#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 31

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 31

Day 31

There is this house in Mead Road, near the top of the hill, where people are always gathered. A white stone wall covered in vines separates the visitors from the house owners. I stop a few feet away from it and press record. I can hear the voices, a faint sound of human life in my headphones. Omnipresent are the birds. A magpie cries out. Chaffinches and other small unseen birds chatter away. A pigeon flies away and disrupt the leaves of a nearby tree.

I would like to cover both of my ears with my headphones, but I have tilted one side of it to better hear the world around. The siren of an ambulance resonates in the distance and I wonder who they are carrying. I hope they are safe. A runner passes by, their feet hammering at the ground. A squeaky bicycle soon follows them, the clicking of metal picked up by my microphone.

I wait a little longer, listening to the rising wind shuffling the leaves of the trees which had been bare when I began to keep this diary a month ago. I know it’s not the best sound to record. It often gets lost in white noise when people listen but I like it.

A car engine starts, I let my recorder run for a minute longer waiting for the birds, wind, and chatter from the nearby house to dominate the soundscape. I press stop and drop the headphones around my neck.

‘Hello,’ I greet the people by the white stone wall.

‘Are you recording the birdies?’

‘Yeah. And the wind in the leaves.’

They smile and carry on their conversation without me. I walk on. I turn right at the end of the street, into North Road. It’s a long squiggly road that I like. The pavement is small but the street is always full of people walking, cycling, or running. Often residents are on their doorstep sharing a discussion with a neighbour. Cars drive by, sharing the road with pedestrians. It feels like an affluent village with its two churches, tennis court, village green, and country pub. I stop at the intersection that if you follow it for long enough leads you away from Bristol. I press record and listen. The sounds are similar to Mead Road, only there are more cars and the echo from a radio in a house.

I smile at people as they pass by, a reassuring gesture to diffuse any issues that may arise from my raised microphone. Silence falls, the birds and wind the main protagonist once more. I lower my microphone and move on towards the church, the pub, and the train station.

At the church green, I sit by the monument for fallen soldiers and record. A train brakes into the station. I can hear the alarm from the doors opening and closing. Is anyone going in or coming out? It doesn’t really matter. I’m too far away to capture quiet footsteps on the concrete platforms.

A family appears on bicycle. The microphone doesn’t pick up their well maintained silent chains. I watch them charge up the incline of the road and envy them. I am still unable to ride, paralysed by fear at the thought of cycling in the streets, but today the pain is not very sharp. I may not be riding but I am recording. As lockdown began, a few projects popped up asking for field recordings from people’s streets to collect the new soundscape of our world. I wanted to join but couldn’t. The idea of putting on headphones and losing myself in sound was terrifying. What if someone walked by too close? What if a runner didn’t swerve to avoid me as I was recording? What ifs were many and crippling but not anymore. I now know these streets and the people who use them.

I press stop and carry on to the main road that will lead me to my local park. I pass the fish and chips shop that has been a familiar sight of my commute for over a year. On beautiful Friday evenings there are often queues out of the door. I never know if it’s because the food is good or because the location is convenient between a pub and a park. The sign for the long gone Parkway pub swings silently on its hinges.

In the park I pause by the bridge over Stoke Brook and listen to the water flow. It’s shallow but the rain from the last few days has given it a new life. A dog jumps in and drinks great gulps of water before jumping back to the path. Their name tag tinkers in the clear air. I smile at their human who eyes me suspiciously. They say nothing and disappear behind a hedge.

The wind is rising, annihilating all other sounds in my recorder. I press stop and leave the park. A few drops of rain fall but not enough to make me pack my gear. There are still a couple of spots I want to record before returning home to my laptop.

Back in my street I tidy cables and batteries away in their pouches. At home, I check my e-mails for the first time of the day. There is one from work, its content similar to every e-mail I have received from my employer since lockdown began. It is hardly worth reading and yet I go over it multiple times. I look at the words on the screen, at the notes on the paper on my desk about the zine I’m working on, at the recorder and microphone on the sofa behind me, at my cameras on the bookcase, and back at the words on the screen. I read them again but they have lost their meaning. I archive the e-mail, switch tab and carry on listening to the lecture about writing I began yesterday.

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