People assume that life in an idyllic little market town in the Alps with a national park on the doorstep must be a haven of peace and quiet in a world increasingly suffering from some kind of collective hyperthyroidism. And so it is. At three o’clock on a Wednesday morning in the depths of January.
In fact for most of the winter the place is quiet as the grave, mainly because you can’t stay outside for more than three minutes without getting frostbite and if you open the door for any longer than that all the pipes freeze.
But at the first sight of spring sunshine everyone rushes to fling wide the doors and windows, crank the radio up full blast and get out the power tools. That’s the sound of summer round here – not swallows and tinkling streams but jackhammers and angle grinders nearly drowned out by NRJ’s playlist of six mediocre pop songs.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a mediocre pop song as much as the next person – I’ve got Aqua’s Barbie Girl on the iPod and it doesn’t come much more mediocre than that – but I like to choose when to listen to it. Preferably not very often, and definitely not if it’s one of the items on NRJ’s playlist, which I have heard so often that if I have to listen to it again I might just froth at the mouth. If I ever actually meet Lily Allen in person I swear I could quite easily strangle her. (Apologies in advance to Ms. Allen, just in case. If some scruffy lunatic ever tries to strangle you at random while you’re minding your own business it will probably be me – terribly sorry.)
But I exaggerate. It’s not always NRJ’s dreadful pop pap. Just this week one of the neighbours has acquired one of those home Hammond organs which were so popular in the ’70s (not for nothing was it known as the decade that taste forgot) and taken to whiling away the balmy Sunday afternoons attempting to play along to one of its pre-installed backing tracks. I’m all for creative pastimes and not spending all your leisure time staring boggle-eyed at the TV, but it might be an idea to polish up your art to some presentable level before you start sharing it with all the rest of us without so much as a by your leave.
But everyone seems eager to expose their private tastes to public scrutiny these days. I blame FaceTube and its constant exhortations to ‘share’ and let everyone know ‘what’s on your mind?’. I’m not telling, so ner. Now bog off and mind your own business.
One of the most baffling of recent music-sharing phenomena has to be the habit of wandering around playing tunes through the poxy little speaker on your mobile phone. Don’t they make headphones any more or what? I’m sure they do. In fact I’m pretty certain I saw some in Casino just the other day. This is mainly a yoof pastime, and one popular with jolly teenager next door, a deservedly well-liked young man whose many mates (and an increasing number of nicely-dressed young girlies, I notice) like to sit on the steps outside of an evening and play scratchy tunes at each other. If he wasn’t such a pleasant young chap he would be seriously at risk of joining Lily Allen on my people-who-would-benefit-from-a-damn-good-strangling list.
I don’t know what happened to the nitpicking sound-quality obsession we all had when I was a yoof (assuming we had ‘yoofs’ then – I’m not sure we did). Back then it was all about impossibly expensive HiFi and how big your woofers were. People now seem to think MP3 quality is perfectly acceptable, which it quite clearly isn’t even when you do play it through headphones.
I wouldn’t object quite so much (oh all right, I probably would) if they played something else, but they’re never spamming the peace with Massive Attack or scratchy versions of Satie’s Gnossiennes, are they. No, it’s always NRJ’s dire playlist or that American-criminals-shouting-at-you music. One of these days I’ll point out to everyone that I am in posession of a stereo system capable of blowing the balcony doors off at half power and a music collection which contains (in addition to Barbie Girl) a certain amount of Rage Against The Machine. That should up the stakes in the sound pollution arms race.
Meanwhile, I shall just have to buy a T-shirt.