Archive | July, 2015

Hear, Hear!

31 Jul

The call of agreement with a point well-made is common in debating chambers, pretentious though it may be. More annoying is the smarmy I hear what you are saying.. to indicate a more profound understanding. Annoying really when Yes would do. In both examples listening is actually more important than hearing.

Hearing, listening and understanding are my themes. Yesterday I welcomed a new neighbour. She introduced herself and three children. I heard names but forgot to listen and as the conversation progressed I realised that I had lost those names. Embarrassed, I asked Emma to reintroduce herself.

I don’t much like meeting new people. I know plenty already. When I am forced to engage with an unknown, I am so often faced with someone whose idea of listening is to latch on to the conversational theme and butt in as soon as possible with some long, dull story about him/herself (or interminable stories about children and grandchildren). These boring narcissists lurk everywhere; plenty of my friends have similar tendencies but I forgive old buddies as they have bought me beer. I flatter myself that I am quite interested in what other people have to say but the art of listening seems in a precarious state these days as self-obsession runs riot. Would that we could fit a vibrating boring-alert on dullards which would trigger silence or possibly the exciting enquiry: My round! What are we having?

I have always enjoyed the oral and aural quality of poems. Rhyme, assonance, the combination of sounds that poets use rather deliberately to hit or caress the ear and enlarge the experience of reading the poem. Meaning becomes three-dimensional. Sound, vision – indeed all the senses. I was musing on this when I read the first few poems from Both Brittle and Beautiful, a new volume of poetry by my very old chum, John Trotman. It’s a meaty, full-value book of 60 poems, public and personal, nostalgic and modern, thought-provoking and witty, traditional and experimental by turns. Now I‘ve plugged it, I’ll come to the point. The poetry is wonderfully aural. Read, hear, listen, picture, reflect. Poetry could do with Bang and Olufsen speakers.

These days I seem not to be able to hear much in public places, even though I have wax-free drums. Why is it that important announcements in railway stations and trains, airports and planes are rendered inaudible by a vast range of factors?

Bang and Olufsen have clearly not got the contracts for departure lounges the world over; nor for any onboard PA system. So the world’s most sophisticated travel-machines loaded with extraordinary technical kit, have the amps and speakers of the Dansette that used to crackle out my Beatles singles in the 1960s.

If you’re munching a breakfast croissant at Jamie’s Italian in Gatwick North, you must stop masticating when the jingle presaging an announcement alerts. Any head-noise will severely limit your chances of receiving vital flight info. Luckily Jamie has installed updating information screens all around his cool Italiana pad. He clearly knows that quality audio isn’t going to hit our travel hubs any time soon.

And then you’re heading for the gate. If it’s a budget job the gate-lounge is bound to be Dansette-audio. Who can tell if Speedy Boarders, the aged, disabled or family groups – or the rest of us -are being called? The announcer’s accent and machine-gun delivery speed distorts the already distorted. And of course there is the lemming-like need for all Brits to get up at once and queue.

Once on board and sucking boiled sweets like mad to ensure the airwaves remain open, the flight attendant in charge of the cabin crew seems to have been selected on the basis of the impenetrable accent richter scale. Speed seems to be of the essence too. It’s an unhappy marriage. At least we can look forward to the calming welcome of our captain. Then we realise that the Airbus 370’s speakers are more than a match for the cool tones of Captain Peter Thompson from West Sussex. No wonder he and his first officer barely attempt another announcement. It’s embarrassing. His own sound system at home is, of course, B and O – and speaking into the Airbus PA gives him tinnitus.

Back on land and a trip on British Rail (is it?) does little to ameliorate the aural discontent. Again the combination of speed and sound is a toxic one – on platform or onboard my Thameslink pod. At Wimbledon station competing announcements on platforms 7 and 9 send commuters into an ear-hugging fit of frenzy. Then there’s the added nuisance of the driver explaining the reason we have stopped for ten seconds. I hear snatches…Sorry…red li…soon....but we are on our way before clarity is established. I read another Trotman poem and look out of the window. I check my fellow passengers. Most are plugged into their Ipods.

Bet the speakers are good.

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In Proportion…

3 Jul

Getting things in proportion is never easy. The first week of Wimbledon tests my patience. Amongst many irritations here are some lowlights:

  1. Bling. It’s bad enough that most sprinters have chains like anchors flapping madly as they heave their steroided torsos over the 100metre stretch but it surely can’t help the uncoiling torque of a service if 18carat’s worth of a love memento is bouncing round your chest.
  2. Andrew (this year Sue Barker is calling him Andy – probably confusing him with a sour-faced Scotsman) Castle, another ex-wannabe tennis-player, now commentator, is saucepan-screechingly annoying. ‘She was on her game from the Get-Go.’ Agh! ‘Her stats rack-up impressively.’ Aaarggh! Bring Barry Davies in from court 18 and give McEnroe more air time. He’s full of impenetrable jargon but I’ll forgive a genius anything.
  3. Players who walk off court without waiting for their opponents. Bad winners and bad losers. Get over it.
  4. Henman Hill. It’s a hill not a shrine to a nice man who never won Wimbledon.

There are plenty more where these came from but these annoyances don’t rank with what has happened in Tunisia nor the escalating situation in Greece. As my mother used to say when I wouldn’t eat my greens – there are millions starving in Africa  – but Africa was a place we were never likely to visit so starvation was abstract. Greens were not. They were horrible.

As I ventured out for a spot of shopping, I groaned at the parking sensors beeping when I was miles away from any obstruction. They play a serenade when I brush a daisy but if Bruce Springsteen is on full volume I can crash into a brick wall. Then some jackass was bumper-close behind me on a winding country road. Naturally I slowed down to annoy him further and had to endure the single finger salute as he roared past me on a tiny straight bit before another bend. I didn’t reciprocate. He had tattoos.

Back in my hutch I got a text from a friend who has just broken his tibia and fibula, if you know where they are. He’s blogged about it(Compleatbirder – wordpress) – well you would wouldn’t you? Then I opened a letter revealing the annual accounts of my esteemed bank: Nationwide. Gosh they’ve made some money, even though they call me a member rather than a customer. I turned to the remuneration of the board. Four executive directors (all men) and eight non-exec. (2 women). Chief exec. Graham Beale’s package, including legacy (ie pension payments) is a staggering £2.4 million! The four top boys get £6.5mill. between them.  The non-exec. (ie he doesn’t even work there) Chairman, Geoffrey Howe (don’t laugh) only gets £310,000. They tell me you can’t get this sort of talent just anywhere. The explanatory blurb was so confusing I couldn’t work out if these guys got even more through bonuses. I would quote from the document but I must keep a sense of FUCKING proportion.

I haven’t moved my money yet but my flexi-super saver account is bouncing along at .45% interest and falling nicely behind inflation while the Nationwide board get fat on my enormous contribution.

Andy Murray managed a beaming smile yesterday. He’s getting things in perspective. Me too.

Tunisia. A minute’s silence at Wimbledon today. The bling takes a back seat.

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