Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sinister rumblings

No, not my stomach. At least not this time.

I have for some time now been plagued by a constant low humming noise - a bit like a car parked just out of earshot with its engine ticking over, only it hasn't run out of petrol yet and it's been going a long while.

Ah, tinnitus, I hear you say, sagely nodding your head and tugging at your beard. The product, no doubt, of a misspent youth filled with loud rock music and shouting at people. Well, it could be. But it's a bit odd, even for tinnitus. It's not always there, for one thing, and it's louder in some places than in others.

Today, for instance, the Horse Doctor and I took the dachshund for his daily constitutional. Nothing so odd about that, but as we stopped at a particular spot along our walk, the humming came on loud and strong. So strong, indeed, that I mentioned it, rather than just ignoring it in the hope it would go away. She has no beard to tug,* but the Horse Doctor did much sagacious muttering about inner ear problems and random nerve firing nonetheless. I listened, over the rumbling, and we carried on our stroll.

About a hundred yards further on, though, we paused to watch as the dachshund amused himself in a barely babbling brook, and I was struck by how quiet it was. No deep hum at all, just the occasional twitter of a bird in a tree, the gentlest splash of water over rock. Bliss.

There are other places where the noise is constant - sadly this chair at this desk is one of them - and spots where quiet reins supreme. I can accept that in certain circumstances a person with tinnitus might experience occasional remission, periods of blessed relief. But I can't quite see how those circumstances can be geographical in nature. There's no particular reason why being in a particular place should make the condition go away, especially if that place is only a few paces away from a hell-spot.

So I am forced to the conclusion that the deep, sinister rumble I hear is an actual sound, and not the product of my febrile imagination. What then, could be producing this low susurrus?

Well, I think I know.

About three miles from here, atop the hill known as Cefn Croes, there are 39 400 foot tall windmills turning in the constant breeze. Close by, these make a whooshing sound as their blades cut through the air, braked by expensive gears so that the tips stay just slower than the speed of sound. That noise is lost quite quickly over distance, although you can hear them, when the cloud is low and the wind is in the right direction, from about a mile and a half away. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, they go.

The sound I'm hearing, though, is the the subsonic rumble of those expensive braking gears and the hum of the wind against the narrow steel towers, transmitted through the ground and by a freak of local geology amplified in this house. The other spots where the noise is loudest are likely on the same rocky substrata or something. Those few quiet refuges isolated by some unusual geological feature.

But how can I be sure it is the windmills and not some other, natural source? Well last summer, for reasons unfathomable, they switched off the Cefn Croes windfarm for three months. And during those three months I didn't notice the sound at all. At the time, I didn't think much of it, but now I'm waiting for a calm patch. You can't see the windmills from here, which is a blessing in many ways, but a pain as it means I have to go up there and check none are turning. But the next time that happens, I shall come back down here as quickly as possible, sit in this chair, and listen very carefully.

Knowing my luck, there'll be a land rover parked around the corner with its engine running.

* well, I suppose she could have tugged mine, but it's a bit short right now. And anyway, the image of wisdom is rather lost when you have to tug upon another's beard.

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Blogger Stuart MacBride said...

"'s a bit odd, even for tinnitus"

Ley lines: if you can hear them humming that means you're a witch and we can burn you at the steak. Or pork chop. Or burger (but only at a push).

June 10, 2007 9:22 pm  

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