Tales from the Frontier - No. 9

The place is very well and quiet and the children only scream in a low voice
- Lord Byron

Byron’s ‘the place’ doesn’t exist in the real world. Few young children I’ve ever met would recognise the concept of ‘low voice’ and not one would apply it.

The other night everyone was restfully banging out the zeds under their duvets. Peace reigned. One child, age undetermined, went off like a siren heralding an assault by a squadron of bombers. Everyone noticed. None of us had noticed when the kid fell asleep in the first place but we all were aware when the sleeping discontinued. This seems very unfair. Sound engineers need to research the nature of silence and make it more aggressive. We’ve all been disturbed by a sudden crashing sound but never overwhelmed by an unexpected blast of quiet.

Generally speaking our little enclave of maybe fifty families is ‘very well and quiet’ and Lord Byron’s observation would fit the bill. But very intermittently. The interruptions are legion and like the Romans of that name they make their presence felt. Peace may be shattered in a variety of ways.

The Hausmeister is responsible for the building’s upkeep and also for the surrounding gardens. Unhappily he is something of an equipment nut. He has a machine for everything and they are all driven by what sounds like turbo-props. He has grass cutters, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, rollers, rotor-cultivators, insecticide sprayers and a diesel van to load and off-load them. He likes to flash them up in the early morning following a televised sporting event on the US west coast. Witnessing a transmission of the final round of golf in Pebble Beach or the end of the Superbowl means crawling into bed in the advanced early hours of the morning – just about the same time as our Hausmeister is getting out of his pit and heading towards the hangar that houses his latest mechanical toy.

The variety of gardening equipment is matched by the variety of games that are played by the youngsters in the central area between the flats. A large chess or chequers board is integrated in the central flagstone design but no modern child plays these silent, contemplative games. The kids indulge in football, cricket, tag or anything that involves pounding feet, shouts, cries and appeals. Screaming in a low voice is one of the skills yet to be learned. Screaming in three and four part harmony seems to have been mastered. Even hopscotch appears to engage the vocal chords rather more than might be expected. One Indian family plays makeshift cricket using a wheelie bin as stumps. The three boys are no great shakes but the young girl bats like a Big Bash or IPL star and the tennis ball thuds round the walls in every direction. She has great skill because so far we have not been treated to the shattering sounds of an imploding window or glass balcony door.

Grown-ups aren’t left out. We have, as multi-culti Germany does have, a decent percentage of Turkish folk living here and they do like to get married. Weddings always involve drums and a very big noisy penny whistle (I don’t believe this is the technical term) which has a wail designed to levitate cobras from wicker baskets. The bridal conga takes place round and round the chess board and the songs without words possess at least a hundred verses. The building walls are designed to keep the music from escaping and reflect it and amplify it in every direction. I’ve been in concert halls with less effective acoustics. The celebrants then drive off in a fleet of flag-bedecked cars honking wildly all the way down the road.

The direction and strength of the wind is important when it comes to noise level. To the north is the football ground and although the attendance is roughly the same as a Commons debate on rural drainage, the crowd is rarely heard; the screams however, resulting from mistimed tackles, carry easily on a light breeze. To the distant west lies the airport and with only a medium-sized gale the Easyjets can be heard revving-up and taking off. In the opposite direction is the railway goods yard and the long line of empty freight wagons belting out of Switzerland rattle like Jacob Marley and his chains. If there is a fog and no wind then the occasional blast of a foghorn from a barge ploughing up the Rhine gives mournful accompaniment to the Hammer House of Horrors mistiness.

Ambient noise is a problem of the past for most inhabitants in this town. I strolled to the local Lidl recently, which is packed with Swiss marauders (see TFTF – No. 2), and at least half of them were plugged into mini headsets. I made a face at a passing baby and elicited a howl of rage but not one person connected to Spotify, Pandora or Apple Music even raised their eyes. I wonder if Byron was listening to his inner music when he was in ‘the place’.