Monday, 2 September 2013

TOTAL ONSLAUGHT – Dianne Hofmeyr


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.




14 comments:

sensibilia said...

The British Library café, highly recommended. Not the one on the lower floor, which is a bit dark. The one on the upper floor with a big outdoor area - space and quiet.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I only know that one on the lower floor which as you say is a bit dismal. So that's brilliant to discover there's one with an outdoor area! When the crane arrives today, I'm off there!

Elen C said...

It's a long way to go, but I used to love going to the Horniman Museum in South London. Peaceful, full of eclectic objects and with staff who didn't care what you were up to as long as you didn't touch.

Joan Lennon said...

I can't make any informed suggestions about London places, but I do send lots of sympathy - it sounds truly AWFUL! (I've heard that those big earmuff style headphones are good at blocking out noise - that and a sound track of bird song or something?)

Stroppy Author said...

Dianne, I sympathise (as I hear the builders hammering away outside my window, and another of their lorries pulling up in the front drive). From where you are, the best bet is the library of the Natural History Museum. You only need to think of an excuse and you can ask for a card - say you're writing about Africa and need some info on obscure animal behaviour. You have to book a day in advance, ordering a book, but then it's beautiful, old-fashioned and quiet. The Wellcome library is even better as it's more classically beautiful and also has computers (NHM is very old-style), but further from your house. Or as the Society of Authors if you can lurk in an unused room?

Philip Sington said...

I lived in South Ken for years, including my first 6 years writing full-time - i.e. during the day. I used to love living there. It's central; there are the parks and the museums, but the noise just seemed to get worse and worse from every direction. The managing agent said it had been the same for him. "It happens to you, as you get older: it's harder and harder to blank out noise." I guess when you're young, you're too busy making it to notice other people's!
I moved out to Zone 2, which was much quieter; but then children came along and with it the infamous pram in the hall...

Sappa Tamang said...
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Penny Dolan said...

Oh, this sounds like an absolute hell of a situation if you need quiet work thoughts. Even simple builder-machine noises intrude enough to make me tense up - and you seem to be surrounded by all the craziest builders & architects in London, let alone the noises of piano practice and more.

I'm too far away to offer any practical suggestions myself.

Maybe the SoA itself can suggest a few places around London? Or maybe the Poetry Society can suggest options? Isn't there a Poetry Place/ Cafe or similar? Is there a Quaker Meeting House nearby that might let you sit in their rooms/library? Public libraries are in such disarray but you might discover one near you by contacting a good children's librarian in the area who knows the venues and knows you are serious about your request.

(Also, have you told or written to the man who rents out his rooms for piano practice that it affects your work? He may not have realised, being immersed in a musical world of his own where the renting out does seem a good idea. You are surely entitled to some quiet hours!)

Sue Purkiss said...

Much sympathy - but also congratulations on the excellent book news!

lily said...

Royal Festival Hall - it's so huge you can always find a quiet corner. And I've heard loads of writers mention the London Library although it's a paying one.

Filthy rich neighbours eh - who'd have them...

Babu Ram Karki said...
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Dianne Hofmeyr said...

thank for all the help! Some good places there. Good news... the builders at the back have stopped! The Natural Hist sounds fun and I've just remembered the V&A. And yes it IS a case of filthy rich Sue and will not be reasoned with Penny. (He never invites them to practice when he's in residence.)

Natasha Mostert said...

A next door basement development had me writing with jackhammer ear phones for two years. Nothing one can do about that but to find another place to write. But no writer should be driven from their home by rude neighbors playing the piano. I believe in fighting fire with fire. Each time the piano people start up, play Twisted Sister or KORN at top volume. When they stop, you stop. The word to remember here is PAVLOV.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

You are too smart Natasha! I like that.