One of the primary reasons that I was keen to move to the country was to escape the noise of the town. Over the years I had become aware of the increasing cacophony that surrounded my daily life. My penultimate house in the town had been sandwiched between a railway line bordering the garden and a dual carriageway at the front door. I had become inured to the noise and after a number of years only really noticed it if the trains stopped running or the traffic abated. It was eerily quite and normally presaged knowledge of an accident or problem. Our last town house was less troubled by railway noise but the noise of the town was everywhere. Cars revving, horns tooting, kids screaming, drunks singing, planes landing, families arguing, ice-cream vans luring, football fans cheering, metal workers banging – there was always some noise and something going on. This all seemed so different to the silence we experience when we ventured out of the town and into the country where we started to hatch our escape plans.
If I had to choose a single noise which prompted this decision it would be fairly easy. It was the sirens. A day would not go by without hearing a siren, there would always be a reminder from at least one of the emergency services. This sound was always depressing as it alerted us to the fact that somewhere somebody was having a terrible time. Somebody was being rushed to hospital gravely ill or injured, or someone was waiting for the fire brigade to come to help as their home burned, or the police were rushing to help someone who was being assaulted or robbed. There is never a ‘nice’ reason for a siren to sound, they were a daily reminder of misery and misfortune. Indeed, after we moved, the absence of the sirens was something I did, in fact, notice and welcome.
At first, we used to marvel at how quiet was the area around our house. We used to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. Until we noticed the obvious – the countryside is not quiet. The noise is different but it is not absent. We listened to birds overhead, the animals in the fields, the wind in the trees and the noise of the river passing by the house. These noises never stop. They change through the day but it is never quiet. Even at night, after the evening serenade from the birds as they settle down for the night, the sounds continue: owls hoot, foxes scream, the river gurgles and snuffling, scurrying animals pass by you in the murk of the hedgerows. Different noises; some pleasant and some scary.
Indeed, during the day, especially in the summer, the animal noises are quite loud and prevalent. Cows, horses, goats, dogs, poultry and sheep all add their bit to the daily background thrum and in the main it is quite pleasant. It is the sound that things are as they are meant to be, that the world is running as it should and not a siren in earshot. But there is a fly in the ointment. Most animals have a happy noise, a noise that reveals them to be contented. There are many examples : cats will purring in the sun, cattle lowing as they graze, the whinny of horses at play, chickens contentedly clucking as they find some interesting morsel to eat. Even the waking cockerels greeting a new day ,or excited dogs yapping as they see their friends, are sounds of happy animals and pleasant on the ear.
However, sheep do not have a happy sound and unfortunately it is with sheep that we have arranged to surround ourselves! Sheep bleat and they bleat incessantly. It is no surprise that we use the word ‘bleat’ both for the noise made by sheep and the noise made by whiny, demanding people. There is no happy, cheerful way to bleat. A day in the country beside sheep is a day of “Meh Meh, I’m hungry”, “Meh meh meh, where is my mum”, “meh meh meh where’s my lamb”, “meh meh meh I’m still hungry”, “meh meh I’m stuck in the brambles”, “meh meh did I tell you I’m hungry”, “meh meh meh don’t forget now”, “meh meh meh still hungry here”, “meh meh..” There is no variation to this song even if you appear with a bucket of food “meh meh meh only one bucket meh meh where’s the rest“.
So after our move we still value peace and quiet. It is nice sometimes to notice that there no real noise and the farm feels serene. Until we realise the sheep aren’t bleating ! They are quiet, something must be wrong as they are never quiet, they are never not hungry ! They must have escaped or be taken unwell. That absence of bleating kicks a hole in our tranquility – the silence of the lambs is our new siren!