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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison


For very many years, my wife and I have been passionate devotees of soap operas. Coronation Street, Crossroads, Neighbours, Emmerdale, Home and Away, Hollyoaks, Doctors, Eastenders and, of course, The Archers on the radio - we have rarely missed any episode. In recent times, however, storylines have seemed less compelling and series have lost their engaging spark.

Initially, this seemed unrelated to the sad death of our elderly next-door neighbour and the arrival of a family in what had been his adjoining semi-detached house. The wall connecting our properties is thin, however, and loud verbal manifestations of their marital discord soon became a daily occurrence.

At first, this was somewhat irritating. Their clarity of diction and the volume of their voices, however, were such that we began to listen to the fascinating content. Indeed we became disappointed when their speech resumed normal levels and became more difficult to hear.

I teach acoustics and audio electronics so it was simple to strategically connect microphones to our connecting wall and render all next-door’s conversations with perfect fidelity. It was better than any soap. Among our new neighbours, their family and friends were real-life storylines of which soap writers could only dream: marital discord, infidelity, alcohol and drug abuse, criminality, sexual misbehaviour, truancy, juvenile crime, teenage pregnancy and so on. It was all there! We abandoned pale, fictional substitutes and listened to little else.

However, George and Lynn, who live across the road, soon detected something unusual. They too were devoted followers of the soaps and noticed very quickly that we were no longer up to date with current plots. We had to confess our new, alternative listening habits. Soon they were joining us each evening to keep up with developments at number twenty-four.

As word reached other friends, however, our front room became uncomfortably overcrowded. Also, as the most interesting dialogue occurred at random times throughout the day, everyone complained about missing critical twists in the plot. I therefore began to make recordings, edit these into half-hour programmes and make them accessible on a password protected Internet site.

All was well until we noticed that one of our friends, Henry, was starting an affair with the wife of the couple. When confronted, he admitted that he had always wanted to be in a soap opera and had seen this as his chance. We thus formed an editorial committee to approve any deliberate interventions into the plot. This has proven very useful during the inevitable quiet and unexciting periods in the lives of our neighbours. Examples include the theft of their car, the burglary, and the affair of the husband with Joyce from Station Drive. We vetoed the house fire and flooding suggestions, firstly on grounds that we were living in the connected semi, but also that evacuation or destruction of their property would end the current source of recordings.

We have now developed a year long archive of daily episodes, and have begun to ponder their commercial value. Clearly it would be difficult to broadcast these in the UK on a channel to which our neighbours might listen. We have, however, had some signs of interest from the States…