I can hardly hear myself shop

No wonder the vacant-looking assistants can't tell you if they sell A4 envelopes or Sellotape
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The Independent Culture
SUNDAY LUNCH on the terrace in verdant Killinghurst, overlooking a daffodil-strewn glade scarcely six miles south of Godalming, jewel of the Surrey Tyrol - it was an invitation few Londoners would pass up lightly. We didn't. Besides, it was Mother's Day and my mother's terrace overlooking the glade that she had planted with daffodil bulbs and over which, she told us proudly, she had subsequently poured buckets of liquid manure using the attractive rainwater barrel I gave her for Mothering Sunday last year. I said, faintly, that I was glad she had told me what was in the barrel. No one heard me. It was not the best moment for speaking faintly, or indeed for saying anything at all, because suddenly all the normal country sounds - birds twittering, lambs baa-ing, voles splashing, soft-footed through the dewy glebe etc, were drowned by a million-decibel roar of revving engines. It seemed to be coming from the cornfield beyond the glade.

"Good God, what's happening? What on earth is that appalling noise?" I shrieked.

My mother, apparently unconcerned, was showing anyone who was interested (not many) exactly how to make liquid manure in a rainwater barrel. "Oh, that," she said. "It's the motocross. You know, those long-haired boys in leather jackets racing round and round on motorbikes. They are allowed to do it one Sunday a month. A lot of the neighbours have complained, but funnily enough you get used to it."

Do you? I don't think I do. But if more than a million people (according to a new report from the Royal National Institute for the Deaf) are working in places where the noise levels are damaging their health, I suppose they must. Thirty years ago, when we first moved to the King's Road, Chelsea was a relatively quiet part of London. The pub opposite, the Lord Nelson, was a spit-and-sawdust job with old gaffers in titfers talking about the dogs to blowzy barmaids called Doris. If there was music in the shops, and I don't remember there being any, it was Roger Whittaker singing "Durham Town (The Leavin')" coming from a wireless. You saw police cars, fire engines and ambulances but you didn't automatically hear them.

All that has changed. Police cars, fire engines and ambulances always have their sirens going full-blare even if it's 4am and there's nothing in the King's Road except for a couple of Hoorays hailing a taxi.

The best and truest line in an otherwise dismal sitcom I saw on television the other night about training new police recruits was: "Please Sarge, can we play with our neee-naws now?" All the shops in the King's Road, even the ones that sell only stationery, have the sort of music that the Royal National Institute for the Deaf's Indecent Exposure report would condemn as hyper-decibel and therefore injurious to health. No wonder the vacant-looking assistants can't tell you if they sell A4 envelopes or Sellotape. Their brains have been permanently damaged by the relentless cacophony pouring down on them from the quadraphonic sound system.

It is quite possible that I permanently damaged my child's emotional development the other day in a King's Road shoe shop, where we were trying to buy sensible lace-ups.

Having tried gestures, sign language and lip-reading, I eventually screamed at the assistant that I'd have to leave unless she turned the music down. She didn't merely turn it down, she turned it off. The affect was extraordinary. Everyone in the shop froze. It was as if she had turned the lights off. "I can't believe you did that, Mum", stormed my child afterwards. "Honestly, you're so embarrassing."

Better embarrassed than deaf, I say, but alas, I think it's too late. Unlike me, they're used to noise. They can simultaneously listen to rap music with the volume turned up to maximum, and write passable essays on Macbeth. For no sensible reason, our new television set has a device that can alter the type of sound it gives - thus disco, drama, movie, church, stadium and cosmos. The louder you play it, the better the effect, said the man who installed it.

Whether he should be encouraging such irresponsibility, and whether Middlemarch sounds better on disco, I cannot say; but I do know that we don't watch TV on Saturday nights because there's so much noise and excitement coming from the pub opposite, which is now called The Trafalgar. No more sawdust, gaffers and barmaids called Doris. The Trafalgar is smoky, crowded and so noisy that at midnight, when the police cars arrive to break up the fights and make the arrests, you can't in fact hear the neee-naws. That's why people go to the country on Sundays, for the peace. Bikers probably feel the same.