Listening (94 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

It’s the wrong end of the half term holiday and I’m sitting in the departure lounge of Manchester airport. It’s as low and grey in here as the clouds out there. Between the ranks of uncomfortable seats, and away from his Mum, there’s a toddler attempting to walk, but he’s being thwarted by the difficult angles and textures of this desolate space.

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My French magazine is trying to tell me about the findings of a Danish study. It claims a 14% increase in heart failure among the over 65’s per 10 decibels of nuisance noise.

The night before a drunken Geordie was shouting outside my hotel room door at 2 a.m. His nocturnal rant was slightly quieter than that of the teething baby I’m used to at home, so my heart barely missed a beat. But sitting here for hours is definitely not good for your health. And what is that constant humming noise in the background? Maybe, like the dreary walls and ceilings, as interminable as the hours they capture, it’s designed to drive you into the retail outlets.

Only a madman or a martyr would attempt to relate to the sea of faces washed up in the global village. Safer just to zone out, switch off to survive.

I think of home and the opposite relationship with the space we’re in. Back there the experience of the senses is the only reward: no wage, just sunrise, great food, bird song. If you couldn’t enjoy these it would be a life of poverty indeed. And, after exactly three years of field work, I find myself listening constantly, intently. Any wrinkle in the fabric of the farm’s normal sounds instantly attracts my attention. If any of the animals makes a non-ordinary noise I investigate immediately for fear of fox, stray dog or other walking calamity.

Back in the public place, I put my headphones on and sink further into a private space.


Catching up on reading is the best aspect of the journey. I finally finished Twenty Years A-Growing. Latterly I’d had to ration my consumption of the chapters because I knew I was going to be sad when it was all over. It’s not often you can share in such a vivid experience of a pre-industrial life. I’m always sorry to leave.

More recommended reading! Our friends at Small Potatoes had linked me in to this report. I read it on the train as the weirdly unfamiliar Pennine landscape slipped by unheeded. I’d suggest that anyone else tempted to go back to the land should look at it closely.

Among the accounts of businesses based on small acreage there are some familiar names: Charles Dowding and Real Seeds are people I’ve given money to before now! Nothing in the report changed my conviction that subsistence and barter are the natural affiliates of this way of life, rather than profit. I wasn’t completely convinced that viability achieved by propping up a venture with private funds is necessarily more worthy or sensible than accepting a state handout, like Big Ag does. But until the tax man accepts payment in the form of Jerusalem artichokes, I guess it might pay to take note.