The silent corner


There are several forces at work in this universe, the weak atomic force, the force of gravity, the force of arms, force majeur, ground force … by far the most powerful, however, is the force of habit. We humans are creatures of habit, most comfortable when surrounded by familiar sights, smells, actions, people. Those who like change do so habitually. The seeking of what we know and where we feel at home is in many ways a compulsion. For some of us, this place of comfort I extremely uncomfortable, and yet seek it we do, as if some hidden hand has taken us by the collar, or by the hair, or by the earlobe, and is gently – or not so gently – leading or pushing us towards what, while comfortable, familiar, may well be the death of us, whether metaphorically or no.

It is, perhaps, no great surprise that the witch’s wee demon, the thing that whispers in her ear, the dark angel of Dr Faustus, is her familiar. The familiar is our downfall.

So, this morning, after a torrid couple of days, the snow is gone, as if a great dose of cillit bang had been sprayed over Hove, and I take the opportunity to cycle to the gym and put my addled body to good use. Because, no doubt, of the rather rapid thaw, there is no power. This isn’t an obvious problem, as big pieces of metal don’t really need electrifying, most of the power in a gym comes from the people who shove out watts on an almost commercial basis. There is also what appears to be a hidden benefit: no power means no music. As with many gyms, the one I frequent leans towards the diabolical in terms of music, providing the jaded ears of its customer base with the most tedious of dance music. Perhaps they think all the exercisers are on rhythm enhancing drugs.

Dance music is truly useless to work out to. It has no dynamics, no aural punctuation, there’s no sense of the passing of time, nothing against which one’s progress can be measured. Ok, so it’s not quite as bad as trying to work out to CD of Lionel Richie, as played in one gym I visited, but it’s still fundamentally useless.

Anyway, I digress. So. The gym. No power. No power in the gym means silence. Silence is … well, it turns out that in unfamiliar places it’s quite unnerving. More than unnerving, in fact. The only sounds are the whirring of machines, the clunk of metal on metal, the occasional grunt or groan. It’s odd to hear how a machine can sound embarrassed, apologetic …

Silence where we least expect it is uncomfortable, and leads us to try to break it. We attempt, naturally, to get someone else to make the first noise, with strategic and calculated looks and actions. When this fails, we move on to perhaps a short comment designed to lead another into discoursing at voluble length. When this fails, we begin to consider starting up a round of some suitable sea shanty. Which is not a bad idea for gym music, but that’s another story altogether.

After ten minutes, we begin to wish the dance music would come back on. At least it’s crap and it knows it.

We can’t suffer in silence, it seems. We need others to share in our suffering. In whatever form it takes. When we are denied what is familiar, we panic slightly, refusing to embrace the change. Love the change. Grow from the change.

Sometimes, this is because we’re scared. At other times, it may be that while something might seem utterly habitual, unappreciated and even unnecessary, it is habitual because we tried it, and found that it was good. Losing it, therefore, may look like a slight inconvenience, but can, in fact, be devastating.