I am five, and I remember the joy of running home from school through the silence of the park, to the quiet sanctuary of my own private room, to escape the frantic volume and din of voices that lasted not all day, of course, but whose incessant clamour grated on my nerves, like a pain growing larger as the hours passed, under the barrage of chatter, under the barrage of just the teacher’s voice, sometimes. My thoughts were derailed, the printed words in my books became just ink on paper that meant nothing, nothing beyond the fact that, now, in this confusion of noise, they would not speak to me, and my eyes skated over the papery surface like a man on stilts who was bound to slip and crash through the icy surface he had been foolish enough to venture onto, down into the freezing embrace of meaninglessness.
After the park – after the quiet footpath had cut between long, long properties to either side, to take me to that row of houses where I lived – back in my own room, at last, there was not silence, but peace. Through the half-open door, I could hear my mother in the kitchen, clattering quietly with this utensil, then with that, sliding the tray under the grill to make cheese on toast, and I knew that in a minute she would call me, and for the moment I could read about planets, or draw a dinosaur, or make a castle by sticking together bits of cardboard that my father had saved for me. Oh! – and there was such a space in my head, an uncluttered, unencumbered space where I could think, where I could travel in time, wander between the stars, or feel the weight of my armour before the assault on the castle began.
And still I seek such solitude and respite from the troubled and troubling world, where everyone else lives and chatters, where they make such a noise. As I write this, my neighbour is having their backyard cleared out, shrubs cut back, trees cut down (all of them, every single one, where at the bottom of the garden there had stood for at least ninety years a tiny wood as large as a tennis court) and the men have a machine, that pulverises all the waste wood, that makes such a horrid shrieking of destruction that, again, my thoughts are shattered and words break free of their meanings.