Almost as soon as we arrived, I noticed planes flying overhead. When I lay down on the grass a few hours later, I counted a plane every 10 seconds. Heathrow is very nearby, and the planes fly very low over the majestic old trees of Kew before they disappear into the clouds. I noticed people occasionally looking up to see the source of the roar, but they had no noticeable reaction.
I felt disgust.
Although I live in New York City, my apartment faces south into courtyards and is a silent sanctuary. I require this silence to still my mind and knit myself together after experiencing all the noise outside, but that same silence has made me a very uncomfortable traveler.
For example, I’m staying in a lovely ground-level flat in Hampstead and feel eager to sit outside in the garden, but the heavy traffic noise coming from a major thoroughfare around the corner drives me back inside almost immediately.
Forget falling asleep when there is street noise outside the window (ear plugs help, but not quite enough), and I turn on my heels and exit about 75% of the restaurants I enter because I can’t tolerate the numbing noise blasting from the sound system. I am in a state of constant amazement that no one else seems to mind.
Recently I found myself pondering the difference between sound and noise. Sounds like birdsong or babbling brooks make me feel happy. Noise like police sirens, people yelling into cell phones, or cars honking makes me nuts.
When my elderly Siamese cat became disoriented in the middle of the night and wailed, I was startled into wakefulness, but her sound was not noise to me. It was a call for help.
Love seems to make a difference.
So maybe there’s hope for this human, who is ironically experiencing hearing loss in common conversation but getting more and more perturbed by this noisy world we live in.