Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Uh ?

I’m not hard of hearing, just very slow to respond in most cases … except for that memorable time when I heard someone drop a small coin on the pavement in Brighton one afternoon, across six lanes of traffic in the Steine.

So I was surprised, whilst walking along genteel-urban brick-semi Lavender Gardens by Clapham Common one recent Sunday morning this December, to hear the sudden squeak of soft shoes on polished wood, and the thwack of willow bat on leather ball, followed by a gymnasium-nal echo, the character of which somehow placed the sound’s origin in a large subterranean interior.

I retraced my steps and peered over the low wall of a particularly smart double-breasted private house, and looked down with some astonishment through a large thick plate glass sky light on to an indoor cricket pitch, with nets !

And that set me thinking back to two other very odd auditory experiences from long ago.

The job centre at Chippenham once sent me to work with some geologists who were searching for natural gas beneath the Cotswolds. In a windswept field near Long Newton, we stood at the halfway point of a double line of microphones that had been set in the ground on short steel spikes and were connected by miles of cable to an oscilloscope/tracer in a cabin on a trailer.

A few yards away, a deep hole had been bored in to the porous waterlogged bedrock, and a charge of dynamite had been sealed into it. When the charge was set off there was hardly any sound, but I found myself running away instinctively because the ground had already trembled beneath our feet seconds before a great geyser of muddy water and stones shot into the air beside us.

I realised later that I’d begun to run even before being conscious of the explosion … I can only suppose it was a reflex action being processed in the brain’s core or limbic system.

And another time, cycling along near Hove sea front on a dark windy night, ( no, really, it was ! ) just as I passed a large perforated manhole cover, the air around me seemed to swirl suddenly and a profoundly deep echoing sound issued from the drain that enveloped me somehow, and seemed for all the world to suggest I was being swallowed whole within the gullet of some vast satanic monster. Helplessly, I felt a wave of tingling panic rushing over my skin.

Seconds later, reason told me there was a very large storm drain that runs for miles very deep beneath the street, and that the rising and falling of the sea would first force, and then draw, tons of water and air through it in time to the rhythm of the waves.