Class conscious

I have often thought that only the middle classes must ever buy earplugs. The upper classes don't usually have noisy neighbours because they don't usually have neighbours, while the working classes are immune to noise. Or at least they'd better be.

It was always the case that noise coexisted with relative poverty, but it is even more true today, in our amplified, open-all-hours world. Granted, many large Georgian houses are to be found on busy roads, and the owners are so aesthetically minded - so much martyrs to their houses - that they won't even protect themselves with double glazing. But look alongside your North Circulars and your motorways, the really fearsome roads, and the houses are broken-down semis, bristling with warnings of pit bulls and satellite dishes.

I guess that pit bulls and satellite dishes are a way of drowning out one sort of noise with another, and this is a tactic I use in my local far-from-posh pub, where the television is always on but can be obliterated, just about, if you put a record on the jukebox.

I got a lot of hostile looks last week when I selected "Around the World" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, just as Chris Tarrant was asking some woman: "What does GCB stand for in the British honours system?" It was a £64,000 question, and I realised, shortly after I'd pressed the buttons, that the whole pub (except me) was hanging on the answer. I hoped the woman would respond before the music kicked in, but she mouthed her answer just as the Peppers struck up with their thunderous intro.

Later, in another pub, to which I'd been forced to retreat, I told my friend that I didn't know what all the fuss had been about: it was obvious the woman had got the question right from all the phoney jollity on the face of Tarrant.

I then proceeded to moan about the omnipresence of television: in W H Smith, post-office queues, on railway platforms - anywhere that the masses congregate. The haunts of the wealthy, by contrast, are characterised by silence. They say that money talks. Yes, but in a whisper.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Take cover: evil is back