Tourists arriving at the airport

Tourists arriving at the airport.

14-04-2021M.S.

Sounds. I was prompted into thinking about sounds. Memories they spark off. Associations with places, with people. The sounds of the past, the present and quite conceivably the future. It was a song on the radio I hadn’t heard for years. It was a special song in a way, as I knew one of the group quite well plus others who were associated with them. They were all from where I had grown up, and - most importantly - they wrote about where I had grown up. “Ten o’clock Broadmoor siren, driving me mad.” They used to test the siren at the Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital bang on ten. When was it? Each Monday? You could hear it for miles. Which was the point of it of course. “Staines, this is Staines”: the station announcement on the journey to Waterloo. They were The Members and the song was The Sound of the Suburbs.

Innocent days of youth. Well, not so innocent maybe, but still carefree if less so than from an earlier time. It was a rather more poetic song. The sound of nothingness. “And the vision that was planted in my brain, Still remains, Within the sound of silence.” The leap from The Members to Simon & Garfunkel was rapid. That was because I was recalling other song titles with the word sound in them.

From the raucous quasi-punk of The Members to the soft tones of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. From the shouts, screams and laughter of summer to a nothingness, a silence previously unknown. At the start of April you wouldn’t expect loudness, but you would certainly anticipate noise of some sort. It was a Sunday morning around ten o’clock last year and the sound of silence was deafening for a resort in Mallorca. Only the birds and what may have been some motion of the waves. Perhaps there was a barely registrable hum of electricity. Or were there only the birds, and a clock, counting down infinite time.

It still staggers me to recall the silence. There were no cars, no planes, and this silence had been made even more acute by the muting of the power station. There might have been the rumble of the turbines, even if it was never at its most fearsome when there was daylight. At night, the bellow would be conjured up from the bowels of the Earth. There would be the roaring of a monster, a demonic howl obliterating the crazed squawks, coos and peeps of the wetlands in darkness. There is an ambient noise associated with the resorts. Indefinable, it exists even when all is quiet.

That’s because you are attuned to noise. You can imagine it, such is the normality. Deprived of this mysterious acoustic phenomenon, it was as though a bereavement had hushed the little world of the resort into silence. It was a bereavement, sadly and actually for some; otherwise it was for the general sense of loss and of knowing how to contend with this. However, this bereavement was not being marked. On a Sunday morning there was one very striking silence. The church bells had stopped ringing.

The sound of tourists, early season ones though they may have been, had disappeared. One of the few manifestations of normality amidst this abrupt abnormality was the supermarket. This is the sound of the tourist in supermarkets - a sound. The cyclists and their clippety-clop as they walk around the aisles of bananas and energy bars and drinks.

A similar tip-tap is that of the Nordic walkers, well removed from anything approximating Nordic, such as the mountains, and instead striking tarmac on the side roads.
But there is one sound in particular. I heard it just the other day, not in unison but in isolation. It may have been a tourist. Whoever it was, there was the sound of the suitcase.
From five or six in the morning, you would normally hear this. Holidaymakers wheeling their suitcase barrows through a road broad and a bougainvillea-topped alleyway narrow, bumping over broken surfaces and humps that have risen from something unseen. They trek like refugees to where they will be de-processed, deposited on a coach and driven to their place of deportation.

For the arrivals, the coaches disgorge their human loads, who line up for their processing, sometimes in queues that tumble backwards out of reception. All their worldly touristic possessions are packed inside their cases. They create the clatter and rumble of plastic rolling stock with a metallic syncopation as they go in search of the promised land - their hotel accommodation.

Why would anyone miss this sound? For the very same reason as, for all it was annoying, the Broadmoor siren screamed a reassurance. All was normal. Ten o’clock every week. The early-morning reverberation of suitcase wheels - a normality lost but hopefully soon rediscovered.

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