In those days, everyone was “Troops out”. He just seemed more “Troops out” than a lot of people. Picture: University of Ulster
Show Hide image

My Irish lover thought sex the ultimate sin. I like that in a man

Our casual affair became more serious when we went to meetings in a back room of a pub on Holloway Road.

I must say that I find most contemporary dating advice completely mystifying. Dating is something Americans do, as far as I’m concerned. English people get drunk and have inappropriate sex. Ditto, engagement. What the hell is it? Are women public toilets that are either vacant or engaged? Clearly I have not a clue.

When I hear people say that their relationships are going nowhere, I do wonder what the final destination is. It’s probably having the sort of deranged problems that people write to Pamela Stephenson Connolly about in the Guardian: “I can’t orgasm with my husband, whom I have never found attractive in any way WHATSOEVER.”

Everyone should relax about “relationships” that don’t go anywhere – that are not goal-orientated. Yet even such casual arrangements can become fraught with unforeseen complications. I should know.

I had one such arrangement when I first lived in London, with an Irish fellow I’d see once a week. Let’s call him John, as that was his name. We met in a pub, of course. It was all very passionate, as he thought that sex was the ultimate sin, some sort of desecration that caused him paroxysms of guilt. I like that in a man.

The Sinn Fein paper An Phoblacht was lying round his flat. In those days, everyone was “Troops out”. He just seemed more “Troops out” than a lot of people.

Our casual affair became more serious when we went to meetings in a back room of a pub on Holloway Road.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he said. I sat there terrified, nursing a drink, while he went in a huddle. It was apparent that my English accent was never to be heard.

We continued seeing each other weekly and I would always get up before him and leave. Who knew what his job was? He had probably told me. I probably hadn’t listened.

One morning, he had to get up to go out very early. “Wake up. I can’t leave you here alone,” he said.

I pretended to be sleepy and refused to move. He was very annoyed.

As I heard the door slam, I leaped out of bed and searched the flat. Every bit of it. And there it all was. Several different passports. Other forms of ID and diaries, each written in different handwriting. Whole identities bundled away in plastic bags. Some of it had his picture on. Some didn’t.

I put everything back and left. As I pondered all of his other lives and what he did with them, I realised that it would not be wise to end it there.

So I met him the following week for a drink as usual.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve met someone else. We can’t go on like this any more, John.” I was telling the truth. For we both knew as I said it that John was not even his actual name.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 09 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The austerity war

Getty
Show Hide image

The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.