Friday, October 30, 2020
Home News Notes from the sticks: Why I threatened to set fire to myself

Notes from the sticks: Why I threatened to set fire to myself

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A DRAWBACK to living in the country is that without the background hum of traffic, noise carries over far greater distances. For example there are a pair of dogs kept in an outside run quite some way from us. They bark if anyone walks past. If we were in a town we would not hear them but as it is we do, and every time I give thanks that I don’t live next door.

It amazes me how thoughtless people are about inflicting noise on others. Either they must think that it is contained within their own fences or they don’t care. I can stand any amount of useful noise, such as a chainsaw to maintain trees or hedges, or a road drill (though obviously I would prefer not to have to hear it) but a leaf-blowing machine or a blaring radio drives me crazy.

A mile or so from us there is quite a large industrial area with a cement works, a chemical plant and a firm that produces road building materials. It’s probably a good idea to have them away from housing, even though they do not exactly enhance the scenery.

(We have been to open days at the cement works and it is utterly fascinating – they have a huge quarry hundreds of feet deep, a railway line, a massive furnace, a computerised control room and machines that fill bags with cement which I could watch all day.)

For the first couple of years after we moved here, I was not aware of any noise from these large plants. In the summer of 2017, however, I started to hear something that was hard to describe – a ringing sort of sound, a bit like a plane revving up for take-off. It was not all that loud – you could hear it only at the front of the house, not the back – but it was continuous and intensely annoying, and definitely coming from the direction of the industrial complex. It was worse at night when there was even less background noise than during the day, and it varied according to the wind direction. (Can anyone explain how sound can be blown away, as it were?) I did not mention it to my husband at first or to neighbours as I felt that if they had not noticed it themselves, it would be unkind to alert them to it. But after it had been going on for a year without any break, night or day, I was close to distraction. We had no intention of selling the house but I feared that if and when we did put it on the market, its value would be seriously damaged by the noise. I also feared for my sanity.

So I contacted the environmental health department of the borough council. I received a form to keep a diary of the noise nuisance for a month. I wrote across it ‘All the time’ and sent it back. I had a civilised email discussion with the officer concerned, but his inquiries were restricted to asking the three firms if they had changed their machinery or could account for the noise. Surprisingly they replied in the negative.

In desperation I wrote:

‘If all three assure you that they are not making a noise, what happens next? Does it mean you don’t believe me that there is a noise, or that it is all in my mind?

‘If it is not something you can deal with, can you advise me what other steps I can take short of setting fire to myself at the village war memorial? I am beginning to wonder if this is my only course of action.’

Ten minutes after I sent this email there was a knock on the door and two environmental health officers stood there, anxious to avoid my self-immolation. They took some reassuring.

I don’t know what happened but a few weeks later the noise stopped. I did not dare believe it for months, but it has been two years now and fingers crossed it will be permanent. I like to think I played my part but I expect it was just coincidence.

Remember the tactic in case you need it.

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A third walker within three weeks has been trampled to death by cows. Readers may recall that I wrote in June about my husband’s alarming encounter with a herd. The latest incident, in West Yorkshire, prompted the National Farmers’ Union to warn walkers to be ‘on their guard for fear of upsetting cows’. How about warning farmers not to keep dangerous animals in fields with public access? I think it is reasonable to expect that a track marked ‘public footpath’ will be free of large angry animals. If it is impossible to keep them elsewhere, surely the least farmers can do is to place clear warnings at the entrance to fields.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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