When I was coxing my rowing team at Uni, there were winter mornings when your voice wouldn’t carry on the river for the silence of the mist pillowing around the boat, deadening your voice, cloaking the river. Now my mornings are a cacophony of oyster barrier beeps, continuous bleating sirens on the Hammersmith Broadway and passive aggressive tuts of dropped patience in my ear.
When was the last time you were able to sit down and been able to enjoy the quiet?
Or been unable to sleep because it is too quiet? I couldn’t tell you either.
We’re bookended by sounds in our day to day. The click and hiss of the kettle signals the start of your work day. The shrug of jackets onto the shoulders of your colleagues signals lunchtime. The call of greeting from friends across a bar signals the start to your night out, as you stride in thinking you look like a Sex And The City extra.
Every City has defining sound characteristics, be it the 1 o’clock gun booming out from Edinburgh Castle, Hampden Roar on a game day in Glasgow, or the preserve of the passive aggressive commuter, the tut, echoing behind your head on the tube. The phrase, ‘only in…’ is true of so many places but noises are specific. They are indicative of the people who make up the place and this place is no different.
The majority of ‘Londoners’–a broad term–have disengaged with their fellow man. The verbal eye roll, tutting is common to most cities, but in London this noise is a weapon. An expression of frustration. Or disapproval. Or irritation. Or anger. It is a definition of this city in one expelation of breath.
It is strangely satisfying to have this noise at your disposal, to be able to express a feeling without actually engaging with this person who has annoyed you so briefly, who has so insignificantly disturbed your life. Just this morning I chose to use the tut, I even paused a beat to consider its necessity, but cut up on the stairs, hustled by someone on the platform; it is so rarely challenged and so quickly generated it’s easy to forget it has any impact at all, save for minor relief. Obviously if a challenge comes you may have a problem but mostly, you will receive nothing but a steely stare or practiced lack of eye contact.
Gone are the days of public courtesy, and seemingly so too of public complaint. However, if you fear conflict but suffer from public annoyance and the subtlety of the tut is not subtle enough, you can alternatively use the eye roll to make your point.
Barely noticeable given the lack of eye contact in London, your protest will cause such small ripples it will barely register at all.