Compared with Ireland, twilight seems very short in south-west France. The sun sets and darkness quickly follows. The house stands alone in rolling countryside. No street lights are visible. No sound is audible.
It is strange what you miss, strange that the dull and the banal and the ordinary sounds of life can become important, strange that silence, something which should not be threatening can evoke unanticipated emotions.
I remember a train journey home to Somerset after a football match, the midnight train from Paddington, which stopped at unlikely places and seemed to spend forever at Bristol Parkway before passing the city and dropping south into the dark Somerset countryside. There was a strange woman, maybe in her 30s, in the carriage, who was either disturbed or taking some substance. She would periodically waken sleeping passengers and complain about rats’ tails. Getting out at Castle Cary, or Bridgwater in the early hours, (I don’t remember now and they are on different lines), we spent what remained of the night in a friend’s house before turning up for classes at 9am. Whatever the discomfort and whatever the tiredness, there was a feeling of security about that journey.
Since childhood I have feared being alone and being isolated. I have always liked the feeling of security that comes from knowing that you are surrounded by people going about their daily duties. In my university days I lodged with an uncle and aunt in Kew in west London. At night you could hear the trains on the District and North London lines, you could hear the traffic going along the South Circular, and you could hear the aircraft going into Heathrow airport – there was reassurance in the familiar world continuing as I slept.
In Dublin sleep on a Saturday night would often be disturbed by the noise of taxis and the shouts of young people returning from clubs and pubs, by passers by who had drunk too much, but I didn’t mind. It was reassuring that humanity was awake and active.
Standing at the doorway here, staring out into the nothingness, there is no reassurance that the world has not disappeared. A shout for help would not be heard.
Deep silence can bring a strange awareness of vulnerability, of there being no hiding place, but from what? What is there that can provoke such a sense of unease? A psychologist would presumably make much of a fear of quietness!