I Used to Live Alone Before I Knew Ya'

This page written circa 12 September, 2004.

I sit here in my favourite leather armchair with an XO in one hand enjoying the peace and quiet, the children asleep and Kay out. It has been a hell of a month.

The kids went back to school, Edwin to his first full-time class, Merinda to her first year of real school; we discovered a $10k mistake we failed to trap in our house financing; Kay managed to get ticketed for failing to fully stop at a stop sign; Kay's Dad Denis and her stepmother Lynne are separating after 21 years; Kay managed to dent the Mazda; there is a sudden issue with our Sydney apartment and changing capital gains tax rules; Amelia is considering dropping out of high school; and we have started filming location scenes for "Secret Play". Work has also become busy. So busy that the mail lady delivered a pile of letters and journals to my cube with the sad news that she could no longer stuff anything more in my mail slot.

So exactly how do you know when things are "quiet"? In discussing with my colleague Tony exactly what we might look for in a house, I wondered how to define this, and I consulted Glenn. Acoustic quietness in a domestic situation means 30dBA inside the modern house, 40dBA outside. "Watch out for freeways", quoth Glenn, "they are line sources, of course!". Our meter runs out about 40dBA. This house does fall below that, at night, limited by Route 12 over the hill and through the sound walls, but I have been hard pressed to discover this level. We run the main PC 24/7 in the study, giving 43dBA since the disk drive went a bit noisy; elsewhere, the refrigerator cuts on periodically, the splashing in the fish tank exceeds that, and the crickets outside are louder still and utterly drown out any traffic noise on a summer night: 60dBA at times. The dining room fountain and the garden sprinklers are almost up there with the crickets. Few of the above are audible if the kids are awake, over the thudding of little feet, the chatter and yells, the video, the click and clatter of the motors and sound chips in various toys. I do not get to know about quiet even when it is there.

Work is worse. My cube is exposed to about 68dBA, mostly air conditioning and instrument fans. Downstairs in cubes near the VP it is 6dB quieter, in the lab 6dB louder.

With my eyes closed I can make believe that I am in this armchair, but in my loungeroom in Chelmsford Street. The water running into the trout tank would be the sound of Stretch splashing around his tank in pursuit of a mosquito fish, but he will soon stop for a rest. With my eyes closed I can see a neat room instead of carpet and tables strewn with papers, crayons, toys, casually-discarded clothes and shoes. Either a warm, unruffled bed or a stroll downtown for a midnight feast of tandoori or falafel are my most appealing options. Now a cynic might blame all this on love, and if you accept as a curse the Chinese wish that one live in interesting times, I am under a mighty powerful curse. Nevertheless, to continue Mr Buckley's metaphor, we may be under a brief seige, but my throne is not broken, my hair is not cut, and nobody is about to shoot me in the back. The crickets and sprinklers and little feet are welcome to banish the silence. It is good to be kept on your toes. Just not all the time.

For those who do not know this brilliant piece, herewith the lyrics. (With some verses not used by Buckley, added a decade after this was first written.)


Jeff Buckley, after Leonard Cohen

I heard there was a secret chord,
That David played and it pleased the Lord,
But you don't really care for music, do ya?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift,
The baffled king composing Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

Well your faith was strong but you needed proof,
You saw her bathing on the roof,
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrough ya.
She tied you to her kitchen chair,
She broke your throne and she cut your hair,
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.

Baby I've been here before,
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor,
I used to live alone before I knew ya.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch,
But love is not a victory march,
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.

There was a time when you let me know,
What's really going on below,
But now you never show that to me, do ya?
But remember when I moved in you,
And the holy dove was moving too,
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah.

Well, maybe there's a God above,
But all I've ever learned from love,
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.
It's not a cry that you hear at night,
It's not somebody who's seen the light,
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah...

[You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

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