Tuning in to a different soundtrack


Sounds and noise surround us. Some so constant that we block them out and no longer hear them. One of the sounds that I could never block out in my old home on the south coast of England, was the constant noise of traffic. It never went away and I could never get away from it. Our house was not far from the A27, the major south coast trunk road. No matter what time of day or night the road was always busy. Even walking by the River Adur or onto the South Downs, the noise of vehicles would intrude. Its invasiveness got to me.


Now living in the south of France I'm becoming accustomed to a different soundtrack. Although our temporary home is in a sizeable town on the outskirts of Béziers, one sound that does not feature is constant traffic. There is the occasional whine of the underpowered mopeds being driven flat out by their teenage owners and most days the sound of sirens from the pompiers, whose station is not far away. The lack of constant and intrusive noise has allowed me to take in all the other sounds around me. So what's different?


Bird song. There are the still familiar calls of house sparrows, starlings, jackdaws, swifts, swallows and collared doves. But there are also new and unfamiliar voices in the mix. On our first night here I was woken by what I thought was an alarm, but turned out to be a Scops Owl. Its steady ‘peeping’ sounds just like a smoke alarm with a flat battery. Along with the owl, a Nightingale sings throughout the night. Though not new, it’s a song we would never have heard in suburban West Sussex. During the day, Hoopoes gently call their name, along with the melodious fluting of Golden Orioles. Serins sit high in the trees, their tinkling song suiting their diminutive size. This morning while working at my desk I was distracted by a scratchy call; I tracked it down to a beautiful Sardinian Warbler with its bright red eye ring and dusky head.


This new soundtrack sounds all very idyllic, but I won't pretend that it's all lovely. The local dogs set each other off at night, but they don't go on for too long. The most annoying sound so far has to be the high pitched whine of a mosquito buzzing round your head at night just as you've dozed off. Then waiting in the dark for it to attack again. But dogs and mosquitos are so far minor irritations (although I suspect I’ll change my view on the latter as spring turns to summer). To be able to listen for new and familiar sounds, enjoy the quiet without a constant background drone, is a joy and revelation.