Thursday 22 December 2016

Shut up, already

For the last nearly two years, we've been meeting once a month in for Science Café in The Sky & the Ground, the last traditional [ish] pub in Wexford. We meet on a Tuesday, possibly the quietest night of the week and some of us buy drink, so the pub is grateful for the business. We just want a quiet corner to talk about lithium or radon or the microbiome or the Big Bang without having a TV blaring out the results of the soccer. That usually works out okay, but they do have music piped through every room on the premises and we often ask the bar-staff to turn the volume down. I think, indeed, it is possible that you can switch out the sound from the speaker immediately above your head. What's all that about? why does the comfortable silence that surrounds a half-drunk pint or a half-drunk bloke have to be filled with mood musak? Does the management imagine that we'll buy more dhrink if we're lulled into a state of uncritical torpor?

Y'all must be fed up with hearing the Little Drummer Boy in every store this week. Dau.I tells me that modern retailers slope the floors in their shop-floors to make gravity drift the punters towards The Thing of the Week, and puts the clothing display rails in subtle pits which make it a teensy bit difficult to escape from. Can this be true? It is literally years since I bought clothing outside of ALDIDL. Dau.II keeps me in socks each Xmas and I inherited my father's office shirts [N=a dozen] when he died 15 years ago and they lasted me in rotation for at least a decade. I still wear them to work (only the cuffs are frayed) if The Beloved is off-site and cannot inspect me as I leave the house.

Shortly after I arrived for grad school in Boston, I went up to the University Bookshop to purchase the the text-book for the multivariate statistics course which I'd signed up for. I was less calm in those days and was incensed that a functional warehouse, almost entirely filled with purely functional course material, should have piped music. I stomped back to my lab and wrote a ironic sarcastic memo [this was about 5 years before e-mail became generally used] to the manager, saying that I thought musak in the university book-store was dishonest and offensive. He wrote back a memo saying he didn't like my tone, that my feelings were therefore irrelevant and he'd consigned my note to the bin. I learned something: that the language used is part of the message and that intemperate comms never achieve their purpose. I wrote several angry memos and e-mails after that but didn't send them. That was therapeutic.

We have the Campaign for Real Ale to thank for the fact that The Sky & the Ground in Wexford serves a bewildering array of 'challenging' beers. Now a group of British celebs of a certain age and background [Stephen Fry, Johanna Lumley etc.] have elevator music in their sights with a Campaign for Freedom from Piped Music called Pipe Down. It is unclear whether their objection is to the fact that piped music is unashamedly low-brow or if it's driving up the rate of hearing loss. Whatever, their fact-sheet claims that a sizeable minority of those surveyed detest mood musak. 17% of Sunday Times readers hate it more than Syrian refugees, Europe, or having to pay tax on their share portfolio.  Have you noticed that Aldi and Lidl don't have musak? Don't seem to stop folks buying groaning cartfuls of groceries there.  If you join PipeDown you can get an envelope full of stickers and a newsletter which will make it easier for you to tell shops, hospitals and airports that you'll be taking your business and your confused and partially sighted mother elsewhere.

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