As I left my home this morning, a car alarm was being drowned out by the warning sound of a reversing lorry. A blast on a car horn provided a loud, one-note accompaniment. On the bus, I sat next to someone whose earphones broadcast that constant, tinny noise that is so irritating in confined spaces. Behind me, a woman talked excitedly in Italian into her mobile phone. On top of all this, there were the recorded announcements informing us of the next stop etc.
We city dwellers rarely pay any attention to this urban cacophony, but I have become sensitised to such noise since I spent a weekend on what could loosely be called a golfing retreat in the middle of France. I was extremely fortunate to have been invited to Les Bordes, recognised as the number one golf course in Europe and so exclusive that it has only 27 members. Thus far this year, fewer than 100 rounds of golf have been played there, and the four of us were the only people playing last weekend (until, that is, Jimmy Tarbuck and his wife turned up on Sunday).
The course is carved out of forest in one of France's most densely-wooded areas, Sologne, and is really a long way from anywhere. But the most interesting thing about this whole shebang is not its exclusivity, or its beauty, or its remoteness. It is the creation of one man who was driven by a single idea. Back in the mid-1980s, Baron Bich - the man who gave the world the Bic ballpoint pen and throwaway razors - had a vision of creating a world-famous golf course on what was his own hunting ground.
In the years to come, he averred, the single most prized quality for humankind will be silence. So, with money no object, Les Bordes was born in 1987, and today it still fulfils the Baron's original mandate. The most striking thing about it is the sound of silence, and for those of us who live in the city, it is a very strange experience. No cars, no trains, no distant thrum of a motorway, no planes overhead. Nothing. I must say I found it rather unnerving. I only had to contend with the noises in my head, and that's always a rather scary prospect!
Night time was a different matter, however. Accomodation comprises basic, rustic lodges around the course, and it was only when we retired that we discovered the antidote to the daytime tranquility. The natural noises of the forest kept me awake most of the night. The owls hooting were one thing. But we unfortunately had chosen the height of the rutting season for our visit, and all night long the plaintive lowing of the stags desperate to find a mate was conducted at a volume that was a barrier to sleep.
At one stage, it was so loud I thought I had a stag in my bathroom. It was like trying get some shut eye in the middle of the Serengeti. Fabulous though this unique environment is, and privileged though I was to spend time there, I did find myself thinking in the early hours: give me a car alarm any time!