Maxed Out 

Whistling symphony fouling English Riviera


"You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together… and blow."

Lauren Bacall had something else on her mind when she purred those words to Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not , but her basic idea was sound. Breath, vocal chords, lips, a little practice and you can whistle a tune, hail a cab or cheer on your favourite performer. You can also drive someone crazy as anyone who has ever spent too much time in close proximity to someone who whistles incessantly – generally without any real conscious knowledge they’re doing so – will tell you. Being in close quarters with a soon-to-be ex-friend who whistles seamlessly from show tunes to pop to classical to some torturous, Dadaistic, atonal warble is enough to leave even a pacifist searching for a gaff hook.

The symphony of whistles playing around me 24/7 for the past week has left me a little edgy. Were it not for my well-known even temper, my laissez faire live-and-let-live outlook, my patient, understanding turn-the-other-cheek disposition – and the fact there doesn’t seem to be a gaff hook anywhere on the pirate ship Is there..2 – there’d likely be mayhem in the quaint, touristy, veddy British town of Poole. As it is the Pirate Princess of the Mediterranean is thoroughly perplexed why the tailing ends of all the mooring and fender lines are adorned with little hangman’s nooses. Idle hands….

The leitmotif of the Whistling Symphony is a droning, single note of unvarying pitch. Its loudness increases and decreases with the velocity of the wind and is, in a pinch, a relatively accurate anemometer. For the most part it has been howling its cry of anguish in the 20-25 knot timbre and sounds, on a dark night, like a wounded animal frantically baying for relief. It seems to be coming from everywhere at once and is probably the combined chorus of wind rushing through the multitude of mainmasts surrounding me. The two times during the past week it has disappeared entirely – somewhere south of 12 knots – the relief has been not unlike that felt by a grateful patient when his dentist has finally put down the drill.

The drone is punctuated by an occasional, staccato trill that sounds uncannily like a referee’s whistle. Its origins remain a mystery since it never blows long enough to pinpoint. The first few days I couldn’t help looking around to see if a lifeguard had appeared on the quay or if a Bobby was in flat-footed pursuit of what the locals disparagingly refer to as hoodies, thuggish-looking youths who mill about aimlessly, congregating near automatic bank machines, panhandling on the mean streets of Poole and generally leading layabout lives reminiscent of snowboarders or pandering freelance writers in our own backyard.

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