surinenglish

A whisper to the wise

Blimey, England’s quiet isn't it? Having just got back to Malaga after a flying visit, I'm still readjusting to the hullaballoo that the city offers even in a supposedly tranquil period such as this just after the city fair. The contrast in decibel levels between Andalucía and Lancashire is quite astonishing.

Arriving at Manchester airport, I wondered if a baggage handler had recently snuffed it or something such were the reverentially hushed tones employed by staff and customers alike. Nope, it was just a normal shout-free day with everyone going about their shout-free business. After dropping my bags off at my destination, my first port of call was, of course, the nearest pub. Same again. When I walked through the door, I felt like one of those cowboys in an old western. The place was basically silent and the twenty or so customers turned as one to see who the stranger in town was. Having decided that his nondescript presence posed no threat, they soon went back to whispering softly at each other. I tried to keep my own voice as low as possible.

“Pint of beer, please.”

Silence. Sound of beer being poured.

“Thank you.”

Silence. A smile and a nod. Sound of coins dropping into till.

And that was it. I drank my pint and left, nodding and smiling (it was clearly the favoured form of communication) and everyone nodded and smiled back. Words, it seemed, were simply superfluous to requirements.

It was about seven in the evening by this time, pleasantly warm and light as I headed back home. I didn’t see a soul on the leafy suburban streets except for an old woman driving a massive car very slowly and very quietly. So slowly and quietly, in fact, that I wondered if she’d just set off for a family visit arranged for Christmas.

I could see directly into everybody’s living room as I walked by and the whole town seemed to be watching quiz shows. With the volume turned down. In fact, all I could hear was the occasional wood pigeon and the sound of my own ear wax.

There’s no doubt that for a small island, the UK has offered a disproportionate number of cultural works in the fields of literature, music, theatre, art, photography and design to name but a few. I wonder to what extent the mind space that peace and quiet affords has played a part in that.

There’s something fascinating and vital about Malaga and its incessant racket because it makes you feel extraordinarily alive, but there’s also a lot to be said for the spaces in between the chatter and noise because - whisper it softly, now - that’s where the magic lies.