Oh hi, there.
Been a while, eh? Yes, I’ve been horribly neglecting my blog, so sue me. But I’m coming at you live (I lie, blogs are not in any way live) from drizzly Dartmouth, and I have something to say. Something that’s been on my mind for ages now. Today I would like to talk about being loud. REALLY loud. So loud you offend people. So loud as to become a public nuisance.
Let’s back up slightly. Last Saturday night I was in London. I was having dinner with my urban family at a pub in Crystal Palace. Our urban matriarch (Nat, it’s always Nat) was home from Doha (where she currently lives with her new husband…yeah a LOT happened in 2019) and it was naturally enough to lure me from my grass-fed life in Devon five hours up the motorway to a family sit-down. Now, we’re not the quietest of friends. The women of our family are rather outspoken and, after not that many drinks, decidedly raucous. Nat, Liz and I are particularly blessed with naturally loud, ringing voices (you can hear Liz laughing from her house as you walk towards it from three streets away). It’s our gift, but more often than not our curse.
But last Saturday night, we were not in fact the rowdiest table in the pub. No, no. That honour went to the occupants of the neighbouring table who were, it transpired, celebrating a birthday. The large group of men and women in their twenties and thirties were, and for once I do not exaggerate, shaking the very walls of the pub with their racket. Screaming, hollering, singing, the poor waitress could barely hear us when she came to collect our food order. But you know what? Who cares. It’s Saturday night, it’s London and we’re none of us dead yet. Sure, it was like being sat next to our own private Nottinghill Carnival and we could barely hear ourselves think but who were we to piss on anyone else’s parade? If anything, it gave us licence to catch up (oh boy were we due a catch-up) in as deafening a manner as we liked. It was kinda liberating, truth be told.
But this got me thinking. It got me reaching right back to some pretty dusty shelves in the old memory bank. It transported me back to all the times I had been reprimanded for being “too loud” and ruining a fellow diner’s evening. They were horrible times that made me feel very small and very embarrassed. This is perhaps why they have been branded so firmly onto my memory. But some of them were shared offences, which made them easier to bear. Observe…
Exhibit A: A pub, Salcombe, Devon circa 2015
Dining with my faves, Liz and James (who BY THE WAY were my companions during the next episode too…just sayin’) and Woody, who is also a rather loud person*. We were carousing away when a waitress asked us to keep the noise down. Other diners had made a complaint. The poor woman had to return and make this request three times before we eventually left and took our party elsewhere. We were surprised and hadn’t considered ourselves unsociably disruptive, but it was a nice, quiet family pub so we accepted our fault and tipped heavily.
Red-faced rating: 2/5 I’ll cop to this one. We were probably not the standard February-in-a-small-sailing-town clientele and were almost certainly being a bit disruptive.
*NB: my husband and his family are all quite loud, articulate people. Loud, short, articulate people. I fit right in.
Exhibit B: Stoke Fleming, Devon circa 2018
Again, Liz and James in attendance but for an added twist of “Say what?!”, MY PARENTS were dining with us too. Now, I get my booming, resonating timbre from somewhere but it must be my dad because my mum is rather softly spoken, which is what makes this episode such an odd one. The six of us were having dinner, again on a Saturday night, in a trendy bistro in the village where Woody and I now live. The manager (the manager!) swooped past our table and, scooping up some spent glasses as he did so, muttered snottily in my ear, “Can you guys keep the noise down please? We’ve had several complaints from other tables.” James and Woody, who granted had been laughing loudly at the end of the table, suddenly clammed up like naughty school boys and Liz got the giggles. My mum tried to stealthily work out which odious bores had complained about us (for my money: back table, far right, clearly on marriage number four) and my dad went into a (temporarily) silent rage.
“DO THEY WANT CUSTOMERS OR NOT?” He thundered on our walk home. It takes a lot to break my dad’s natural good humour, and I couldn’t help but agree. It’s a bar/restaurant on a Saturday night. We’re regulars. We were having dinner with people in their sixties. How offensive could we have possibly been?
Red-faced rating: 3/5 We were probably a bit much for dear old Stoke Fleming, but unless my mother was uncharacteristically flicking the Vs at our fellow diners without me noticing, I just can’t believe we were ruining anyone’s night.
Exhibit C: The Salty Sea Dog, Simon’s Town, Cape Town, South Africa. February 2017.
I remember this date with more accuracy because I was in Cape Town for two friends’ wedding. I had bumped into my cousins (also in town for the wedding) at Cape Point and we’d all stopped for lunch in Simon’s Town. By the way, if you’re ever passing through, the food at The Salty Sea Dog is as satisfying as its name. Anyway. We were having lunch and I was delivering an anecdote to my cousin Sarah and her boyfriend when I was roughly poked between the shoulder blades by bony, angry fingers. I whipped round to find myself being glared at by an elderly Danish (?) woman who simply pressed her index finger to her lips and angrily said “SHUSH.” I basically died on the spot. My cousin thought it very funny, I sat on my hands and never finished my story.
Red-faced rating: 5/5 I was humiliated. The woman didn’t speak English but if she had I would have tried to tell her that what she did was rude and hurtful. And that there are polite ways of asking someone to shut up. But, righteous elderly woman on a day trip who’s got the balls to rap a stranger across the shoulders and tell them to pipe down. Would she have listened? I doubt it.
Exhibit D: Charlotte Street, London, some time in 2013/14
Drinking (a lot) with Nat, her friend Izzie and Liz (again! Seeing a pattern here, Mrs V…) in a trendy bar in Soho on – and this bit is crucial – a fucking Friday night. We were being VERY loud and VERY raucous. This I admit. But it was a BAR. In SOHO. On a FRIDAY NIGHT. A group of men in their late 40s/early 50s were perturbed by the chat they were overhearing at our table. It goes without saying that they should have been focussing on their own table, not ours. They duly despatched an extremely embarrassed waitress to tell us to keep the noise down and to keep the chat a bit more PG. We were drunk. We tried and failed to be quieter but our noise necessitated the poor waitress to return to our table four more times, each time more embarrassed than the last. We had offended the delicate ears of these gents and they would not let it go, and this innocent lady was bearing the brunt of their displeasure. In the end, we decided to take our party elsewhere lest these prudish chaps alert the local authorities that there were four women enjoying themselves in public.
Liz, ever the diplomat, felt guilty for disturbing them and on our way out she leant down to their table and softly said, “I’m sorry if my friends and I were a bit loud.” However, Drunken Me was not having one bar of this. While she was still at their table, I barged across her and rather neutered her olive branch by declaring, “We are NOT sorry and you are all fucking boring!” before sweeping out into the cobbled streets, followed by a rather flushed Liz. No, it’s not my proudest moment but I do, crucially, stand by it. They were boring. And I was demonstrably not sorry.
Red-faced rating: 0/5 I am still not in any way sorry. Those men were in the wrong environment for the night they wanted to have. What are you even doing on Charlotte St on a Friday night if you want peace and quiet?
It’s worth noting, that a few doors down from this establishment in Soho some years later, a coked-out man literally verbally assaulted us and tried to show us his dick at a table in Dean Street Townhouse (yes! The very same!) and staff did nothing. Am I crazy, OR IS THERE SOME GRADE A PATRIARCHAL BULLSHIT HAPPENING HERE?
And that’s the conclusion I’m kinda drawing here. No, it’s not nice to ruin someone’s dining experience and yes, I am aware of my volume now. Yes, I am a loud person by nature, even more so after a few drinks, and not everyone is here for that. But you know what struck me last Saturday in Crystal Palace sitting next to that almost unbearably loud table? The noisemakers next to me were nearly all men and they went totally unsilenced. The person who ruined my friend’s birthday with verbal assault in Dean Street Townhouse was also, shocker, a man.
Is it just that I’m loud? Or it is because I’m a loud woman? My husband Woody has sat at no end of tables in London’s best and brightest restaurants, guffawing and carousing at full volume late into the night with clients or friends. He tells me that he has only ever experienced rebuke for his volume in public when sat with me. And lemme tell you, that man has a LOUD voice. He booms, right from his belly.
It’s not news that the world has historically found loud women distasteful and, frankly, I do need to be told to put a sock in it from time to time. I am by anyone’s standards a bloody chatterbox. But as long as the male chatterboxes are being told the same, I’m down with it.
If not, prepare to have your dinner ruined.