Listening

Vivien Jones

I spend a lot of time on my own in my home. My husband makes musical instruments in his workshop at the bottom of my garden and I work as a freelance writer, early musician and general administrator for everything from his business to our music group and the two writing communities I’m part of. I’ve grown used to the small sounds of my home and what they mean.

The ball catch on the music room door means work and separation are done for the day and we are about to share an hour’s music-making before supper. The increasing number of electronic bleeps means either washing machine, kettle, or cooker have finished what they are doing and require some attention from me. I strain to hear the soft tinkling of the hanging glass mermaid, etched by a friend, on the kitchen window, when the house’s internal breezes make it vibrate. When the upstairs bedroom window is opened wide to air the room and breeze turns to wind, the moving air opens and closes any un-shut door in the house with a clatter. It’s as well that I don’t believe in ghosts.

The ground floor windows are also where the cat, Axa, our black Moorish beauty, pads against the glass when hunger for food or affection moves her. Peering intently, she makes a silent open-mouthed plea for entry, sure that her sleek presence will be welcome. The crackle of the open fire through the cold months of the year, burning wood from the beach, wood from the sawmill. The kindling comes in the shape of parts of instruments cut or shaved from the main body, generating aromatic airs as well as sounds. Fire lighting happens at the same time as the creaking opening of the old gate-leg table in preparation for supper.

And often through the day, when instruments are at the testing stage, there will be rushes of scales, and comment, and more scales, and more comment until at last comes the song of an instrument comfortable with its strings and tensions sounding out and I can creep in and share the joy of a difficult task accomplished.

What of the changing sounds, the ones that are lost in those changes? Our stairs were bare wood when we came, our shoes clacked on them, they creaked with every ascent and descent. The bare walls and floors of the deep stairwell were where we should have played our recorders, borrowing its kind acoustic to make our music sound better, but we stayed in the music room with its rugs and curtains, borrowing its dull honesty so that any good sound there might be better in a stairwell acoustic. Bare wood gone now; we have carpeted the stairs so all approaches are silent and less interesting.

My hours in my kitchen come with an orchestra of jar-tops, graters and chopping boards, sizzling pans and the soft bubbling of boiling water. My food mixer (no mere processor here) has its own metallic melody singing once a week in the bread-making, its changing pitch marking the readiness of the dough. Because it is more than twenty years old, its sounds are old too, its bearings a little worn. Still I know the sound of a straining motor well enough to stop it before it begins to shriek. Less lovely is the grit and spit of the hand cranked coffee grinder, thankfully brief at its task, but the aroma lingers for hours and the sound alone will bring visitors to see if there’s a fresh pot on the go. And once a year, the week-long slap and slurp of the big pan as our year’s supply of marmalade reaches its setting point, a ceremony that may not go on forever, but is an annual tribute to our good life here. The pantry is stacked with marmalade, a year’s supply, and the freezer with its soft sucking door, full of bread. In the kitchen too is the sound of the radio–BBC Radio 4–my friend whilst I cook with its conversations and comedies helping me be content with the small drones of housework. I feed my mind while I feed our family and friends–a good exchange.

Most days I fly to the comfort of the keyboards in my room—when Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own in 1929 she might have been imagining my room, lined with books to write in, books to read, computers and printers, the room in which I have written most of my published work. Its clacking keyboards are the sound of creation, the PC different from the Mac, the photocopier’s soft breath as it opens means something to share with others.
Still I wait for the soft footfall on the stairs that says there’s a walk on the cards, or a music session or even just a shopping trip.

These are the sounds that tell me I am home and that my home is full of sounds that say life is good, best when shared.

Vivien Jones lives on the north Solway shore. Her first poetry collection was About Time,Too  (Indigo Dreams Publishing,September 2010). In that year she also won the Poetry London Prize. She has completed a second short fiction collection on a theme of women amongst warriors — White Poppies (2012).  Her second poetry collection is Short of Breath (November 2014 Cultured Llama Press).

Photo credit: Eunice Chung

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