Bristol Still Life

 

A car alarm sounds, an endless soar and dip of electric whoops.

The neighbour’s kids are in the back garden kicking a football around, trundling up the powdery tarmac path on their scooters. They shout and cry and argue in English, their mother chastises in Arabic.

Streets away a road sweeper van hums and whistles, brushes whirring against the pavement, a windy suck of air as it sweeps away polluted dust and grit and unsuspecting invertebrates.

A plane reverberates like thunder; the waspish rev of a moped. Twin sirens – lazy cousins to the car alarm – weave together, fade and grow and fade to nothing.

But.

The sparrows chitter their fussy song and a blackbird answers proud from the chimney top. Leaves stir on the cherry tree, the long grass is a sea of hushes. Rain pitters the roof and a bobble of a bumble bee hums over the raspberry canes.

 

27 thoughts on “Bristol Still Life

  1. I’m not sure ‘Still Life’ is apt, unless it’s given ironically. Rather I’d call it a concerto: the sounds that combine–mechanical, natural–melodic, discordant, that make up the sounds of the city. Some great imagery too: the endless soar and dip; a windy suck of air, and unsuspecting invertebrates.

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    1. Ah, yes, definitely ironic! It is a real mix here. No escaping the neighbours’ noise in rows of terraced house, yet there are enough trees and gardens to encourage a lovely splash of nature too. I think myself very lucky. Heartened that you liked some of the descriptions – I worry sometimes I go a bit too poetical. Thank you for reading 🙂

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      1. It’s a kind of mindfulness I think , looking at the small things. And the neighbours kids aren’t all that bad – there are four of them though! Thank you again

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  2. last summer I wrote a short journal entry describing the noises I heard that very minute – it was similar to this – neighbors out – children sounds – birds – and a plane went by!

    However, your layered post here is deeper and I really moved with the sounds – which were all anchored by that image of berries on the greens.
    tasty good Lynn

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    1. Thank you very much. I was stuck for ideas and trying to concentrate despite the racket. It’s a good subject sometimes, just to focus on what’s around you. Thank you for reading

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  3. Lovely descriptive writing, Lynn, and definitely not too poetical! I like the title. ‘Still life’ always carries overtones – the French call it ‘Nature morte’ – your own title effectively means ‘Life/Stillness’ and I don’t really feel that’s ironic. But that’s the joy of writing and reading – the written text is only the beginning of the adventure! I absolutely love ‘the bobble of a bee’ – it’s so perfect for the way a bee buzzes – alights – buzzes repeatedly.
    Unusually there was one tiny thing that jarred and that was the sentence ‘But.’ That’s a great stylistic device in some circumstances but here – for me – it broke the flow. It divides the stillness from the bustle, but isn’t your point rather that stillness and bustle are simultaneous? I do hope you don’t mind me mentioning this.
    Shalom
    Penny

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    1. The ‘But’ didn’t bother me: it was a caesura between the mainly human noises and the more natural sounds that end the piece. Breaking the flow was precisely what it was meant to do, I think. I do agree about the use of the word ‘bobble’ however, that arrested me and made me consider.

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      1. Thank you Chris. Always interesting to hear different views on a story, what some people love and others dislike. As you say, it was meant as a break between the two worlds of sound but I do understand why Penny might feel it jars. Interesting. Glad you liked my bobbly bees and thank you for the thoughtful comment

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    2. Ooh, no I don’t mind you mentioning it at all. I wondered about myself, whether it was the right thing to do. Still not sure to be honest, but it’s always good to know what works for people and what doesn’t and I respect your opinion a great deal. So glad you liked the descriptions though. I have a minor obsession with bees and the bobble idea just seemed to fit. Thanks so much for the great feedback – invaluable

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  4. Lovely use of so many different sounds to set the texture of a summer day! I love the juxtaposition of the title and the reality, that the world — or at least, this very human corner of it — is never still, not if you are really listening.

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    1. Thank you Joy. Yes, very little true stillness in the city but still nature finds its way – thrives in fact – and and shares its pleasures. Thank you so much for the lovely comment

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  5. All the above discussion about music was apposite to me as a musician, Lynn.

    It reminded me of two things: first, Messiaen — who contrasted repetitive and sometimes atonal sounds with birdsong melodies, sometimes from exotic locations (I gather he sometimes travelled to these places to notate and collect them).

    Secondly, when I used to teach music composition I got young students to produce a musical score of what they could hear in the classroom environment and then recreate it using instruments, both real and improvised. This was a similar ‘composition’ but using the written word to create a vivid sound picture of an urban environment. Brilliant evocation, Lynn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a great exercise for your students, teaching them not only to be inventive with their composition and where to seek inspiration but to really listen, something people can be surprisingly bad at, as they hear (and see) what they expect to be there rather than what’s really there. A lovely detail there, reading with your musician ‘s knowledge, seeing that link. Thank you so much for that interesting and inspirational comment and so glad you liked it

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  6. If we can peel back the human sounds to the natural ones, we find something to listen to. I love the ‘long grass is a sea of hushes’.
    I must say, I found that the ‘But’ was like hitting the buffers. I was expecting the next phrase to be describing bombs dropping. It certainly drew the attention to the sounds rather than the image, which might well have been your intention 🙂

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    1. It’s interesting, seeing how people have reacted to that But. I think on reflection, it might have been wrong. We write and we learn, that’s the main thing. Thanks very much Jane

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      1. At heart you’re right, though feedback is invaluable too. So many times I’ve written stories, thinking I’ve made myself clear only for readers to be mystified. Communicating what’s in your head can be tricky some days.

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      2. I find the same. There are huge variations in the language different English-speakers use, and in their cultural points of reference. We were talking about that yesterday when husband was swearing because he’d given away his trusty dictionary of synonyms away when we moved. We’ve both found that the online dictionaries are so poverty-stricken. Soon, there will be an entire generation grown up with only on line tools and the language will be so impoverished you’ll get agents and publishers refusing mss with words of more than two syllables that you can’t find on the back of an average cereal packet.

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      3. My son told me off the other day for describing the overheated bus we were on as ‘toasty’ rather than merely saying ‘hot’. Of course, he then had to put up with a lecture on the wonderful diversity of the English language. I hope you’re wrong. I know we need to keep prose straightforward (and I hate writers who use an obtusely obscure word when a simpler one will do) but tweaking a sentence with a different synonym because if its shade of meaning, its rhythm, its sound is part of the joy of writing

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      4. I hope I’m wrong too, but from the feedback (professional and amateur) I’ve had, it’s a case of the imposition of the lowest common denominator. Written work has to reach the widest public, and it’s seen as exclusive to use vocabulary that isn’t instantly understood by half the planet. That goes for accents and cultural refs too. I was advised to take out a passing reference to Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper because nobody would know who they were. I didn’t say but I thought, I’m not writing for the kind of people who have never heard of Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper.

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