Columnist Martin Freeman has a quiet word about noise and the perfect pub
WEDNESDAY morning 6.10am: a bleep swiftly followed by a bang – off goes the alarm, down comes my hand to stop it.
It's about then that I start to look forward to a quiet weekend.
On Monday and Tuesday it's all about getting on with it.
By Wednesday, though, there's the thought that once today is over, it's all downhill towards Friday night.
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The time when I wanted anything but a quiet weekend is long gone.
At a certain age – beyond 50 – and with two children on the go, the absence of noise is what I crave.
A combination of years of early starts and advancing age mean that habits are ingrained.
The alarm doesn't go off on a Saturday morning, but it doesn't need to. Whatever time I go to bed, I'll wake up just after 6am.
Fully conscious at dawn on the back of five hours' sleep with a bellyful of beer and two bouncing children for company was not a good feeling. Hence Friday nights not only gradually became quieter they also became earlier and involved less alcohol.
If I did venture out for a quiet night in those early years of parenthood the correct choice of pub was vital. Years of noisy nights at the front of gigs have taken their toll on my hearing.
Where once I would avoid a pub without music as much as I would shun one without beer, I now seek out one where I can take part in a conversation without shouting or having to lean into someone's face to catch their words. Background noise is the enemy of socialising for anybody whose hearing is much less than perfect.
Ah, the quiet pub. It's not about the number of people; busy, I don't mind (assuming I won't die of thirst while waiting to be served); noise, I hate. So there should be no fruit machines, no band (unless in a separate room, with the volume on the amps way below Spinal Tap levels), no TV, no piped music (definitely) and no juke box (probably, depending on the tracks and the number of people in the pub; there's no point if the hubbub of chat drowns out the tunes; nor do I want the music so loud it affects conversation).
From there I move into George Orwell territory. Nothing sinister; I'm not talking of his warnings about dictatorships as in 1984 or Animal Farm, but his essay on the perfect pub, The Moon Under Water.
I'm with him on the good-quality, low-priced snacks – sandwiches, cheese, pickles and the like, plus mussels (the best and cheapest seafood; why doesn't every pub in the South West serve them?). Orwell was right, too, about the "proper solid lunch". A roast should be available.
But pies – I can't believe that Orwell doesn't mention them. All pubs must have pies.
There's no need for anything else. You can keep your gastro pub with its restaurant prices.
I can take or leave his comments about the ideal pub being Victorian. That works only in certain cities, those that grew predominantly in that era – Liverpool and Manchester, for example. He's right about the garden, though. Every pub should have one of those, even if the outdoor space is only a few square metres of concrete with some token flowers. This must not, of course, be the smokers' area (as an ex-smoker there's nothing worse than being subjected to smoke, even outdoors).
I'll part company with Orwell when he expresses a preference for a mug with a handle for his beer. Glasses should be straight sleeve.
Leaving the great man to his liver-sausage sandwich and pint of creamy stout in a pewter mug, I'll head for the quiet of home.
There, I can enjoy the calm after the children's bedtime. There's not much of that with a 15-year-old in the house: her staying power matches mine. The only sure-fire way of getting an hour's peace is to put on a film without women in long skirts, minus romance and plus lots of talking. Bored, she'll soon head to bed.
We used to have to leave the TV on until both children were asleep when they were young. I'd forgotten how silence can be far more unnerving than darkness.
For them, as when I was little, the light on the landing was not as important as the reassuring noise that came up the stairs: the murmur of voices (best of all, some laughter), the mumbling chatter of the television or the rise and fall of music.
After a quiet night in, perfection follows with an almost-quiet day out in the garden. Or rather, half day: there'll be some chores to do, some child-ferrying to be done.
Then, weather permitting, I'll head for the garden with the radio. I'll happily paint or repair, dig or mow, brush or wash, as long as I have the company of a football match commentary.
A generation on, my father-in-law thinks otherwise. Once, when I was helping sort his garden, he had a quiet word to say he believed a radio outdoors was the height of inconsideration.
He harks back to days when motorised mowers and other power tools were a rarity. My argument is that a little noise that I can control – and keep low – is better than striving for absolute quiet, which is a frustratingly impossible goal.
Silence maybe golden, but it is soon tarnished.