Born under aircraft screaming on descent to Heathrow Airport, I have always cherished peace. Although I used to sleep untroubled by any noise – planes, traffic, trains – perhaps all my tolerance has now been consumed.
I loved quiet from an early age. I can remember the loud timekeeping of our cuckoo clock when, occasionally unable to sleep as a child, I went downstairs in what seemed to me the middle of the night, but to nightbirds was still early. The slow, wooden rhythm of the clock’s tick tock emphasised the silence in between. As much as it tried to help time pass, all stood still to that small boy.
My first memory of what seemed total silence is of a school history field trip to Shropshire. Returning from an evening in a rural pub to the unwelcoming centre where we were staying, I remember noticing the total absence of motion and background noise: no planes, no traffic, no hum of town and machinery and motors.
Then, at university, I luxuriated in the solitude of winter’s day walks by the fountain in the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park. In those days Bedford College’s classics department was appropriately based in St John’s Lodge and I purposely arrived early to walk in the park. The rustling of the trees in the wind masked the traffic noise from nearby Marylebone Road and Baker Street. Was I really in the middle of London?
Then several decades of whirlwind activity, buzz and noise: working at Heathrow, in London, in town and city . . . until there was no peace.
On a Sunday morning in our house a mile west of Windsor, the first aircraft flew in to land about 6.30. Another followed every 90 seconds to two minutes. I couldn’t relax on a Sunday morning. I wanted peace. The time had come to move.
Always a city boy, I had dreamt of living in the countryside for many years. And so we moved 200 miles west to Ilfracombe in North Devon. 50 miles from a motorway instead of 2. 60 miles from an international airport instead of 7 or 8. Not much traffic, not many people. It is calm and quiet.
On a Sunday morning, on any morning, I can wake up and hear nothing outside. I can relax.
Is life boring? No, there are many challenges, much to do and much to be done in this town.
But I have found peace.