Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Sounds of the London Tribe

August 24, 2009 · 2 Comments

What I love about our walking tours is the complete sensory overload that occurs when we set off up and down the streets. Of course, the visual stimuli are wonderful, The Roman Wall, the Tower of London … I could go on and on. But the great thing is that it’s not just visuals. On market day I was able to indulge in the delicate spices wafting through the air from the many food vendors at Acton Market. Also, this entire journey has been made even more enjoyable by the wide selection of tastes I have enjoyed… Wensleydale cheese, Aloo Kachori, Sheppard’s Pie. Yesterday on my Bloomsbury tour I was able to hear some different sounds than I was used to. When we walked past Coram’s Fields I heard the laughter of children and the whooshing of a zip-line inside the playground. This was the complete opposite the church bells pealing and the traffic rushing by that I heard on the Roman Wall tour earlier that morning. The tube is another story altogether. The Brits who ride the underground are silent…. Another one of their “privacy rules” I’ve noticed. If people are talking it’s in another language or it’s one of my classmates. Listening to other languages as I wander around has really made me appreciate London as a global city. Where else can you walk down a side street and hear one man talking in rapid Portuguese on his mobile and hear a woman speaking to her daughter in Farsi within two blocks of each other? My trip out to West India Quay this afternoon only increased my interest in the sounds of this great city.

The Docklands Museum provides a wonderful time line of life by the Thames from pre-Londinium to the present day. In considering London the ultimate melting pot of humanity, this museum manages to incorporate many of the major events of the Docklands history in its three floors. I enjoyed many of the interactive aspects of the museum such as the touch screen information panels, the dark sailor’s alleyway (thanks for going first Brandon!), and the spice boxes. However what really struck me were the audio aids. At every exhibit you were bombarded with snippets of sounds that perfectly blended with the content of the prompts and the visuals. Like many of my classmates, the exhibit on the evolution of slavery in England made a major impact on me. The audio and video that accompanied this section was powerful, arresting and disturbing. I can tell you that the words will stay with me for a long time. As I walked around reading about the Middle Passage, Caribbean plantations and the struggle for Abolition, “YOU WILL BE BEATEN, YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU, YOU WILL LOSE YOUR FREEDOM” kept ringing in my ears. Once I reached the exhibit on the London Blitz, the whispered and paranoid tones of “ Keep it under your hat” and “Loose lips sink ships” had me looking over my shoulder to make sure I was alone.

Take each small moment and observe what is going on around you. At lunch I heard opera music drifting into the back garden, I heard the fire alarm 20 minuets ago, A dog is barking outside right now. Each day I spend here gives me another opportunity to “listen in” and lean about the city of London. I encourage everyone to look up when you walk around, open your window, sit out in the garden, go to a park or a pub.

I read this poem at The Docklands Museum and it immediately made me think of this course.


“The London Breed” by Benjamin Zephaniash (1996)


‘I Love this great polluted place

Where pop stars come to live their dreams

Here ravers come for drum and bass

And politicians plan their schemes,

The music of the world is here

This city can play any song

They come to here form everywhere

Tis they that made this city strong.

A World of food displayed on streets

Where all the world can come a dine

On meals that end with bitter sweets

And cultures melt and intertwine

Two hundred languages give voice

To fifteen thousand changing years

And all religions can rejoice

With exiled soul and pioneers

It’s so cool when the heat is on

And when it’s cool it’s wicked

We just keep melting into one

Just like the tribes before us did

I love this concrete jungle still

With all its sirens and its speed

The people here united will

Create a kind of London breed.’

Categories: Grace · Museums

2 responses so far ↓

  •   kstaab77 // Aug 24th 2009 at 16:57

    I really enjoyed your argument about sound playing a large role in the London experience. Sound makes such an impact on everyday life, but it is often so subtle that my attention is not drawn to it unless it is pointed out to me. I’ll have to remember to listen to the silences as well as the blantant noise in order to get the full picture of London.

  •   abarron76 // Aug 24th 2009 at 17:38

    It’s a very interesting comparison to London nightlife. In pubs, everyone is friends with everyone else. On any given night there is drunken camaraderie in the local pub between total strangers. For instance, the other night in the Marlborough Arms I met two locals in the bathroom discussing Obama. I contributed my two cents and they ended up hanging out and drinking with us for hours. It is a totally different dynamic than, say, the tube or on the street where eye contact is a bit taboo.

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