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About A Week: Please Turn It Off

"Those who foist unrefusable chunks of music upon us probably retire to lead-lined rooms to chuckle softly at the annoyance they cause,'' says Peter Hinchliffe.

AT 6 am each day we were shocked into wakefulness by a rousing blast of music on the tannoy. A bouncy orchestral version of the Swedish Rhapsody.

We groaned in unison, all 20 of us in the long wooden hut. We tumbled out of bed, our bare feet running as they hit the floor. They would continue to run and march through a long, long day.

November, 1953. I was in the employ of Her Majesty, wearing a smart blue uniform, slogging through basic training at Royal Air Force Hednesford, a camp shrouded in mist and evergreen trees on Cannock Chase.

Up to then, I'd always associated music with enjoyment. There was nothing enjoyable about what came after the Swedish Rhapsody. It heralded high levels of mental and physical stress.

My musical tastes are much wider now than when I was 18. Then, it was Jo Stafford, Guy Mitchell, Frankie Lane, and countless hours listening to Radio Luxembourg. Now, it's Country and Western to Mozart, by way of Heavy Metal, Rock, Reggae, Debussy and Schubert.

My dislike of enforced music of the Swedish Rhapsody kind has expanded even more dramatically than my taste. Music or a tinny noise that passes itself off as music - assaults us from every side.

Push a trolley round a supermarket. Muzak nags in the background, distracting your attention from how much you are spending. Lie back in a dentist's chair. Muzak competes with the drill in jarring your nerves.

Saunter through the Piazza on a rare sunny afternoon, Iron Maiden assaults your eardrums. An unthinking youth roosting on the steps of Huddersfield Library is playing a ghetto-blaster at full volume.

Go for a hair-cut. Radio One throbs insistently in the background. Now that does worry me! It's hard to sit easy under a pair of scissors when the girl wielding them is moving to the rhythm of the latest Madonna hit.

Those who foist unrefusable chunks of music upon us probably retire to lead-lined rooms to chuckle softly at the annoyance they cause.

Tinny machine-made apologies for music now come to pain the ear via British Telecom.

The other day, I phoned a local school. "Mr Smith, please," said I.

"Hold on," said the switchboard operator. "I'll see if he's in the staff room."
A pause. Followed by a metallic sequence of notes. A hymn, based on a tune by Handel.

"Thine be the glory Risen conquering Son, Endless is thy victory Thou o'er death hast won . . ."

Stirring tune! Inspiring words! Many's the Easter-tide I've sung that hymn at full throat in a village church.

And they've reduced it to a tinkly jingle. A mere filler-in of time until someone comes to the phone. Somehow, that doesn't seem right.

On the very same day, I had another unsolicited tune forced upon me while I was hanging on the phone. The Cuckoo Waltz. A tune so simple it's hypnotic.

I found myself humming. ''Mmh . . m m h . Mmh . . . mmh . . ." Then singing. "Cuckoo. Cuckoo . . . Oh, hello Mr Hanson. No, no, I wasn't calling you cuckoo."

I wish they'd play Ilkla Moor B'Aht 'At as a 'phone filler. Then you could really let rip. "Then't wurms'll cum 'n eit thi up." That message might get through to whoever was responsible for inflicting the noise irritation upon you.

The Swedish Rhapsody will haunt me to the end of my days. So will A Walk in the Black Forest.

I was in a lift in an office block in Nairobi, Kenya. Me, and another reporter from the Daily Nation. We were on our way to interview an official in an office on the fourth floor. As we ascended, the Muzak speaker in the lift's ceiling imposed upon us A Walk in the Black Forest.

I'd punched the right button, but the lift went past the fourth floor. It travelled all the way to the top of the seven-floor building. There was a bump. A slight lurch. We began to descend. We went all the way down to the basement. A bump. A lurch. We ascended.

"Oh glory!" said the reporter who was with me.

We went to the top floor, then down to the basement again. Up, down, up, down ... The bumps at the top and bottom were increasing in violence.
I pressed every button on the control pad, including the alarm bell.

The reporter became hysterical.

"Pull yourself together man," said I. (I'm afraid I really did say that.) "Blubbering isn't going to get us anywhere."

Eventually, unexpectedly, the lift stopped on the ground floor. The doors opened. Out we dashed.

The Muzak played on. It always does. I long for the sound of silence.


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