Wednesday, September 23, 2009

But my words like silent raindrops fell

We took advantage of the open day thingy to nose round the Friends Meeting House. It was a lofty chamber of tranquillity, in which even the children spoke in hushed whispers. We imagined the building in use, echoing with silence. But a nice lady who gave us tea and some rather good Victoria Sponge said, ‘Ooh no, we have tons of kids in the side-room on Sundays and it’s really noisy’.

Just an hour after visiting the Friends, we encountered two women in the Grange Gardens, Not Friends, who brusquely told Things One and Two to be seen and not heard. They said they had come to the Grange for peace and quiet.

‘Well why sit right next to the cafĂ© at lunch-time on a Saturday then?’ is what I should have said, but instead suggested they might prefer the Knot Garden, a space specifically set aside for meditation and repose. ‘No, we want to sit here’, they replied, giving me no other option than to attack them with Thing Two’s Power Ranger.

Clearly, if I want somewhere relaxing for the Things to play I should take them to hang out with the Quakers.

So where in a small town can you go for a bit of p and q?

When I were a lass, it was libraries that were silent chapels of contemplation. No sitcom was complete without a secret being loudly blurted out amongst the bookstacks. Then a bunch of elderly extras in mackintoshes, one of whom was contractually obliged to have a fussy little moustache, would chorus ‘Shush!’

In fact I believe it was this tiresome cultural stereotype which caused libraries to re-think their noise policy. Now you go into, say, Lewes library, and the place is awash with people talking at a normal pitch. Parents read out loud in the children’s area, and often there are music groups, with toddlers bellowing, ‘The Children on the Bus Make Too Much Noise’. People do their shopping on the library computers and yell, ‘HOW MUCH?’ just as if they were at home. Say ‘shush’ in a library nowadays and everyone will look at you like you’re an out-of-touch weirdo, which you are, and may suggest you move along to the Grange Gardens.

Oddly, the quietest place I have encountered lately is Monkey Bizness. Their spelling. For those of you who’ve never been (oh lucky people), it’s a windowless warehouse filled with slides, massive cushions and screaming children. Usually, the decibel level is what Phil Spector was aiming for with his wall of sound, except much, much louder.

But the other morning, after being bullied into taking him there by my child’s freakish mastery of maternal guilt, we found we were the only visitors. Thing Two swiftly scaled a twenty-foot climbing frame and disappeared, as though into a black hole, and I sank into a leather sofa. It was exactly like being in a huge, silent padded cell. I must tell the Grange Garden ladies. I think they’d like it.

Beth Miller. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, October 2009. Photo by Alex Leith

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