I’m not what you would call an early adopter. In fact, I’m excellent at turning up my nose at certain things only to embrace them much later. Like cargo shorts and the Saab 9-5 wagon, which in the 1990s both looked tremendously ugly to me. Fast forward a couple of years and there I was, in my cargo shorts, driving my Saab 9-5 wagon and loving both. I was the same with personal stereos. When the Sony Walkman arrived in the early 1980s I would sit on the Tube and seethe at the tzik-tzik-tzik beat hissing from someone’s headphones. How very dare they! A few years later, there I was, headphones on, enjoying the Pet Shop Boys as I headed to work.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that it’s taken me a while to accept wireless ear buds. I blame Covid. For years, my daily walk along the seafront was spent accompanied by the sound of crashing surf and birdsong, allowing me to sink happily into my own thoughts. People would pass me wearing headphones and I would tut-tut to myself about how silly they were to miss the lovely natural sounds around them. I had no desire to listen to music or podcasts as I walked – nature was my soundtrack.
The only time I used headphones was on the train. How much better it was to listen to music than be forced to endure the loud phone calls and inane chatter around me. How superior I felt. Although I had my comeuppance, as I waited for a train on a busy platform. I decided to listen to something exquisitely naff – I think it was some Andrew Lloyd Webber – but somehow the sound wasn’t quite right. All the same, I stood there, actually thinking how funny it was that no one knew I was listening to such schmaltz. Until I noticed a few disapproving glances and it began to dawn on me that my headphones weren’t properly connected. The music was actually blaring out of my phone’s speaker, muffled only to me by the redundant headphones blocking my ears. I had become one of THOSE people who listen to their music at full volume, not giving a toss if it’s bothering anyone else. Did I blush furiously and wish the earth would swallow me up? Yes, dear reader, I did. My petard had never been hoisted so high.
Back to Covid. In March last year I started listening to the Radio National breakfast news programme as I walked, not wanting to miss anything about the mounting horror of the pandemic. Suddenly the headphones connected to my phone seemed a little irksome, the way they got caught up in my clothes. I had never been a fan of wireless earbuds as I kept thinking of the health implications of radio waves passing through my brain. So I bought the nearest thing, the semi-wireless sort linked by a thin wire so the Bluetooth receiver is on my neck, not my head. The sound was great but the wire kept dragging the pods out of my ears on windy days. So I relented and bought a proper pair of earbuds, which discretely plug my ears with big blobs of black plastic. For the rest of the year, my walks were accompanied by Covid news, health podcasts and the awfulness of whatever Trump was up to. On Saturday mornings I even listened to myself on Blueprint, chuckling out loud at the way presenter Jonathan Green would introduce me.
The other day, though, I realised I’d fallen into a habit. I was always listening to something, whether news or music, rather than noticing my surroundings. It came to a head when a fellow walker said something to me that I couldn’t hear because I was focussing on a piece about rising house prices. ‘Sorry?’ I said, taking out an earbud. ‘Dolphins,’ he replied. ‘There’s a really big pod of them off the Point.’ I took out my earbuds and continued to the Point, and there they were, leaping about, catching the waves and being as wonderful as dolphins always are. I would likely have missed them if I’d just concentrated on the news instead.
So that’s it. The time has come to wean myself off the earbuds and the constant chatter of news. It’s time to let my thoughts mingle again with the natural sounds around me. And I reckon Colin Bisset Unplugged is a much better person for it.
What new habits have you developed thanks to Covid?