The Sound of the Sirens


 Hello Darkness my Old Friend, I’ve come to talk to you again…..

(Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – 1964)

While London may be a city that proverbially never sleeps, I on the other hand, really need to, especially on a week-night.

But in Bethnal Green, you can *’rest’ assured (*if you’re lucky) that there’ll be all-night recurrent road-noise, unless of course you’re a lucky old park-keeper living in that quiet lodge over in Victoria Park. Even then, you’ll get the odd police-helicopter whirring overhead in pursuit of night-time offenders (who are hopefully not hot-footing their way through your precious park after you oh-so carefully locked all those gates at sundown!)

So no, there isn’t much in the way of peace and quiet around here….

But while some say (wistfully), that silence is golden, others believe that silence is merely the absence of noise.

More imaginative types, like musicians, like to think that stillness is a gloriously unsullied (blank) page on which they can paint a picture of sound. But in this neck of the woods, even the most creative types will never be able to bag themselves a wholly unblemished canvas to work on. They’ll have a ready-made backing track of urban ambient resonance running 24/7.


Heading your way….

In E2 silence is simply a rare thing.

So when I’m ready to drift off and leave the day behind, I expect cars to sporadically pass by through the darkness. Motorbikes will rev randomly round the corner, regardless of the hour. Sirens blare in the distance, or pass sharply by in swift pursuit of law-breakers, then quickly fade away.

It’s not just traffic-noise that carries upwards to my fourth-floor end-flat. I’ll hear high heels harmlessly clacking their way along the pavement while drunken revellers call out to each other from opposite sides of the road, no doubt convinced they’re speaking in hushed tones.


Tuning into the Night…

That same police-helicopter that just flew over the park might well pause on its pathway to whirr way up high above my roof, sounding more like it’s hovering just  above my head. It won’t necessarily be in any hurry to move on. Are these criminals running round and round my block? Why don’t they go off and do it somewhere else?

I can’t shut this nocturnal commotion out. Nor would I want to.

Silence would disturb me far more. The absence of soothing sirens and lulling helicopters would make finding precious snooze that much harder. Regardless of what is happening outside, (even directly above my own sleepy head), I never, even when wandering the borderlands between sleep and wakefulness, dream I’m on the run from the boys in blue. Nor do I, in that semi-lucid limbo state, ever feel the need to bury my head under my pillow in a desperate attempt to avoid not just the  commotion, but the overhead searchlights. No, the sound of chopper rotor-blades relaxes me. In fact, it rocks me like a lullaby.


Soothing as a Lullaby

As experienced city-dwellers we can (and do) fall asleep to sounds that would likely keep rural dwellers lying wide awake.

Fellow townies, if you’re ever ‘out in the sticks’ and you listen properly to that ‘golden’ silence, you may well find that it’s not so much the absence of sound, but a resonance in its own right. It can be loud or soft, relaxing or intrusive, complex or simple – and worse than any amount of traffic. The more you tune into absolute stillness, the louder it becomes. That’s why we need a nice bit of ‘real’ noise to nod off to.

But meanwhile, back in Bethnal Green tonight, a car-alarm has just gone off. Now this is too intrusive, even for a seasoned city-dweller all safe under a duvet (and foam earplugs within easy reach). Mercifully it stops after 30 seconds, so I turn over and settle back down. But the piercing din kicks off again – then pauses – and this keeps on happening, over and over again. Each time I think that’s it – finally – it goes off one more time. I’m now lying here tensely counting out the seconds before the next round of sonic invasion.

Why, oh why doesn’t someone come out to check on their precious vehicle? How long will this racket go on for? An aeroplane passes overhead and it’s quite a restful sound in comparison.  Better still, in flying over, the powerful aircraft seems to  erase that car-alarm. Realistically, someone must have disabled it – either that or someone really has stolen the car.

At this stage I don’t really care much either way, as long as I can stop monitoring the gaps between alarm-peals. Dare I turn over and relax again?

I give it a go – and it’s working….

Suddenly I am ripped from sweet and deepening slumber by squeaky hinges being sawn vigorously back and forth – a raw and grating cacophony which eventually culminates in a final huge resounding metallic bang.

One of my neighbours is seeing fit to carry out their midnight ritual at the fourth floor rubbish chute, which is situated (in)conveniently right near my front door. While the chute’s ‘prime’ location makes it handy enough for me to pop out and deposit my own refuse on a casual whim, everyone else on my landing seems to want to wait until the witching hour before they suddenly decide it’s absolutely imperative to creep quietly along to my end of the block in order to noisily rid themselves of accumulated household waste.  And their overfull bin-bags never seem to go down the hatch that easily.

So here I am, wide awake again…..and getting very annoyed.

Just as I am sufficiently reassured that no-one else is going to feel the need to do battle with the chute again before the birds and bin-men arrive (together of course) to wake me at sunrise, the night is abruptly ruptured by blood-curdling howls that chill me to the bone.

I’m not familiar enough first-hand with Creatures of the Night to discern whether these are stray cats fighting, or maybe urban foxes scrapping over all those tasty delicacies spilling out of appetising black bin-liners. But whatever niggling little issues these infernal beasts are trying to (in)discretely resolve among themselves, they sure sound like they have just emerged from the Portals of Hell.


Just when you thought it was safe…

Thankfully, that hellish discord subsides (eventually), but now the night is somehow all-too-quiet – so unusually noiseless that my brain can’t seem to switch off.

How long will this disturbing state of affairs go on for?

The silence grows louder.

Why are there no police-sirens? Something must be wrong out there….