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When you leave the U.K., the soundscape changes dramatically. These are the noises you’ll be sad to bid farewell.
British TV and radio
This category could easily command its own top 10—or 100. But for now, I’ll just set down a few names to tap you nostalgically on the eardrums: the EastEnders and Corrie theme tunes; Radio 4’s pips; the voices of John Humphrys and Kirsty Wark. Then there are those chirpy failed comedians, the continuity announcers.
Even though the majority of Brits now buy their milk in shops, the humble milkman and his electric set of wheels can still be seen—and heard—in most British locales. It’s a battery operated hum and the sound of bottles rattling.
“Get your oranges, five for a pound!”—or words to this effect—are enthusiastically bellowed by fruit and veg vendors in markets all over the U.K. Every purveyor is trying to shout louder and sell harder than his neighbor. Possibly the phrase “cheap and cheerful” was coined off the back of this hearty British noise.
Fish in the fryer
As your batter-smothered cod or haddock is lowered in bubbling oil, there’s a hiss then the low, reassuring rumble of deep fat meeting wet starch.
These shy nocturnal beasts stalk the British suburbs, cities and countryside, barely making a sound—until mating season arrives. Then, they start with the old-lady-being-brutally-butchered impressions. It’s a fascinating and terrifyingly compelling noise. How to describe it to someone who’s unfamiliar with this particular mammalian audio treat? Let’s just say, it’s the aural equivalent of those YouTube videos documenting the lancing of a particularly heinous boil, i.e. it’s simultaneously the best and worst thing you’ve ever heard. So yeah, Brits. Bizarrely, you’ll probably miss the sound of foxes humping in the night.
The deep gentle coo of this plump, pink and grey bird is one of the most distinctively British nature noises. While we write off regular pigeons as pests, we’re little bit in love with these majestic birds and their vocals.
Bitter gushing from a pub hand pump
There is no sweeter sound in the universe than the wet whir of room temperature ale rushing from its barrel to your pint glass. Just the thought—let alone the sound—is enough to make a thirsty Brit salivate.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the romance of chiming church bells. Even Richard Dawkins must quietly crack a smile in the presence of this quaint and reassuringly British sound.
The muted hubbub of a country pub
American bars tend to be overwhelmingly loud bustling places where people go to talk at volume and watch television. So Brits used to the gentle hum of an “old man” pub will miss the subtle soundtrack of pints being poured and slurped, crisp packets rustling and stilted conversation.
Diesel taxi engines
Most major British cities have black cabs now. When the engine starts up it makes a distinctive bubbling chip pan sound that radiates confidence and authority. It’s like a distinguished headmaster clearing his throat to make a very important announcement.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.