Some writers take to their local coffee shops to write. I’ve a friend who goes to her nearby church. ‘It’s the only silent place on earth where I can hear my thoughts.’ If you live in the country you can probably ignore this entire blog but living in London, I’m experiencing a total onslaught of noise right now.
If you wander through South Kensington and see a demented woman on the other side of a caged window, offer her a banana or something to calm her down. I’m being besieged. The scaffolding that has been put up directly in front of the room I work in, has turned it into midnight. Or am I down a mineshaft where I might need a canary to know if there was oxygen. Today I have a tar-making machine, men with pulley ropes and large signs plastered in front of me which warn any passer-by that this is a building site… as if they didn’t know. Perhaps I should be writing this wearing a hardhat.
But hold on, things are looking up… tomorrow a crane arrives!
This happens to be a roof repair that is crucial. But the chaos started more than three years ago when a neighbour decided to ‘update’ his apartment. Thirty six months later he has an oak-panelled, copper bathed, hand-finished ceilinged, apartment and I have cracks in my walls, a front door boxed in to allow for his extra electricity cables and have lived with jack-hammers and a fireplace covered in plastic because bits of masonry were falling down my chimney.
Surprise… surprise! He knocked on ‘said boxed in’ door and offered me a bottle of red wine from his vineyards in California.
This might have been tolerable if the moment he stopped, the man above him didn’t decide he also needed a major refurbishment. And now added to this I have the tar-making and the pulleys and cage outside my window. Stop bleating. Work in another room. Except my only other room is my bedroom and a kitchen with a terrace which has been brilliant this summer… except for the fact that below me the resident Square gardeners’ rooms are being extended so I have bricklayers and hammering out at the back too (and an added bonus of a view over three new toilet skylights! Thankfully they’re opaque)
This might also be tolerable if the man who did the three year alteration who lives in the US, hadn’t given his keys to two piano students from the Royal College of Music. Did I mention that he has a grand piano? They practice in sessions of 3 - 4 hours each. On any given day I may have 8 hours of piano. Wonderful… I can write listening to classical music. Not so! I write listening to someone practicing scales and the same piece over and over again, the sound shuddering through the walls and floors until my brain turns to mush.
This too might have been tolerable if I didn’t have another neighbour who moved in on the other side of me. They have a piano as well, and three children who are all hoping to gain entry into some music school. And they play the violin too. So flooding down onto my terrace from their open windows the sounds join up with the hammering of the builders. Said children also have electric scooters, the kind that make whirring sounds, and when they aren’t practicing their piano and violin, they scoot back and forth along the pavement between the scaffolding outside my cage, wearing hardhats and shouting at each other. It’s a very competitive family.
Enough! I’m tired of the invasion. I can’t go to a coffee shop and listen to the inane conversation of girls next to me saying – ‘And I am like… ‘ or ‘And he was like… ‘No. It'll have to me the utter silence of a church for me as well.
Why has modern living become so beset by noise? When will we wake up to the fact that our need for having it all... smart houses, talented children, constant connectivity, denies us the stillness of quiet space. Someone recommended Quiet London by Siobhan Wall that cites more than 140 places – gardens, museums and cafes where Londoners can go to relax (and hopefully write.) Please share some of your own favourites before I become demented.
The good news is that I now have the most beautiful Japanese version of the THE MAGIC BOJABI TREE that makes me smile, and the Brazilian Bank Itaú has ordered an extra print run for a few thousand copies of the Brazilian edition to distribute in schools and libraries in Brazil.