Care and Control
Sounding it Out – Jo Stanley
Rear Window Publications
1995 ISBN 0 9521040 3 2
© Jo Stanley
Sounding out: to inquire, especially in reserved or cautious manner into sentiments of persons about etc.;
Sounding: means of causing opinions to be more widely known;
Sound: what is or may be heard;
Sound: not diseased, rotten.
What does Hackney Hospital sound like, to those who spend their time there? What sounds do they make in response to what happens within its forbidding towers and determinedly bright dayrooms, its kicked-in wards and made-over offices? And what intense fear and pain and joy and frustration will remain unuttered—bulldozer over like the underground labyrinths—once the building finally goes?
My job was to inquire of users and staff: their stories, their songs, their noises: all that they would agree to expose. The point was to gather knowledge for future inquiries: these fragments of my interviewees’ pasts will be stored for Hackney and the National Sound Archive.
I expected to be up against the selective silences that people in institutions and in distress use as survival devices; the memory loss caused by ECT and the standard shyness of working-class people who believe they have nothing to offer. Although some were reticent, others were frank, even poetic. Many words were let out because there is nothing to lose now that the great containing device—the idea of the hospital—is going. I hope that these would be interviews with the metaphorical bass and treble enhancers turned up: screams and sobs—after all, some younger service users joked that this is a House of Horrors from which werewolf yowls echoed. But the site is more quiet, more everydayish than that. And the sounds that people said they would remember—or even replicated—were ordinary noises. The ferocious rattle of food trolley on G Block’s gravel path. The companionable strolling and singing by the pond under the cypress trees: Grace crooned “The future’s not ours to see, Que sera!” Goldfish plopping up as they do at home in the Caribbean, said Elvira. The piercing screech of the double-acting central heating pump, Barry did an imitation. Joe remembered the snores and calls in Gardner’s Ward at night; “Nurse! Nurse!”