Is it because I am not to be trusted or is it a matter of Elf and Safety? I have recently moved to a new house, and it is filled with electronic instruments, covered in little flashing lights and emitting an endless and mystifying series of infuriating beeps.

Outside, a red light flashes ceaselessly on every single fire alarm on the estate, whether they are set or not. Go out on a coal-black night and you can map the houses by these sinister winking eyes of evil.

Inside, both smoke and fire alarms flash at irregular intervals all day and all night, as though observing (disapprovingly) our small and inadequate lives. Smoke alarms, being designed to save lives, stand at the top of the pecking order: their occasional loud, single beeps remind you of their superior existence, but are otherwise incomprehensible, for there is neither fire nor smoke. The instruction manual is silent as to any meaning. The washing machine was expensive. As the one who paid that great sum I feel I should be in control, but not so. As soon as it has finished its work, it emits a couple of loud beeps, and repeats them at regular intervals ad nauseam until you switch it off. And I mean loud: chatting with a neighbour two rooms away, I do not know whether to apologize for this peculiarly contemporary rudeness, or compound the rudeness by going to switch the beastly thing off. Time does not permit me to enumerate all the other appliances with their own vile beeping mechanism, but they are legion.

On my way down below, I expect to see a sign to the effect that ‘You are entering a Beep-Free-Zone: we cannot guarantee your safety.’ God be praised for blessed silence.

David Nichol ND