One of the features of our recent trip to London was the noise levels even though construction was silenced over the Saturday and Sunday. I found myself feeling bewildered and out of sync. We have been living in isolation for the last 15 years up a mountain and even here on the Wexford coast behind our garden gates all is calm….Jessica Norrie is living in a construction nightmare at the moment with jack hammers and party wall amplifiers. Noise pollution is rarely written about with regard to our mental and physical health but in fact it is one of the leading causes of chronic stress.. #recommended

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s