I Am Bad


Photograph by George Kelly

by Jenny Diski

OK, I’ve been outed as a noise nut and it’s true. I am crazed by noise. I have to put my fingers in my ears when I’m on the street and a lorry passes, my whole insides turn liquid when the recycling bin men come by and tip boxes of glass into more glass. I can’t bear it. I hyperventilate when the dog two doors down barks for twenty minutes. Noise, like pain, makes me want to leave the planet, but before that to kill someone.

I spend lunatic hours on Google checking out earplug sites. None of them (of course) make silence happen. I organised a visit from a technician to make moulds of my ears for custom ear plugs. He didn’t come. Hope curled up and sulked. Earplugs in any case are problematical. Talking to the daughter who had a temporary problem with roadworks, she said she can’t use earplugs because they stop her from thinking. Which is weirdly right. I seem (as she does) to need ambient air to think in. Closing myself off makes my own internal sounds scream, or perhaps it’s a kind of claustrophobia. I’ve tried white and pink noise cds but they sound like noise to me. Best thing I’ve found is Brian Eno’s Music for Airports and Neroli. Which makes the daughter threaten to disown me for naffness. Anyway, I am a nutcase, I don’t have much of a problem owning to that.

But it’s actually worse than that. Much, much worse. Loud or sudden noise is painful but passes. What I really hate is the noise of other people. And that’s dissembling, too. What I really hate is the noise other people make that reminds me that other people exist. There. Children screaming and shrieking in the neighbouring gardens (it’s hot in my glass study, I have to have the door open) sends me into a spiral of fretting and whimpering. Do they really need to bellow in order to grow up well-balanced human beings? Other people’s hi fis, their drums, for god’s sake. I know about people’s right to have rights, but if my inclination is for silence, it gets trumped by theirs. I want to sit in my room and not be reminded (‘Do you HAVE to have that conversation in the street under my window?’) that I am surrounded by other souls. Something about the community-minded Sixties just didn’t take with me. I have fantasies about living in the middle of a field (preferably in a house) but the Poet points out that there’s nowhere noisier than the countryside. All those machines, and the birdsong., my dears. I’ve spent time on retreat in convents and monasteries of silent orders, and it was wonderful, but there’s the god problem (and the food is inedible). It’s like stealing silence. I want it by right.

All this might sound like typical old lady complaint. And it is of course. Christ, the young! Why don’t they grow up…? But actually apart from my new sense that my time is running out and can I please have things the way I need them while I still can, my vileness and non-fitness for purpose as a human being has always been like this. I didn’t want to hear the sound of the neighbours even when I was a kid. I am ashamed, and then again, I’m not. What can I tell you? I’m bad, through and through.

Piece crossposted with Biology of the Worst Kind

Cover image by Andrew Albinger