Jane Merrick: The Emperor's New Clothes (29/07/12)

They are designed to soothe, but a neighbour's wind chimes have got our writer running for the scissors

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It is a warm summer's evening, and the gentle tinkle of wind chimes rises over the breeze and in through the open bedroom window, the sound of wood brushing playfully on aluminium, conjuring up images of falling cherry blossom, swaying bamboo and soothing cool water over hot, tired feet. Or not.

I'm sure this scene of tranquillity was what my neighbour had in mind when she hung wind chimes in her garden, some 20 feet from where I sleep. I imagine she wanted to introduce some feng shui into our little corner of south London. But I'm afraid the yin she's trying to summon up by this instrument is outweighed by the yang of her irritable neighbour calling the local council's noise abatement hotline to complain.

The cold, wet weather we've had for most of this year means I haven't really noticed the tinkling before, because the windows have remained tightly shut. Last week's heatwave has done many wonderful things, including making some of us optimistic about the Olympics, but it has also brought us closer to our neighbours. I don't mind, mostly, the students at the back who drink too much and shout over each other, as long as they shut up by midnight. The music two doors away is never too loud, really. But the wind chimes have not stopped jingling, throughout the night. It doesn't take a strong gust to get them going, just a gentle zephyr carried down from Crystal Palace. As I write this, they are tinkling. Closing the window only makes it hotter, and even then my ears seem to have tuned into the little aluminium tubes, because I can still hear them, softly taunting me through the glass.

I am not alone. Waltham Forest council had to deal with a neighbour dispute over wind chimes earlier this year, threatening one resident with a £5,000 fine, while many local authorities seem to list them as a "noise nuisance". Perhaps I am being too intolerant, and they bring tranquillity to my neighbour? Then again, all it would take is a pair of scissors under cover of darkness. Because, as Keats might have said if he lived on our street, what is more gentle than a wind in summer – especially when the chimes have been silenced?

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