Sounds of the Suburbs

Some day when you have absolutely nothing else to do, Google the phrase ‘Sound of the Suburbs.’ In all likelihood, what will appear before you on the results page is a collection of versions of The Members hit single of the same name from the nineteen seventies. You will also see a string of references to the similarly titled compilation album from about twenty years ago featuring an array of seminal artists from The Jam to The Buzzcocks to Blondie and the Psychedelic Furs.

Empty houses on an empty street in Belmayne, Dublin where the developer went bust. Only two houses have been sold on this street and construction stopped in 2008.

But as someone who regularly works in suburbia I can assure you there ain’t nothing seminal about the real sounds of the suburbs.

The backbone of the Orchestra is beyond doubt, the house alarm. On a daily basis, we are treated to what can only be characterised as a rotating symphony of alarms. Around nine thirty we have No.36, activated by Audrey the cat making the daily commute to her mates down in The Crescent and rubbing a little too robustly off the sitting room window en route. The model that this homeowner, Eamonn went for produces a sound that is simultaneously rhythmic, resounding, piercing and shrill.

It is quite an achievement. I’m sure Brendan, the evil individual who devised it won an industry award for his work. In my mind’s eye I can see him, resplendent in tuxedo, accepting the statuette from a member of the Fair City cast at a lavish function in the Mansion House. An award that now proudly adorns the mantelpiece of his suburban, but conspicuously alarmless, home.

Anyhow, Brendan’s finest creation must be endured until in or around 10.15 by which time the company have irrefutably established that the place is currently nether the site of a burglary or a nuclear incident.

10.15 to 10.30 is usually quiet, too quiet. No.64 soon puts that right. The postman makes the fatal mistake of propping his bike against the wall six doors down with the ensuing vibrations triggering activation of Declan and Una’s state of the art Predator 2000.

The makers of the Predator 2000 claim that their model is the only house alarm that can be heard from Mars. I applaud their achievement and having had to frequently endure its satanic sonic output I would not doubt the veracity of such a claim.

The Predator, quite appropriately, is a law unto itself.  I would characterise the sound as both pulsating and whirring. I have come to learn that there is a dialect that will only ever be deployed in relation to descriptions of house alarms. I can think of no other setting in which one would have occasion to use words like whirring, piercing, rhythmic and shrill in the same sentence. Only the house alarm.

And while we’re on house alarms, am I totally misguided and downright wrong to assume that their sole purpose is as the central pillar of the strategy to secure a lower home insurance quote? Or is that just way too cynical?

Because in my vast experience of enduring these things I have yet to see a neighbour drop everything and run gallantly towards a squawking house with the explicit intention of risking life and limb to stymie the criminal aspirations of the particular ne’er do well inside. They are routinely and reliably ignored.

The house alarm works hard all week driving people to distraction so, like us all, it needs a bit of downtime at the weekend. Into this audiological void steps the power washer, followed closely by its first cousins the car vacuum cleaner, the electric hedge trimmer and the weed strimmer.

That accelerated slapping sound you hear reverberating across suburbia every summer Saturday morning, well that’s the sound of another inch of bark being stripped off the assorted Acer, Sorbus and Betula trees lining the avenues. Declan loves his strimmer, he just hasn’t a clue how to use it. He also loves his power washer. The power washer is to the suburban dweller what the ride on lawn mower is to the lord of the rural half acre manor, you just have to have one.

Hey, it’s suburbia, seemingly a bit of peace and quiet is the last thing anyone wants.

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