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The sound of silence January 10, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Which is bollocks, of course. Even on the dullest street in suburban Berlin, where every light in every flat is off by about 9pm, you never get real silence. There’s always the hum of the fridge, or the rattle of a radiator shuddering into life or the smack of a German lady with short hair and glasses pursing her lips in indignation at some perceived slight, such as an interloper having crossed the road when the Ampelmann is gingerbread-man red rather than raging hard-on green (or committing some other equally egregious crime).

Silence, I’m assured, can only be heard in the desert. Two English friends who have been in the Sahara assure me there’s nothing like it. And that I certainly wouldn’t have heard it anywhere I’ve been. But I must say I’m revelling in the relative sound of silence. Berlin silence.

For not only is silence golden, it really is relative. After the rigours of the New Year and having to interact with human beings for days on end – imagine! – silence is even sitting at the computer, with the Russian busily wandering in and out of the room looking for ways not to enjoy himself – he had the bathroom mirror down a few minutes ago – and, prompted by this entry from mimi in NY, even a tape of Rimsky-Korsakov’s thunderousness whirring quietly in the background. But that’s all effortless hearing. I’m not really having to do any listening. Whereas with humans, you have to listen, of course, unless you’re willing to be quite spectacularly rude, which I haven’t yet worked out how to do (unless there’s a bottle of vodka in the immediate vicinity).

Now we had various guests over the festive period. Two of them made the period very festive indeed, and every word they uttered was balm to my ears and… something else soothing – booze? – to my soul. I was genuinely bereft as we twice in one day said out-of-breath goodbyes having sprinted across Alexanderplatz to get them on the airport train. There was a day of overlapping between guests one and two and guest three. Our suburban street had never seen anything like it. We were up till all hours – at least 10.30pm – and imagine the cacophony of two queens and three ladies round a booze-laden table. I once had dinner at someone’s place in Berlin – we were eight à table – and a neighbour called the police as they clearly didn’t like us having fun at 7pm on a Friday night. But we got away without a call from the men in green and hit the sack relieved that guests one and two had somehow managed to be combined with guest three without a hitch.

Guest three is a rather loquacious lady. As I say, the evening had passed without a hitch, but I did sense the odd smack of pursed, Swabian lip that she hadn’t been able to get onto a good monologous roll for a full 24-hour period. But her time would come. And once we’d said goodbye to guests one and two, and loquacious lady had us all to herself, the floodgates were raised and it was one long stream of consciousness for the next three days. Now far be it from me to bitch about a friend on this blog, but a three-day talkathon is pretty exhausting. You know someone has talked too much when you know the names of all of their never-to-be-met-by-you colleagues, what they look like and what they eat for breakfast. You know someone has talked too much when, even as a polite Englander, you are struggling to keep up the pretence and are fighting to disguise a scowl and grimace from your ordinarily smiling visage. (A long-held scowl hurts far less than a long-held smile. Those scowling Russian shop assistants are on to something.) And you just know someone has talked too much when you’re beginning to think it might not be that bad to suddenly be taken ill and have a few days putting your feet up in a nice, quiet, geriatric ward in a German hospital. As I believe our friends across the pond say (or used to in 1994), “Too much (fucking – my embellishment) information.” Not even a shrink can bear more than a hour of paid self-centred free association. God it was hard.

So I’m enjoying the peace. And relative quiet. I’ve got two weeks solid of New World socialising to do coming up. I’ll have to have smile-removal surgery when I get back. But, for now, thank heavens for work. Thank heavens that everyone’s skint after the excesses of the festivities. Belated bah humbug. (See how working at home gets you out of life-practice.)

Which isn’t to say I don’t love guests. Indeed, I’m even hoping that the two bloggers I know personally might visit these four walls this year. And I’ll love every second. I can cope with drunken rants (and can do those myself). I can cope with mindless gossip. I can cope with holding forth and story-telling. But please, interlocutors, nothing, aber nothing, about your secretary’s dog getting ill or company recruitment policy. Otherwise, I warn you, it’s the bottle of vodka and the barely decent monologue of my own.



1. lukeski - January 10, 2006

I don’t have a secretary. And I’m quite happy about my company’s (recent) recruitment policy;) So you’re realtively safe there. Drunken rants I can do. Vodka I can’t. But pivo/Bier will do me fine…

2. BiB - January 11, 2006

You’re more than welcome any time. And I think the likelihood of you speaking as much in your whole life as much as Frau Loquacious did in three days is rather low. I don’t think I’d even mind the monologues SO MUCH if the content wasn’t always strictly autobiographical (or on irrelevant people playing cameo roles in the story of her life). I don’t think we had anything that could fairly be described as a conversation…

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