The Joy of Silence and the Music of Being

Why Silence is Golden

The road to Gairloch in the Scottish Highlands
The road to Gairloch, leading to one of the most tranquil places I have ever had the joy of visiting in 2013. Image taken by Shearings Holidays (2014), who introduced me to this part of the world (Creative Commons License – Some Rights Reserved).

I am probably the last person on Earth to be associated with silence. In nearly ten years of running East of the M60, my online life has multiplied. Firstly, my first online experience was via college, since 1996. This was in The Good Old Days of Netscape 2.0, when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser was a mere upstart. We chatted to distant friends by email. As for our friends closer to home, we used to go to the pub.

Fast forward to 2016. There are far fewer pubs than in 2006; half of Dukinfield’s have seen closure and depubification. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram have become our channels of communication. Everything moves at a much faster pace than in 2006. Compared with 1996, breakneck speed. Compared with 1986, light years away. As for 1976, in terms of our technological development, the birth of our galaxy. As for sending a letter compared with an email, the latter has triumphed with immediate contact the norm. In personal and professional capacities.

I am guilty as charged for embracing the online revolution with social networking sites. I have a MySpace page that I last used in 2011, a Tumblr account with very few updates, and I joined Twitter in its first full year. As for Facebook, since 2007. Social media has been a major part of my life since, and still is. In a professional capacity as well as a personal one.

Like any employee, I like to take a break from my work. A break which may entail using as little ‘new fangled’ technology as possible. I could turn my back on the television, though not the smartphone. An analogue radio of any description, is indispensable. Poetry books, sketch books, drawing and writing tools: an absolute must. As for music, well, that is a must (thank heavens for radio). Cameras? Of course.

Strictly speaking, I am just as happy with hustle and bustle in manageable doses, though it can overwhelm me at times. For a time, I wasn’t too bothered about going on holiday to quiet parts of Britain.

Then came July 2013. After booking a mystery trip with a Wigan-based giant in coach travel, my father and I were back in the Scottish Highlands. After going to Strathpeffer in September 2011, we went to Gairloch. The village, situated in Wester-Ross left a greater impression on me than Strathpeffer. One was the tranquility; another was its sands; also the long sunsets; plus, 50p single malt whiskies thanks to the holiday being a Bay Inclusive package.

Apart from the fact that regular buses are once-weekly instead of once an hour, I loved the place. With a passion. Yours truly would have to consider learning to cycle (given that in spite of the hills, the mean streets of Achnasheen and Poolewe were far better for cyclists than Mottram Road, Stalybridge).

There, I realised the joy of silence. No traffic, no aeroplanes, just the sound of animals or the sea being its soundtrack. Laid back, suitable for writing a future novel, or taking to the hills.

Then, within the next three years, I came to the realisation that we had turned everything up to eleven. I didn’t need to visit my local pub on its busiest night. Nor did I turn Breakfast in America up to max volume on my stereo for three hours (that would have irked my neighbours). Nor did I consider turning up to the maximum volume, Britain’s Loudest Gameshow at 1am on Challenge TV.

What planted the seed was a visit to another local pub, on a Sunday night. Over a pint of The Dog’s B******s at The Top Dog in Waterloo, Ashton-under-Lyne, I had the ‘joy’ of hearing The X Factor with Justin Bieber. The screams and the overhyped production values. Then I saw a clip of a later episode. Holy Truck! How much more ridiculous? It made the Stonehenge scene in This Is Spinal Tap seem like Ask The Family.

Were the screams real or manufactured like the acts? Were they genuinely happy or were the audience placed under a spell where they lost every sense of decorum and thought shouting at each other in a quiet pub was intelligent conversation?

It wasn’t just the screams or the high volume control. It was the art of presentation: jazzed up to the point of vulgarity and vacuity. In 10 seconds, I saw my intelligence quotient fall further down the opinion polls than Labour did in Scotland last May.

In terms of presentation, there is no moderation of volume and dynamic variation (yet we have state-of-the-art televisions more than capable of such technology). Transitions between parts of programmes lack space for the viewer, making an half hour or hour long programme a tour de force in sensory overload. Graphical excellence needn’t be epilepsy inducing or overload triggering.

It seemed as if Britain started shouting instead of talking. Our television programmes, and some of our Facebook pages seem to have been set to Caps Lock on the keyboard. This is part of what I call The Verruca Salt Effect. By The Verruca Salt Effect, I refer to our penchant for wanting everything this very minute. In other words, how immediacy has triumphed over delayed gratification.

How silence is golden

Three people in my life have also inspired the production of this piece. All of which are fellow creatives who appreciate a degree of silence in producing their work, or anything in modern-day life.

Why do we all yearn for a degree of silence? Balance as well as concentration. A chance to let the seagulls and the beach provide a soundtrack instead of a loud television set. It’s a chance to get away from the traffic and be inspired by the change of scenery. Not least the greater joy of being able to walk towards the hills or the seashore, and returning home refreshed.

What else could be classed as ‘silence’ besides a walk in the country or the hills or the seaside? I would say watching the waves in a quiet seaside resort is a perfect example. As is spending a day fishing on the river bank, lake side or canal. Likewise with a quiet train journey (quite a rare thing for me on these shores), or watching the sun set on the Longest Day.

Watching the sun set or the waves hitting the shore is also The Music of Being. This is true of listening to birdsong (a joy that too few enjoy these days). Being able to harmonise with our environment is a joy we should all have access to (I shall save that subject for another post).

If there’s any way we could have an ‘Autism Friendly’ version of our favourite TV shows at certain times (like cinema presentations for selected films) that would be a gift. Please, please, please, several times over, could somebody end the loudness war on our television programmes? (In other words, could we tell them to shut the… up?)

S.V., 11 June 2016.

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3 thoughts on “The Joy of Silence and the Music of Being

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  1. A few years ago I was staying on the National Trust campsite at Wasdale in the Lakes. A sunny weekend in October. Totally blissful. All of a sudden the peace shattered by multiple sirens etc. A major mountain rescue call out. Sounded like I was in city centre Manchester. You really can’t beat the sound of silence!

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    1. Hi Paul,

      When you live somewhere as chaotic, as lively, or as busy as Greater Manchester (like us), I think you tend to appreciate the silence even more. For a time, I felt out of kilter without seeing a bus every five minutes. Then (thanks in part to one of my previous schools), I gained a wider appreciation of the landscape. Not only architecturally, also naturally.

      Unless the fringes of Greater Manchester are populated with fracking drills, you do have the joy of being an hour’s drive away from the hustle and bustle. Or a bus ride away (i.e. Marsden Moor on the 184 to Huddersfield). Better still if you live in Saddleworth, Mossley or Stalybridge where the views and tranquility are a short walk away.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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