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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
In search of peace and quiet
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By Megan Lane
BBC News Online
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Shhh! It's International Noise Awareness Day, which highlights the damage noise does to our hearing and our mental health. Just how much din are we exposed to on a daily basis?
Stop. Sit still. Open your ears. What can you hear?

If you're in an office like mine, there'll be several phones ringing (at least one of which will be a mobile abandoned on a desk), the rattle of keyboards, the hum of the air conditioning and the burble of half-heard conversations.

Quiet please
The US will mark the day with a minute's silence
UK campaigners will lobby MPs to help fight noise
Even in the so-called peace and quiet of the countryside, there'll no doubt be the roar of a car engine nearby or a plane buzzing overhead.

We live in an increasingly noisy world. And the more you listen the louder it all seems.

Keep hanging on

More than two-thirds of Britons now own a mobile phone.

Not only do these handy gadgets allow millions to conduct seemingly one-sided conversations in public - or beep away as we text - each and every one of us has at some point "tested" the ringing tones within earshot of some hapless listener.

Ever seen the incredibly annoying phone user bellowing "I'm in a RESTAURANT" (cinema, gallery, bookshop...) in comedian Dom Joly's sketch show? That's you, that is.

No sleep in the flight path

Plane coming in near Heathrow
Is a good night's sleep a human right?
Planes are stacking up in our skies, with the number of flights in and out of the UK set to double to about four million by 2015.

And despite the European Court of Human Rights ruling that night flights at Heathrow breached residents' right to an undisturbed sleep, these have continued as the government is appealing against the decision.

Pump up the volume

Even when we're alone, we don't really like to be all by ourselves.

Cast performing in London
Noise complaints closed the musical Umoja
To fill the silence with companionable sound, many turn to the telly, the radio, the stereo. (Amplified music accounted for four-fifths of "neighbour noise" complaints in a National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection survey.)

And those sat at a computer have a worldwide web of choices open to them. Radio audiences are reaching a record high in the UK as more internet users tune in while they surf.

Not from these parts

Social conditioning can determine which noises get your back up.

Noisy crowing in the morning
The country, so relaxing...
Picture this: you're newly moved to a dream cottage in a rural idyll - yet the neighbour's cock insists on jerking you awake at daybreak with its rowdy crowing.

Or you've bought an inner-city pad in a converted warehouse, and have united with fellow apartment dwellers against the noisy revellers who insist on partying in the bars lining your quayside.

Honestly. What did you expect?

Rest in peace

Ah, the sweet sound of wind chimes in the breeze - but when the breeze gets up, the tranquil tinkling turns to discordant jangling.

Not only has the New Age fad for chimes led to unpleasant scenes between neighbours, councils and clergy are being swamped with complaints about chimes in cemeteries up and down the UK.

At Stafford Cemetery, where 130 chimes have distracted mourners and driven away wildlife, staff have slapped a ban on the rowdy graveside tributes.

Not-so-quiet coffee

In the United States, the League for the Hard of Hearing marked last year's International Noise Awareness Day by conducting a noise tour of eight main cities.

Tony Blair drinking coffee
"If that table doesn't keep it down..."
While the volume levels of some activities chosen were understandably high - sitting in rush-hour traffic in New York and clubbing in San Francisco topped 100 decibels - even cafés and cinemas proved to be surprisingly loud.

With a diner in Chicago and a Starbucks in Los Angeles topping 70 decibels, that's the equivalent of a small orchestra striking up at the next table.

In 1996, the World Health Organisation declared noise to be a significant threat to health. Earlier it recommended that we should have the right to decide the quality of the acoustic climate in which we live.

Now if someone could just point that out to the guy in the upstairs flat who insists on using power tools and mallets at 8am...


What noises wind you up? And is it even possible to find peace and quiet these days? Let us know using the form below. Here's some of your comments so far:

My teenage neighbours listen to rap and techno music together, each in his own flat. They open the windows and turn the music up. At the end of each track, they scream comments from balcony to balcony.
Rosalind, France


Thanks to our soaring crime rate, barking dogs and car and house alarms are at plague proportions

Ray Hattingh, South Africa
I live on my boat in a lagoon on a Caribbean island, generally it's peaceful. Jet skis and dinghies pass by occasionally and once in a while there is a rap concert till 4am in a stadium a mile away. I put up with it for a while then I get out the ear plugs!
Trevor Lawrence, St Martin NA

There is nothing that equals the silence of a glider cockpit at height. No engines, no mobiles, no music - just the gentle hiss of the wind. Can't beat it.
Henry, UK


We put cotton wool in our ears at the cinema - is it getting louder because people are getting more deaf?

Geoff, UK
Many of the car owners in my Brooklyn neighbourhood have their car alarms turned up so high that trucks rumbling past a block away set them off - and no-one rushes out to an alarmed car to see if anyone is stealing it, instead we openly fantasise of smashing it in with a sledge hammer.
Brian, US

Neighbours who go clubbing every night, returning at 3am only to continue loud into the night. When asked to consider their neighbours one morning, they shouted at me for waking them up.
Andrew Hannath, Swindon, UK

I can't control flights from Luton or racing cars in LA but I'm going to speak in low voice so only the person to whom I'm speaking can listen; control my TV volume so neighbours or people in other rooms cannot listen.
Jay, UK


My girlfriend's hairdryer when I am in bed in the morning

David Benton, UK
My neighbour who's been doing up his house for over a year - incessant hammering and drilling until all hours. Cars with radios so loud they rattle my windows (in a village) at 3am.
Chris, Somerset, England

Whilst on holiday in Istanbul, I took a boat trip to an island famed for allowing no cars. I was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon - an opportunity to unwind, to think in peace. What greeted me? A bar playing loud trance music and hundreds of mobiles ringing.
Steven, UK

More people should be made aware of the damage that can be done by attending concerts, nightclubs, pubs etc. I have developed tinnitus which means silence is more irritating than background noise. Sleep is disturbed and according to the medical people there is no going back - be careful out there!
Paul, UK

The incessant and badly rung bells at the local church every second Friday evening - how hard is it to "ding-dong" and not "dong-ding"?
Mathew, UK


Garden power tools are the invention of Satan

Simon Holt, Ireland
Lawnmowers! Why do people have to wait for Sunday and then take it in turns to cut grass? It seems an endless drone all day long. Is it true that no grass-cutting is allowed on Sunday in Germany?
M Slater, UK

It's true - neither are you allowed to drill, hammer etc on a Sunday or between noon and 3pm any other day. Professional "handymen" can carry on all day, but still not on Sundays.
Nicci, Germany (ex UK)

The constant "dah da-da-da da-dah, clunk clunk thud ching" of the gaming machine in my local when I'm trying to have a quiet lunchtime pint and read my paper.
Andy, UK


A washing machine, dishwasher, and tumble dryer all going at the same time making it hard to understand the TV

Stacey Turner, US
People with headphones so loud that you can hear it the other side of the train carriage - surely they are doing their eardrums (as well as your nerves) irreparable damage.
Adam, UK

Screaming kids in supermarkets - I don't mind my own kids playing up but when someone else's start I feel like screaming back. Then there is the York Ghost Tour guide - every night he shouts "bring out your dead" outside my window. On Halloween we threw a "corpse" from the second floor.
Mike Brown, York, UK

Surely it has gone too far when a bartender cannot hear you yelling your drinks order over the "background" music.
Jeremy Pearson, England


Try swimming underwater - you struggle to hear anything other than your own movements

Jason Clee, Wales
I live in Tokyo, where it's "cool" to ride bikes with no mufflers.
Sam Chapman, Japan

I'm now in a totally quiet environment but the humming of the fan in my PC is really starting to get on my nerves.
Ben, UK

I live near Luton Airport but it's not the planes that are noisy - there's some open land nearby and someone rides their dirt bike on it in the early hours. It sounds like an angry wasp in a baked bean tin. And my neighbour and his mates laughing and shouting at something on his new satellite TV at 2.30am.
Linda Lawford, UK

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See also:

16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Anti-night flights coalition launched
20 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Noisy neighbours face crackdown
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