I like R’s photo’s and R which outweighs ‘I don’t like photos of me and will feel uncomfortable being photographed’. So I was looking forward to this. The room was warm, the hot chocolate thick and the armchair wing-backed. Before we started R had moved things about to de-clutter the background. I think perhaps it was that which set me to giggling. Almost constantly. Because I couldn’t hear myself above the bar noise it felt silent nonetheless.

camera cartoon

The Silence Experiment
Silent: Me and Rachel T
Site: Fino Lounge, Whitchurch, Cardiff
State: Photographer and model
Surprises: R wondered if it would feel intrusive taking photos silenty it didn’t particularly for either of us

I’m cold and stomping along Somerset Street quickly in the silence not paying a lot of attention to anything until the fox crosses my path. He’s big (I remember a cat called Taboo and wonder if the fox is living off kebabs) but trots softly and purposefully across and down the steps. Which reminds me that the views across Bristol are impressive from up here. City lights. Still too cold to stop for long but much revived.


The Silence Experiment
Silent: Just Me
Site: Somerset Street and beyond, Bristol
State: Walking
Surprises: Look up. Look around. Feel better.

We’d grown the fascination earlier in the day, talking about characters who use knots not writing to record histories. Silently C and I knotted from two ends of the same string. With the sounds of talking and playing drifting down the stairs we both added small metal, tying with bunny ears because that was easiest. The dual decision to pick metal from the array of tat we had to choose from wasn’t telegraphed or specified – it flowed.


The Silence Experiment
Silent: Me and Camilla
Site: Cam’s Living Room, King’s Heath, Birmingham
State: Knotting
Surprises: Cam talked about road noise after – I hadn’t heard it


Under the ground the stream is bubbling. Under the frozen snow, yes sometimes. But also under the ground itself. Under a layer of stone and spagnum. It’s dancing in the cracks and I can track it by ear, and by eye to the spot where it sneaks out in an watering can spurt. I am glad we stopped, even though the stream has to fight with the sound of wind in my waterproof and my ears hurt.

hillsideThe Silence Experiment
Silent: Me and Ben
Site: Side of a hill on the road between Merthyr and Brecon
State: Listening
Surprises: Only when I turn to look at the road below do I hear the noise of the cars

Replicate a previous silence precisely. Technically, it was well into the wrong day but since I hadn’t been to sleep I’m not worried about midnight as an arbitrary date changer . The bed was the same and the layers of bedding – but nothing else as it turns out. This  time I fell swiftly into worn out sleep . Woke later to the now familiar alarm tone of my galaxy note II as it heralds a silence end.
sleepy 2The Silence Experiment
Silent: Just Me
Site: My bedroom, Richmond Road
State: Trying to fall asleep
Surprises: I did.

Reluctant to engage. So reluctant that I decide to see what it is like doing  a silence as I fall asleep. Of course it means instantly I am awake, not in the least sleepy, although now undressed under a layer of duvet, one of fleecy blanket and a third of sleeping bag, and thus not inclined to get up and do anything. The house is quiet. Is everybody out? I’m not sure and it makes no difference.


The Silence Experiment
Silent: Just Me
Site: My bedroom, Richmond Road
State: Attempting to fall asleep
Surprises: I was sure I was tired

I turn off the radio on the drive home, and yes, the sound of the road and the water on the road does grow louder. But what I hear is the sound of the fan heater and the inside of my head. Chasing questions of identity and then watching tail lights. Mapping out meetings and next steps then deciding to pass a lorry. Staring at the radio, my usual companion on the road. I want it back.

night cars

The Silence Experiment
Silent: Just Me
Site: State
State: Driving down the M5 in the dark (it’s not my photo, don’t worry!)
Surprises: I thought I’d enjoy this silence. I didn’t like it at all.

Soup at The Crown. A rich leek and potato with good bread. G and I fill the silence with hungry tearing and dipping – no audible slurps. Unusual for us to be silent, words are the work we share. I focus on the food and on the laughter of a gaggle of girls out of sight,  assuming it is a hen night, then realising that’s unlikely mid-week and wondering why I think laughter suggests a special event.

Geoff at the crown

The Silence Experiment
Silent: Me and Geoff K from The Challenge Factor
Site: The Crown, Tiddington, Stratford Upon Avon
State: Eating
Surprises: Having to gesture at the bar man checking everything was ok

Another rueful silence. Child’s pose – surely the easiest yoga pose to hold. In my lazy wisdom I disdain tidying floor to set down yoga mat and try to do the pose on my bed. I’m under the duvet because it’s cold. The mattress swallows up my knees and chin, and I rock restlessly from side to side grabbing the duvet for warmth – then pushing it away again hot, and ludicrously fearing suffocation. Frustration bubbles noisily.

stick figure doing yogaThe Silence Experiment
Silent: Just Me
Site: My bedroom, Richmond Road
State: Restless
Surprises: That difficult?  Really?

St Andrew’s Park had been sledged to within an inch of its life. Shallow slopes to start with, now mixed ice scraped away grass and treachery against boots supposed to be made for walking. B and I tried to share the bucket swing. We didn’t fit well but it was fun until a passing parent applied passive aggressive conversation with her child to persuade us to move. The solo swings went higher and we both felt seasick.

dreamy image of a swingThe Silence Experiment
Silent: Me and Ben
Site: St Andrew’s Park, Bristol
State: Swinging in the park
Surprises: Adults are supposed to give way to children in matters of fun. During the daytime at least.


I knew I was getting a cold. A water silence under a steaming hot shower called  out to me. But I hadn’t put the water heater on for long enough. I spent three minutes shivering under a lukewarm rain, washing my hair, and gasping in the hope that it would warm up. It didn’t, so I thundered elephant-like down the stairs to stand in a dripping dressing gown, with my heart beating louder than my hair dryer.

showerhead sketch image

The Silence Experiment
Silent: Just Me
Site: Upstairs bathroom and mid floor bedroom, Richmond Road, Bristol
State: Showering and it’s aftermath
Surprises: Nooo! But I put the water on….


L’s silence is full of whispering. She has Bear-bear’s foot for stroking and I have my purple stress bug to play with. He bulges in all sorts of directions and L wants to destroy him. Fortunately nothing hurts him though when you pull his arms and legs and let go it makes a loud noise. Bear-bear is sleeping even though she could have been awake. We are warm and cosy in our blankets. L helped write this.

Livi The Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Livvy
Site: My bedroom, Richmond Road, Bristol
State: Relaxing on the bed
Surprises: Whispering feels like a natural part of silence

H challenged me to a working silence (we both have procrastination issues). I wonder if I can use it to bypass the usual hours of dithering over price, quantity and paper when sourcing print. Not easy, because I am tempted to watch the changing faces of H’s silent working, but the internet draws me in. The quote I find, I reject post silence in a discussion on FSC  v Recycled (FSC wins), but still a vast improvement.

printThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Heppie
Site: Heppie’s table, Somerset Street, Bristol
State: working on computer
Surprises: For 30 seconds I find Hep’s ticking pomodoro deafening, then stop hearing it altogether

Odd, the things you do when following your own rules. I adapt Monday’s pose, kneeling in front of B’s bedroom window that looks out at the lights of Bristol suburbs, with my arms clasped at my ribcage. I wonder if it feels a bit like praying before you go to bed. I wouldn’t know. I thought I would be watching the city but am distracted by my own reflection. My shellac nails are dark against my skin.

mosaiced night skyThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me (Ben falling asleep behind me)
Site: Ben’s room, Dunkerry Road, Bristol
State: kneeling and still with arms in almost prayer position
Surprises: wooden floorboards hurt my knees a lot

It’s a cheat, right? At least a stretching. But I like that. I’m fascinated to see how people define their silences. So I was completely happy to spend 7 minutes talking to M on facebook instead of by voice. Rather less happy to discover the amount of that 7 minutes that was taken up with me working out how to drive the various bits of Facebook on my new phone. Amused that people were confused by us.

phoneThe Silence Experiment
Silent: Me and Mab
Site: The Yurt at Milgi’s, Cardiff
State: communicating via Facebook
Surprises: a 7 minute conversation had only a tiny number of posts to it

The duvet cover over my head still doesn’t block out the sound of the outside world, but it does make the sound of my breathing louder. I am aiming for stillness. Meditating I suppose, but less focused. For unknown reasons I have chosen lying in bed with hands folded coffin style over my ribcage, though not peacefully. The dominant sensation is tightness in my chest – causing the posture, not a result of it. I feel faintly silly

blacknessThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Just Me
Site: My room, Richmond Road, Bristol
State: in the dark attempting a still and wordless silence
Surprises: The seven minutes seems short where I expected it to be long

I have not armed myself well for this challenge, wine gums not being legendary for their suckability. My opponent has made a better choice of a multi-flavoured milkshake lolly. I am convinced O is going to lose when I hear early crunching, but he was just gnawing off the edges. I concentrate on the lime green rug and blanket and the animal wall map and make my wine gum last – but start chewing 30 seconds too early.


The Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Oscar
Site: Oscar’s Bedroom, Kendal
State: sucking sweets
Surprises: Even with the added aid of silent concentration and seven minutes of flavour release, I cannot identify the flavour of the wine gum I put in my mouth!


This silence slides easily into an ordinary evening. Fireplace, sofas and pages of The Guardian (weekend section) scattered across the living room. Supplement swapping is necessarily less collaborative than normal so slightly more effort is involved, but not so much that it disturbs the lazy warmth. It is telling that at the end of the silence we continue the activity, without change. I gather a growing awareness that my starting concept of silence is marked by wordlessness.

fireThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Doreen
Site: Mum’s living room, Windermere
State: Reading by the fire
Surprises: I almost forget I am in the process of the experiment

C tells me that we used to come up here as children, and whilst the cousins played on the castle I would read, invariably leaving behind clothing or other items they later had to fetch.  I feel faintly guilty, for anti-sociability and for forgetfulness – particularly as I’ve also forgotten to bring a book today and am reading my phone and sneaking peeks at her book. It’s cold and my fingers wish that I had brought gloves.

kendal castleThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Clare
Site: Kendal Castle, on the ramparts
State: Reading
Surprises: Consuming words the silence passes very quickly

This is a proper greasy spoon. You can tell by the mugs on the counter, the vat of hot chocolate powder and the quality of the sausages. This is noisy silence. At least three other tables of customers and irritating women with facile opinions prattling on the TV.  We manage to chew quietly, but I can’t help choking on cheap HP sauce, and D is caught out by the universal ‘I needed that cup of tea’ sigh.

sausage egg and chips

The Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Dan
Site: Cafe on the A38, Birmingham
State: Eating lunch
Surprises: 7 minutes doesn’t even consume half our plates. There are a lot of chips – or maybe silence slows eating?

Flyering becomes much easier when silent. The shifting from foot to foot, waiting for customers to finish then trying to catch someone’s eye and the sheepish ‘is it ok if I leave some of these here’ all condensed to a wave of the bundle of flyers and a nod in the direction of the shelf. Easy too, to plan our movements. M and I nod to select targets, the silence pinging us back together – gentle elastic.

story festival logo

The Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Martin M.
Site: Stokes Croft, Bristol
State: Flyering for Bristol Storytelling Festival
Surprises: Martin says the silence makes him more patient when waiting for traffic lights to change

With mouths shut for vocal silence ears open to every tiny kitchen sound. It is almost like listening to an effects library – kettle whistles, water glugs into a mug, plastic bag scrunches, pages of a book lift and land. Even untangling clothes from the washing-machine makes a noise. L points out faintly ridiculous pictures in a book on bodybuilding that is lying on the table following my failed trapeze classes. We manage not to laugh out loud.


The Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Lucinda
Site: The kitchen, Richmond Road, Bristol
State: Pottering at kitchen chores
Surprises: Fabric can be very loud

I have not walked this way from the house before. You can tell it is Bristol, the garages all have interesting, if aging, grafitti. Discarded Christmas trees make obstacle course litter and l walk in the middle of the road, owning the dark. I am looking for a right turn up the hill. There isn’t one, but I do reach a building intriguingly named Montpelier Toilet Saloon. Time runs out as I struggle to take its photo.
The Silence Experiment:
Silent: Just Me
Site: St Andrew’s Road, Bristol
State: Walking
Surprises: Such a short distance covered

S has a Big Issue in her bag and so the crossword (quick, not cryptic)becomes our silent task. The bar is Spanish themed and so we drink sherry that tastes of Christmas, pinging incongruity bells in my brain because my crossword loving Grandpa only ever drank pale dry. With turn-taking suggested before the silence began there is less need for gesticulation and pointing than I anticipated and the activity is strangely solitary until we can speak again.

2 glasses of pedro ximenezThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Sarah R
Site: A bar whose name I didn’t notice, near Borough market
State: Solving a crossword puzzle by turn
Surprises: Such a small number of clues solved in the 7 minutes

I haven’t seen K since her wedding seven years ago, but our ritual comes from earlier than that. From the moment I first pull the brush through her hair I am bursting to tell her what I discover. Shorter, neater, darker, and no longer tangled by a few snatched hours of sleep in a damp tent her hair is as deceptive as it used to be. Surface smoothness conceals knots and I must temper vigour with care.

b/w messy shot of hairThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Kate M (and Lisa)
Site: Kate’s kitchen, Reading
State: I brush Kate’s hair, Lisa watches
Surprises: talking afterwards, neither of us can remember quite how the ritual began

We agree to walk by the harbour and I let E set the pace and direction, following her gaze. A red-haired girl and dark-haired boy dangle legs and feed a swan; the tour boat signposts its winter activity and we become sandwiched in a phone conversation, one couple on the walkway, the other inside a bar waving through the glass. The silence is busy and our eyebrows are pantomime loud – so many comments we want to share.

boat signThe Silence Experiment:
Silent:Me and Eirwen
Site: Bristol Harbour, from the Watershed
State: Walking
Surprises: At 6 minute we reached a turn in the harbour – a natural journey’s end so… “was time up?” E asked. It would help if I informed my silent partners that the timer makes a noise at 7 minutes!

The self-conscious making sensation of being sketched is amplified by the fact that I am eating. Eating toasted malt loaf. This is wrong for two reasons. Malt loaf shouldn’t be toasted and chewing it gives me hamster cheeks.  I have been told it is fine to move, but I’m still reluctant to lift my coffee cup. Instead I watch the steam rising from it, and check to see whether R’s coffee is doing the same. It is.

faint sketch in a sketch bookThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Rob
Site: The kitchen, Rob’s house, Bristol
State: Evening sitting at the kitchen table – 1 sketcher 1 sketchee
Surprises: Being drawn. Rob chose the kitchen, I expected to unpack dishwashers or other chores.

We wanted somewhere a little wild but easy to reach. Where else but a winter seafront? Beach, sea and sky merge – layers of grey in the misty dark. Waves – unseen – roar like a motorway. The sand hardly squelches, so I expect to avoid the flailing of the man on the ‘sinking mud’ sign. We share pockets, hand warmers and thumbs, and I fail to realise that the blue neon we are staring at is a pier.

weston pier at nightThe Silence Experiment:
Silent: Me and Ben
Site: The beach at Weston Super-Mare
State: Walking
Surprises: avoiding silence breaking sniffing is made nigh on impossible by a sharp sea breeze

The moss is damp so I choose cold rather than wet and sit on my coat. I am silent but this New Year’s Day woodland is far from it. Crows and other unidentifiable birds are louder than the M32 drone but not as loud as the dogs barking at the mud. Angrily rather than comfortably solitary; I am so preoccupied that I do not notice the lines of pale fungi on the tree in front of me until almost the end.

foot in mud, high contrast weird colour

The Silence Experiment:
Silent: Just me
Site: Nameless woodland beyond Lockleaze Open Space, Bristol
State: Sitting, looking, thinking
Surprises: Can’t see for looking