Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals


I'm being driven mad!

One of the reasons I work where I do is that it's blissfully peaceful.
After years spent in workshops in busy London streets, the quiet restfulness of a countryside setting is joy that I appreciate to the full each and every day.
Noise, however, is relative. If you live or work in a noisy, boisterous environment it all tends to merge into the general background hubbub - save for those noises that are sufficiently loud to stand out...such as the national snort of incredulity as the Prime Minister sacks his second-in-command but inexplicably forgets to rescind his perks...or perhaps the resigned sigh of several million footy fans watching England go out of the world cup 54-0 to a team from a place you've never heard of, whose star striker has only one leg...and a pension.

In the tranquility of the workshop though, where the background noise consists of the quiet whirr of a computer and the external chirps of the birds, even something as innocuous as the buzz of a trapped bluebottle is enough to distract me. So much so that I keep an old badminton racket beside my bench, ever ready to do battle with any stray flying insects that don't look like they'll put up too much of a fight.
After all those years of playing loud gigs and driving a VW Beetle at 50 MPH (not at the same time, I should add) I'm frankly amazed that I can hear much of anything at all - and I freely admit to having problems distinguishing individual conversations in a crowded room, or hearing the telly when the kids are fighting (which is, effectively, all the time).

Given enough silence, though, I still find I can pick up such curious sounds as a beetle that's found its way into the wastepaper bin, or a bee hovering outside the door, looking for a likely home.
And it's into this chapel of silence that my new visitors have arrived.

It started a couple of weeks ago.
The workshop is divided into two sections; the main room, where the bulk of the activity takes place, and a smaller back room - which I call the 'dirty room'. I keep the buffing machine in here, and on those rare occasions where I find the need to use it I can close the door between the sections and prevent the resulting cloud of buffing dust from contaminating the entire workshop. It's also where I stash all my old junk, and keep the kettle - so I'm in and out of the back room all day.
It was while I was filling the kettle that I noticed a very faint chirruping. It's nothing unusual, it being Springtime here, and I assumed that it was simply the sound of a young bird atop the roof. However, it persisted - every time I went into the back room I could hear the noise...and over the course of a week it became louder, and moved up from what was originally a soloist to what now sounds like a quintet.
It's obviously a bird's nest - but where? I had to find out.

The sound seemed to be coming from the rear corner of the roof, and a cursory investigation of both the interior and the exterior shows no possible nesting site. It can't be in the guttering as, being late May in Britain, it's been tipping it down with rain for the last week or so...and I doubt even Noah would have put up with that much rainwater.
Thinking laterally (also known as 'not having any better ideas') I examined the possibility that the roof was acting as some sort of sound collector, and that the sound source lay in the little copse behind the workshop. I had a brief stumble around amongst the vegetation but found nothing - save for an old china toilet bowl. How on earth it got there, or where it came from, I have no idea. I suspect it's one of those mysteries of life, like the little bits of diced carrot in vomit, or the giant spot that always pops up on your chin before a gig.
I did cautiously peer into the bowl, just in case the bird's nest lay in the U-bend - thinking, perhaps absurdly, that the bowl would act as a sort of trumpet, amplifying the sound. No such luck, so I thought I'd hang around a while to see if I could hear any stray chirps and not being the kind to stand on ceremony, or even stand at all, I sat down, somewhat precariously, upon the old toilet.
It was at this moment that a client chose to arrive. Sod's law really - ever keen to present a reassuring first impression, I was caught sitting on an ex-lavatory bowl in the woods.

I resigned myself to defeat for the time being.
It's not so much that I mind the noise - it's all part of the great circle of life, and it's an intolerant fool who would gripe at the sound of a handful of chicks calling for food. No, what was bugging me was that I couldn't find the bloody nest!

Inspired by watching episodes of The Sweeney in my youth (it's where I got some of my most colourful colloquialisms from...though I have to admit I rarely have cause to say "Get orf my manor, you slaaaaaaaag". Comes in handy on the odd gig though, when someone tries to half-inch me pint) I figured that the best way to track down the source was to 'case the joint'.
To this end I took to standing behind one of the small outhouses opposite the workshop.
Safely tucked away behind a wall I stood there, obligatory cuppa in one hand, restorative ciggie in the other, peering surreptitiously around the corner.
That's when another client arrived.
They crept up on me, from behind. "Er, are you Steve Howard?" they asked...and I momentarily considered using that old chestnut "No, I'm his insane identical twin - he's not here..come back later...wibbble flobble la la la" but it looked like I was caught bang to rights (The Sweeney, again).

Still, a good plan is a good plan, and having arrived at the workshop this morning at the unseasonably hour of 6am (you can tell I'm losing sleep over this) I figured it was the ideal time for a 'stake-out'. All I had to do was watch out for the milkman...and I had a good hour or so before he was due.
With a fresh, steaming cuppa and a couple of ready-rolled ciggies I was all set for a long wait.

Ten seconds later a small bird, a Blue Tit no less, flew across my head and made for the far corner of the workshop...the very corner I'd heard the noise coming from. To my complete amazement it dove straight for the wall...and promptly disappeared into a small hole in the brickwork!
Well I'll be....
I've been in this workshop nigh on 14 years now, and I'd never noticed this hole. It's about three feet up, and around an inch in it's not exactly invisible. To make matters worse there's a small pipe attached to the wall below it - it's an old electrical conduit, and the hole would be about where the junction box once sat.
Can't recall ever having noticed it before.

So that solves the mystery of where the incessant chirping is coming from - they're in the cavity of the wall.
I feel quite paternal...that my workshop should be host to a new generation of wee flying beasties.
In typical Sweeney style I've called them "The Hole in the Wall Gang" - and I've got tabs on their drum, guv.

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