A week or so ago, I found myself in London’s Fair City. Up early, long before the wide range of museums and tourist sights would begin to stir, I spent some time working on my third Len Palmer Mystery.
At breakfast, I glanced at the Telegraph, always a source of inspiration for those interested in the weird and the absurd. The headline jumped out at me – “Clapping replaced with jazz hands over fears noise could trigger anxiety among students”.
A motion, passed by Manchester University student union, notes that “loud noises including whooping and traditional applause can pose an issue for students with disabilities such as anxiety or sensory issues”. The university’s liberation and access officer argued that traditional applause was not sufficiently “accessible” to all students.
I must admit that I had to look up Jazz hands – “a gesture in which hands are waved rapidly to and fro, palms facing forwards and fingers splayed, used to express or indicate excitement”. It was not clear how this ‘gesture’ would be accessible to visually impaired people.
(The full reference, for those readers who think that I am making this up, can be found at the end of this Blog.)
This was very disturbing news. I was taking my young grandchildren round London and had not realized that a loud noise could be such a serious issue. They were going to be exposed to many loud noises; we would have to travel on the very noisy London Underground which screeches on metal wheels, unlike the Paris Metro which was designed for passenger comfort and whispers along on rubber tires. How would my Israeli grandchildren deal with the stress of life in London.
I decided to prepare them for the difficult day ahead of them. I tried a tentative hand clap followed by a very restrained whoop. There was no reaction, they all continued studying their smart-phones as if nothing had happened.
We took the dreaded Northern Line into the center of London heading for the Museum of London Docklands. The children all handled the roar of the train as it entered the tunnel without complaint. They hardly noticed the ear-splitting screech as we slowed for a station. They were unaffected by the slow-motion ‘handclaps’ as fellow passengers folded and unfolded their large newspapers.
We changed for the Docklands Light Railway. I was worried that sitting in a driverless train could cause the children considerable anxiety, but they rushed to get the very front seat and ‘drive’ the train.
We reached the museum. At this point, I was having an anxiety attack, the entrance fee for four adults and five children could spell financial ruin, but I was pleasantly surprised, entrance is free.
The museum was well laid out and interesting for us all. But, as we entered a section on life in the docklands in World War Two, the air-raid sirens went off. We didn’t know what to do, which way to run. There were no signs for the shelters. In our city, the sirens are not for fun, they are not a romantic memory of ancient history, when our sirens go off we have but moments to find shelter. The youngest were just scared, the older children asked if the Palestinian rockets could reach us here in London. It took several long minutes until we all calmed down and remembered where we were.
As we made our way out, I asked one of the museum attendants, a young woman, why they didn’t sound the ‘All Clear’. It would be a lot less disturbing for foreign tourists from lands where an air-raid alert is not just a matter of history. She hadn’t the faintest idea what I was talking about. I was tempted to clap my hands but didn’t want to scare her.
Meanwhile, my fictional hero, Len Palmer, is trapped down a diamond mine and I have to work out a way to rescue him. That is something to be anxious about!