Them Heavy People

There’s a meme floating around (I choose that verb deliberately) regarding humorous responses to noise pollution. It’s not always funny, though, this daily hazard of incessant public announcements, music, phones, sirens and other environmental nuisances. It drove me out of London to rural France for a year so that I could catch up on some sleep. What is rarely addressed is the impact of non-mechanical noise, the personal, physiological racket (aside from shouting) due to the general inability of the population to move quietly and with composure.

Despite putting a polite but firm message on the front door to my block of flats, my previous neighbours continued to slam it shut before stampeding through the hallway and up the stairs like a herd of rampaging bison. The whole place quaked, books fell from shelves, and as my work area was right under the blight path, I became seriously concerned about the detrimental effects on my hard drive – and nerves. In addition, their sex life consisted of what sounded like vigorous trampolining and great thudding wrestling matches. When I asked them to tone it down, they snarled: ”Just be grateful we’re not having orgies these days.” Luckily they went back to Australia (which is as far away as I can hope for). Unluckily, they were replaced with more bison.

Watching people thumping along the pavement and lugging themselves through life is painful, and it’s got nothing to do with size. Some of the most delicate people have the heaviest feet. The nation is either trying to assert its existence above the continuous clamour or is exhausted by its fight with gravity. Either way, it could do with some relief.

I’m not the first to notice this trend. Back in 1859, Florence Nightingale devoted a whole chapter to noise in her book Notes on Nursing. Apart from a repetitious diatribe against rustling crinoline, she also wrote many paragraphs on the impact that sudden or consistently annoying sounds have upon the sick, including loud conversations, banging doors and rattling keys. She ends the chapter with a complaint about the flimsy construction of (then) modern houses, where a patient “feels every step above him to cross his heart.” Anyone who lives in a Victorian conversion will concur. My home is a wooden resonance chamber, not unlike a badly-played instrument (with my own vitriolic lyrics to match), echoing the thunderous cacophony of homecomings and visits to the loo. It is rare that I have an uninterrupted night’s sleep, even with earplugs.

It seems that tranquillity may only be found within spiritual enclosure. Many religious orders discipline their members to maintain a strict rule of silence, which means more than just holding one’s tongue. Equally important is the training in exterior silence: walking softly, opening doors quietly, catching hold of keys before they jangle. Grace is not solely an interior or divine gift, yet outside of the cloister it seems to be a rare commodity.

I have always been attracted to physical buoyancy and fluidity, a throwback to childhood film influences, perhaps. James Coburn’s feline Derek Flint glides around his luxury flat in complete silence and Aunt Alicia’s training regime of budding courtesan Gigi includes the admonishment: “You don’t simply sit, you insinuate into the chair”. I wish that the elephants around me could insinuate a little lightness into their feet.

When I was at school, we had prizes for deportment, but these days, it’s rarely encouraged outside of the dance studio. Yet efficient, noiseless movement is not simply an exercise in aesthetics. Good posture requires an engagement with the abdomen, the basis of core strength and poise, as well as strong, supple feet, which provide stability for all movement.

There are considerable health benefits associated with treading quietly. Osteopath and former dancer, Jennie Morton, explains that working through the foot protects the rest of the body by absorbing shock. Falling hard on the feet has a detrimental effect on knee and hip joints, the lower back, the internal organs, and right up the body to the neck. Pliant feet boost circulation and offer a form of massage that benefits the entire body. Jennie always looks to the feet first, as their interaction with the ground is the key to correct body function. She says, “I spend much of my time working on the feet, even when the patient may have presented with a neck problem.”

Those too scared of the studio or gym may well consider the undemanding T’ai Chi Walking Forward and Walking Backward exercise.

“Transfer weight to the front leg and roll onto the ball then toes. Lift your back heel, then knee, then toes. Move the leg to the front.” In summary: “Step gingerly, carefully, gently, and with caution. Walk like a cat.”

Until these apartments are sound-proofed properly, I’m tempted to invoke that admonition as a new clause in the Lease.

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After the Fall

I flew away on a rare clear blue day. Towards the land of Antonio, Valentine, Romeo, creations tangled in the language of banishment, passion and despair.

Edging towards the albino coast, breaker of storms and smugglers, hunting ground for traffickers of shells and slaves, I surfed the drifting memories that most British children harbour – Whitsun half-terms, a new swimsuit, sandcastles and burial pits ploughed into a grainy, grey shore.

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Angel’s Got a New Bassist

As a rule, I don’t cry over celebrity deaths. Well, Ian Curtis perhaps, but I was very young, depressed and I think more than a little affected by John Peel’s understated, heartfelt radio announcement. Now I’m older and less depressed, but hearing about Mick Karn’s death from cancer on 4th January really upset me.

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Paying it Forward

I have been pondering how best to dispose of my wedding dress for some time now. It’s a thing of beauty, ivory beaded silk, embroidery, a ton of material and all the subtle frills and furbelows of majesty. I rightly felt beautiful wearing it and regardless of the events that life has dished up to me since that hazy day, nothing changes the fact that it was a terrific wedding and everyone had a great time.

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The Conflict of Parallels

I have a fondness for the occasional footy game. Now and again, a major Final can be a grand thing to watch. It reminds me of being a child round at my Nan and Grandad’s in East London, commentary blasting out from their huge colour TV, (a fiftieth wedding anniversary present from their sons), a rumbling accompaniment to Nan’s overcooked yellow vegetables and crusty rice pudding. Dad also enjoyed his Sunday soccer, as did my formidable lesbian great aunts. We’d all watch the game while the adults smoked roll-ups and quaffed a pint, after which I would be taken for a walk round the cemetery. In later years at drama school, I used to support our luvvie team who courted controversy (and potential assault) by playing matches in netball skirts and lipstick, so there’s a definite whiff of home comfort, roast dinner and insanity that attaches me to football.

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One Year to Get Married

Two years ago today, I was in Lithuania with a bunch of like-minded people, celebrating the midsummer festival of Rasos among the revivalist pagan Romuva. Lithuanians were still practising their formalised folk religion as late as the 15th Century, until Christianity finally encroached. Communism all but drove polytheist religion underground, but since independence there has been a resurgence of interest in its theology and rituals, with the Romuva community active as guardian and propagator of its traditions.

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The Small Despair

Every celebration contains a shadow, every shadow an ecstasy, and I always shed tears at Summer Solstice. Vita Sackville-West wrote about the “small despair” of the year’s summit, when the sun glowers in its waning glory and we measure the meagre rationing of light that highlights another year devoid of sufficient freckles, unfettered feet or fucking. It marks the passage of so little done and so much to do.

The Wheel of the Year turns with Love, and we who know of its perversities and paradoxes know too that it is as fierce and painful as a babe’s precocious tooth upon a mother’s breast.

Phoebus reveals the wrinkle, the blemish and the sparkling eye. Stagnancy is an illusion. Gnōthi seauton. How immense the arc of change. I have achieved far more than I realised.

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