Sounds of America

Everything has changed.

We’ve broken a firmly established routine of seven years.

Perhaps the biggest difference comes not from moving countries, but from exchanging our urban existence from something a little more green and pleasant.

The continual background drone of South London traffic, interspersed with those thundering juggernauts that make the very foundations of your Victorian semi tremble in defiance, has been substituted with silence.

Even our dog, with no passers-by to ward off and a postman who delivers from distance (coming no closer than the mailbox at the end of our long drive), has stopped barking.

It may, of course, be that she is having trouble with the local dialect. I read a few months ago that dogs do bark in regional accents. Essex dogs have a more urgent yap than the laid back, and I imagine soulful, Cornish bark. I wonder if American dogs might admire Bronte’s accent in much the same way as ageing American women seem to love Jay’s.

The silence reveals different sounds. My computer is noisier than it ever seemed to be back in Blighty, the deep hum of the air conditioning system kicking in is not something I can recall happening in Elsynge Road and, until now, I hadn’t realised just how loud children can be when their vocal chords are given extra spring from bouncing on a trampoline.

A slightly disturbing thought occurs to me. I may now be able to hear myself think. What will it sound like? I fear that there will be nothing rhythmic or melodic in it; it will be a slow sporadic clicking followed by the uncertain turning of rusted cogs.

In America you have plenty of time to think when hanging on the phone. The other day I spent a full three hours patiently waiting for various technical specialists to establish that what I needed to do was return the faulty modem to the shop. This was an option that I had considered, but foolishly opted against, before starting on my marathon and soul-sapping telephonic labyrinth.

There’s an art to navigating your way through the automated telephone responses in order to find the holy grail of a real live human voice. It’s a game of snakes and ladders where pressing the wrong option sends you sliding helplessly into yet another dead end.

I’m surprised that a nation that so likes to talk should have developed something that resists human interaction. But I guess the automated telephone answering service is the inevitable love child of the two other American obsessions (after money): systems and technology.

The marriage of the interests in money and technology has produced an altogether more gratifying by-product. Delightfully cheap and awesomely impressive electrical goods.

Our new TV is so heavy that it took three days and four men to get it out of the car and into our lounge (or, should I say, our home entertainment theatre). And having upgraded our cable TV package, over and above the one Ros felt was fit for the family, to include a further twenty-five channels (she wanted to deprive me of HBO for Gods-sake!) I’m unearthing a hidden quality within the quantity. We might have lost Question Time, Have I Got News for You and Jonathan Ross, but in their place there’s the third series of Six Feet Under, Entourage and a seemingly unlimited supply of movies. And with Premiership football at Breakfast time, I’m beginning to think it could be time to upgrade that potato couch.

Our new Bose stereo system cleverly promises surround sound without surround speakers. Apparently it bounces the sound off the walls. This is what I used to try to achieve in my teenage years. The difference is probably one of subtly. Bose must have worked out how to do it without sheer force of volume and irreparable eardrum damage.

One sound that has been missing has been the chattering tic of crickets. Those sultry summer days promised in the brochure have notable by their absence; their place occupied instead by weather all to familiar to an Anglo-Saxon émigré. Although rather than patter in that grey restrained English way, the rain here lashes and beats itself noisily against the glass. It is very American rain. Not quite a tornado, but it thinks it could be.

This evening we’re off to a barbeque (seemingly referred to as an ‘eat-out’–ever the masters of the literal descriptor) where I’m hoping to observe how it’s done out here. I have a feeling that my local Elsynge Rd speciality of ‘thirty-second char-burnt-to-a-cinder’ sausages won’t be particularly appreciated, even if I did try to pass them off as an English delicacy. Tonight we won’t be hearing the sound of blisteringly hot fat spitting off an out-of-control furnace, with cries of pain from the chef as he tries to turn kebabs that are welded to an unwashed and rusty cooking tray.

Like everything else, I imagine it will be that little bit quieter.

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