in the ear of the beholder

“I like his voice, I just don’t want to have to look at him” said my mother of both Cliff Richard and

Frank Sinatra.   This is the woman who taught me that John Carradine (look him up) was what she called “an ugly goodlooking man” and they were a lot more appealing than the conventionally handsome.  She also said that plain men often have something quite separate to recommend them, good manners, a great voice, beautiful hands or by extension feet.  Ever the realist, she pointed out that this extra attractive thing shouldn’t be taken to be the whole story.  Or in her dry way she’d add “I mean, you can’t marry feet !”

I think of her as I become more and more her daughter. Voices affect me more and more.  Ugly voices or voices being ugly

and of course, each to their own.  It’s no good badmouthing people who speak publicly for a living because clearly what strikes on my ears like a tight shoe in a heatwave doesn’t bother their listeners or they wouldn’t be employed. 

There are several people doing wonderful work with animals and I can only think that the animals must be tone deaf.  (Remember the monkeys with their hands over their ears ?)  Any bird or beast

with human perception would wince as these people enumerate their needs.  They sound like false smiles into the face of a child.   And there is a historian I only have to glimpse to switch off, while I’ve lost count of the things I have tried and thought – can’t listen to this noise – which is exactly what my mother would have said.

Appeal is highly individualised and it changes over time and circumstances.  We say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, well, it’s in the ear too. 

You know how you want to share a track with somebody and you just can’t – they don’t “get” what you hear.  Sound appeal is quite subtle and very precise.  You hear modulations somebody else doesn’t hear.  And it means exactly what you want it to mean. 

When we began the lockdown, I celebrated being the luckiest woman I know, the flat surrounded upstairs and down by friendly people, all younger than me.  It was more than just “smile in the street” friendly – they wrote notes and rang the doorbell and, ignoring slight awkwardness, they made it clear they knew who I was and should I need help, I shouldn’t hesitate to ask, and offered mobile numbers.  

And I took parcels in and they forgot keys (they had had the sense to offer me a spare) and all sorts of bits of neighbourly living.  I mention this because a friend of mine just wrote and in her email remarked that she thought of neighbours as non existent because people move so much more often.  

Coming home last week, one of the young men I call disrespectfully but affectionately “the boys” saw me and asked if he might talk to me about work.  And talk he did, and I to him, and while I wouldn’t have refused if I didn’t like his voice, the fact that I did, helped.  And I heard myself asking him to realise his youth (25), just as my father did when I had my first reverse and thought it was my last at 19 – though now I was able to say how things changed – but it took until I was 30.    

I wonder if seeing people changes how you hear them ?  Lib is going back to New Zealand.

Her papers have expired, and as both her parents have had some ill health while she has been away, she is reconciled to that.  The other morning I waved to her through the window and phone in hand she came racing out to introduce me to her mother on video link in NZ.  I had never done anything like that before, obviously had never heard her mother’s voice before and she was a most attractive person.  But what’s interesting is that if I close my eyes, I can hear her voice – just the wisp of it, presumably because I so like her daughter.  

One response to “in the ear of the beholder

  1. I was really attracted to my husband’s voice when I met and married him in 1975. I hope it was reciprocated especially as I was a singer ! He died last year and his voice is one of the main things I miss about him still.

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