Island Blog Time to Listen


In Barcelona church bells ring throughout the day.  I counted five or six churches near my flat, two more some distance away, each one marking each quarter until only three were left to sing out the hour.  I didn’t need a watch at all.  To find out whether it was quarter past or quarter to, on the hour or the half hour was simply a matter of waiting a few minutes.

The big church went first.  One echoing bong for quarter past the hour, two for the half hour, three for the quarter to.  Draw one breath in, and out, and here goes the next bell, followed by the next, and so on until all six were done.   On the hour, four chimes precede the announcing of the hour. Only the big church gets that gig.  It then chimes the hour and two other distant churches follow suit.  The hour chimes are different, another bell, sonorous, ponderous, full of gravitas like a much respected mayor making a big announcement to the city.

The point that made me smile was that each bell was given enough time to bong, echo and fade before another took up the chant and yet, surely this means that some folk are just a bit late for an appointment, because by the time church number 6 had finished, it had to be at least 3 minutes off.  I wondered if that mattered.  I decided it did not, for in Spain, time is not as it is here, something to frantically rush for, something that gets lost, something that decides our chances of success.  Time is just time.

I considered the space each church bell gave the others, thus honouring all the different bongs, the different notes and spacing, giving each the chance to shine, and that led me neatly to another source of music in our lives – that of conversation.  Each voice with its own timbre, spacing, timing, phrasing and language.  Voices are melodies, conversations create harmonies, if we pause long enough to listen.  Sometimes, no, be honest, often, when I am the other half of an animated conversation, I will leap around like a mountain goat, interrupting, jumping to the wrong conclusion, leading us both way off track.  When my counterpart stops me, with an assertive ‘Let me finish’, I feel miffed and not a little irritated, and yet was it not I who bounced in without really listening to the bong, echo and fade?  Was I, in truth, listening at all, or was I beside myself with whatever I planned to say next, thus losing the whole thread and hearing nothing?

It isn’t easy to wait.  Time is short, after all, and I have this bus to catch, this shopping to buy, this presentation to make, so hurry up and say what you have to say whilst I mentally sift through my to-do list, a polite and distance smile on my face.  I’d love to stay and chat but……………..

How many times have we hurried away, checking our watch, swallowing gaviscon tablets, only to find we later think on that encounter, and wish it had been different?  We learned absolutely nothing about the other person and, what’s more, we still have indigestion and the same old thing is going to happen tomorrow.

Is life more mellow in Spain because of the sun?  I don’t think so, although sun does make all the difference to the song in someone’s heart.  Over here, in this green and pleasant wetland, we seem to need a wake-up call.  Time is just time.  Everyone has the same amount each day.  No job decides behaviour, no boss owns his or her employees unless they want it that way.  Not one of us is a victim and we can all choose.  Nothing changes if nothing changes, so…. change.  If we can begin to listen to the melody line of another person all the way to the echo, picking up the song, but not before the end of the bar………. adding harmony, rhythm, discord, counterpoint, joining in the shared music of laughter as the phrasing brings us, as one, to a mellifluous finale…….well, we might find life is rather fun and our own little world expanding.

Oh, and the bells are not annoying at all.  Quite the opposite.  Not only do they upstartle loads of multi-coloured pidgeons to entertain the sky, but they soften the air somehow, the roar of traffic steps back a note and the tourists down in the street pause, look up, and smile.