Published On: Sun, Jul 1st, 2018

Shouting sweet nothings

Chris Morvanby Chris Morvan

Half time during a World Cup game and I repair to what people euphemistically call the restroom. This is a smart new sports bar and they’ve got more TV screens than a small African country, bigger screens than Times Square and that muddy, bassy sound that is both loud and unclear. They also have speakers in the bathroom so you don’t have to miss a second of the match, although they have sensibly restricted it to audio while you do your business.

To keep customers amused visually there is, right in front of you at eye level, a diagram of the covering of a baseball, so at least you can learn something while you drain.

Such things are obviously designed to make sure we are never short of something to do, never left with just the ringing in our ears, the floaters in our eyes and the thoughts in our heads. It’s the currently fashionable idea that we can’t just be left to our own devices. We must be entertained or at least given the option of ignoring some entertainment.

Even on the beach, a haven of tranquility where all I want to hear is the gentle lapping of the waves and perhaps the crying of birds, if there isn’t a booming seaside café there is a man wheeling a disco-sized speaker over the sand, determined not to miss a beat of his music-filled life just because he is in a natural environment.

You see people out for a walk, that most traditional way of relaxing and communing with nature, with earphones in, listening to what you can only assume is music that you wouldn’t like – but at least they are keeping it to themselves.

We’ve got a very small, quite expensive, very German speaker at home which amplifies the sound of a laptop or an iPod and, being Bluetooth and therefore not physically attached to anything, you can take into the garden, or upstairs or wherever you want within about 15 yards. So when we’re sitting outside, listening to music, we don’t have to deafen the neighbours through the walls, but simply take the surprisingly loud little orange unit out there with us and try to satisfy our own aural desires without imposing the sound on anyone else.

Footballers troop off the bus, having arrived at the stadium, with headphones like pairs of frying pans clamped to their ears. I once worked in a newspaper office where, in order to ask someone a question, I had first to incur her wrath by asking her to take her earphones out.

Glance at Facebook and someone else’s amusing little video of screeching family members will come blaring at you because you have the option of turning it off, but the defaults setting is on. Even Netflix seems to have chosen to give us a bit of soundtrack from whatever film we happen to be passing over (but not really considering watching).

And the question I have for all such organizations is this: why was I not consulted? Why do they feel they can fill my life with noise without asking if that’s okay?

It could be argued that, being a musician, I can dish it out but I can’t take it, and that is absolutely true. My former bandmates and I would blithely turn the amps up as loud as the management would permit, but if I was persuaded to go to a club afterwards it was with great reluctance, because in such obliterating settings all subtlety is lost. Leaning into a girl’s ear to whisper sweet inducements is one thing, but when you have to shout them at point blank range, it rather defeats the object.

My phone is set up to let me know when I have an email, Whatsapp message etc, mainly for business purposes, because you don’t want to miss things when you’re out. That’s because there is no such thing as patience anymore and I’m as bad as the next person. If something happens I want to know about it right now, not when I am next in front of my laptop. So I apologise to anyone who hears my pocket making electronic sounds that oblige me to look at my device – and anyway it’s momentary and happens only once, unlike a conventional phone which will ring forever or until the caller gives up.

But other people’s Facebook Messenger conversations drive me up the wall. If they must insist on your sharing their company with a third party, at least they could turn off the blup that tells us they have sent a message (like they weren’t actually aware of it), the echoey bowowow one or the biddlyoop which means the other person has read it (something like that, anyway – my sounds are turned off and I can’t work out how to turn them on to check my facts.)