Fifth Column (Beware of Whistlers) – Issue 23

We may be hamsters, we may be ants, we may even be budgerigars but something I know we’re not are songbirds.

Particularly on mornings of any climatic description but more often spring and summer, when you round a corner and are assailed by…the happy whistler.

The hock and brain-grating horror of someone running unspun wool through the contents of your skull fills you with dread and a melancholy so deep you could easily hide all the joy in the world without trace.

If this isn’t awful enough, it is in stark contrast to the beautiful songlike conversations of birds of varying sizes to-ing and fro-ing from climbing foliage on the fronts of houses adjacent to where I live.

I have reached a conclusion over the course of my life, and this is now unequivocal : whistling, in public or in earshot of a living organism, should be banned, censored and outlawed. All pursing of lips to facilitate the wretchedness that is whistling should be institutionally discouraged through any education system.

Whistling is one of the most self-indulgent acts expressing the attitude of ‘I don’t give a hoot for how others feel’. The only saving grace for the windy miscreant would be accidental ignorance because, if thought to be consciously deliberate then they should have their vocal equipment – if indeed it is this set up that produces the dismal noise* – removed as an act of social service.

If indeed this forced air caterwauling is an expression of happiness – not merely carelessness – in the perpetrator, then we, as a civic duty, must retrain them to find other, more sociable ways to tell us they are at ease with the world or, I suspect, their own world.

Whistling, like some other anti-social, ignorantly aggressive behaviours does inadvertently enhance our own appreciation of another, more inclined to be sociable, behaviour…silence. The immediate sense of bliss felt on cessation of a single tune or medley of whistling is a consummate pleasure. The only dark edge to such peace is the horrible thought that the whistler may not be finished and may restart the torture within the hour, within the same day, within the next week or even again in this lifetime.

The disturbances began at an early age when, awaiting water that would contribute significantly to a welcome beverage, the kettle would blow its top after a build up of pressure resulting in a whining noise that preceded the Bee Gees’ cutting edge tones. It was at these times we youngsters got our sprint training, tearing across the linoleum at breakneck pace to turn the gas down and return the kitchen to eerie but beautiful silence. Odd times, we would incur mild scalding as we leapt at the offending whistle cap in our eagerness to avoid prolonged exposure to the noise. If only we had been weaned on Saxophone and clarinet jazz, we might have built up an immunity to the whistler’s curse and our desire to swing would have been transformed into an impulse to live rather than die.

In reminiscence I recall the existential pains of what was recognised as puberty but, I think my particular discomfort during the adolescent years was attributable to hearing a moderately successful whistling recording that made the higher reaches of the pop charts of the day. For a number of years, the residual unease this semi-professional whistler caused for me meant that mathematical equations visually prompted the same effect. Just as the inane yet vicious whistling haunted the airwaves, algebra haunted my nasal passages, stroked my brain with a bastard file and resembled a whistle to at least twenty places after the decimal point. The cosines were there for me when the complexities of maths whistled through, up and over my head.

Nowadays, even a casual purse of the lips to blow the dreaded noise has me twitching and sometimes running to get out of earshot, where at least the dangerous pounding of exhaustion has the sound of throbbing that drowns out the effects, and to some degree the immediate recollection of any whistling. In thinking of the extent to which this universally recognised as benign practice of whistling has gripped my psyche and the probable psychosis it can engender in me, it is cruel to acknowledge that these two psychoanalytic words – oops three – can produce a whistling noise through the teeth as the tongue presses up against the upper palate. What a perverse coincidence.

I even stopped going past Whistle Stop Wine shops because the word tormented me so. End. Phew!

*There is still much speculation over what physics are at work in producing the vibrations and wind disturbances that are manifest in whistling, whether kettle or human produced but one thing that needs no further research is that the result is spurious and most irritating.