Tuesday, 14 August 2012

An Almost Silent Activity

A couple of weeks ago I went to Worksop to teach at the Harley Gallery. I flew into Stansted on the afternoon of the opening of the Olympics and as the Park is only a short jog from Stansted I had planned in some extra time before catching the train north to allow for the anticipated scrum at the airport. It was therefore unnerving to enter the UK without queuing and I have never seen Stansted emptier or more hushed.

Once on the train I started to become aware of noise: recorded station alerts, mobile phones, loud conversations, creaking carriage connectors and grinding brakes. There were three changes on noisy platforms with loudspeaker announcements that were carried away with the slipstream of passing Intercitys. In Worksop I was instantly aware of a busy main road outside my guest house window and relieved when the traffic died down as people went home to watch the opening ceremony on TV. Fortunately it went on so long I was asleep before they got back into their cars!

Harley Gallery Courtyard
 Harley, set in the stable yard of a stately pile with its enclosed acres, was a haven of tranquillity where 15 students spent the day learning to plait baskets, their intense concentration allowing little opportunity for breathing, let alone talking! There was also the usual reverent hush in the gallery where Urban Baskets was on show.  Is it only in the UK that people whisper in galleries? 

Urban Baskets at the Harley Gallery

Plaiting Workshop photo: Dayle Green

Photo: Dayle Green
The next night was spent with friends who live in the countryside, in between a high speed rail line and the A1 and depending on which way the wind is blowing they hear one or the other. Back to Central London and again an eerie quiet with relatively little traffic and empty buses. 

Staying in North London that night I was aware of planes, sirens and the dustcart in the early hours and it reminded me of my old East End home, a javelin throw from the Olympic Stadium where there was never a quiet moment. Two airports, three rail lines, and the District and Central lines that ran beneath the house making the windows rattle were the main contributors but when the wind came from the east you could also hear and smell the twice daily traffic jam at the Blackwall tunnel.  Ambulances howled day and night (3 hospitals), police cars wailed, (lots of crime)  music thumped, arguments raged and dogs barked. These were all underperformers though compared with the police helicopter that clattered over our little garden at night. The giant Blade Runneresque spotlight on its underbelly searching the surrounding streets for something or someone often landed on us as we innocently sat in the dark on summer nights trying to relax. We always rewarded these blinding, heavenly assaults with impolite gestures which, no doubt, are on record somewhere!

Returning to the airport, it is busier now, but Stansted is well designed and no matter how busy, the decibels are restrained in the main terminal. The noise cranks up, however, at the Ryan Air departure gate and once inside the winged tin can, it crescendos alarmingly. Cabin crews speak in tongues at a volume that makes me put my fingers in my ears, (they are nagging us to buy something or other); a babe in the arms of its parent in the seat next to me screams both lungs hollow for the first twenty minutes of the short  flight. There is the triumphal fanfare on landing a minute early followed by the baffling sound of passengers clapping; a triumph of marketing as surely the flight is supposed to arrive on time.

An hour in the car and finally, the sublime and, for the moment at least, (until the LGV line at the bottom of the garden is finished)  almost overwhelming quiet of my home and studio where, it suddenly dawned on me that one of the reasons I chose to make baskets is because it is an almost silent activity…..

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