A friend from London recently came to stay and told me how much she was looking forward to a blissfully tranquil weekend in the Majorcan countryside. Arriving in a flurry on a Friday evening, pale-faced, tired and stressed, she made straight for the bottle of Rioja winking at her from a sideboard in the kitchen.
At dinner she mentioned the horrendous week she’d just had, the work crises, staff dramas, tense city deals she’d been negotiating and above all, her inability to sleep. An insomniac, she had seemingly resorted to sleeping pills, herbal cures, alcohol, chamomile tea and meditation tapes over the years, all to no avail. As she dined, she kept a stealthy eye on her wristwatch that pinged and flashed constantly. To my concern she even appeared to be whispering lovingly to it whenever either my husband or I rose from the table to clear dishes or set down new ones.
I asked whether she’d taken to talking to herself, a sure sign that she was genuinely cracking up. A nervous laugh followed. Oh no, she assured me, she was merely giving memos to her new android smart watch. Didn’t I know that it was the latest thing? One could talk to it, leave reminders, take messages, answer e-mails, keep up with news and scroll through apps. Did it make tea, I enquired? Apparently not.
In the morning, our friend staggered into the kitchen in a frazzled state. She had had a terrible night’s sleep what with the barking dogs, hissing cicadas, clucking hens, baying donkeys, whinnying horses and the sound of tractors. To crown it all the local church bells had chimed from eight in the morning and she didn’t even want to discuss our raucous cockerels.
It got me thinking about noise. Only the previous week I had stayed with a chum in London and had tossed and turned at the constant noise pollution. I was driven to distraction by police and ambulance sirens, passing planes, traffic, humming taxi engines and drunken chatter on the street. At the crack of dawn came the sound of heels clicking on pavements, workmen’s cries, and dustcarts grinding along the road. From neighbouring flats I could hear the roar of rushing water, lavatories flushing, followed by radio and television news, and quick footsteps before doors were slammed and keys inserted in multiple locks. I had lain fretfully in bed, fantasising about my peaceful valley, the birdsong, comforting animal cries, call of the ghostly scops owl and rustle of an aromatic breeze nudging the window shutters. The only time our doors and windows are closed are when we vacate the house. Otherwise it’s open house all day.
After forcing my friend to remove her watch and ditch the mobile phones in her bedroom, I took her for a vigorous hike in the hills, a stroll on our nearby deserted beach and got her picking oranges in the orchard. After a full day of physical activity without one glimpse of her technical gadgets, she practically fell into bed.
The next day she rose at midday, pink-cheeked and refreshed, declaring that she’d had the most heavenly sleep. I wasn’t surprised. It hadn’t been the sounds of our valley that had disturbed her, rather the constant, self-inflicted noise in her own head.
Please feel free to comment on this article. All comments are moderated, so it will appear after I have checked it. Thanks!
Please sign up here for my monthly e-newsletter.