In times past, it might have been called “dead air,” that silence when a radio station is on air, but there is nothing audible to listeners. BBC Radio 3 used to have such silence at the end of performances of music, but classical music listeners would have expected there to be a moment of reflective quietness at the end of a piece. On BBC Radio 6, Shaun Keaveny does silence, on a breakfast programme where silence is not expected. Talking on the programme this morning, he said that his legacy would not be like a bridge built by some great engineer, nor like a cathedral, built by a great architect, but, “it would be this.” There followed a silent pause.
Perhaps some of the silences in Shaun Keaveny’s programmes have been unintentional. Unintentional moments do occur sometimes when he is on air. Once it was suggested that he had played the theme from Hill Street Blues twice in eleven minutes; not having heard the programme, it was hard to know. Unintentional or intentional, is silence such a bad thing? Wouldn’t silence be a great legacy to leave?
My Grandad knew about silence. After his tea each evening, he would sit on at the kitchen table. Perhaps he was just weary after a day on the farm, which began with the morning milking and which would end with the evening milking that followed. Perhaps he just liked to sit and ponder the world over the top of the china teacup in which my grandmother would always serve tea. He would just sit there, staring fixedly out through the kitchen window to the garden and the orchard beyond. Walking past the window would be barely enough to stir him from his thoughts. The silence that surrounded him seemed to lead him to be detached from the world around.
When I was young, such moments seemed odd, why would he want to just sit and stare out of the window? Why wouldn’t he want to go outside, or even get the Land Rover out and drive somewhere for half an hour?
There have been many moments since when it seemed possible to understand how much he valued his quietness; perhaps it was a retreat from other people, perhaps it was a retreat from all the hurt that surrounds us. Perhaps it was a sense of there being something in silence not found in anything else. I think Shaun Keaveny would have liked my Grandad.