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A Piece of Quiet Marks Some Hope in a Noisy, Noisy World

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I am writing this piece, like many writers before me, in a cafe. I've found a good space, I can watch people from an anonymous vantage point and the coffee is good. In the old days I would be smoking a cigarette as well, but times move on.

Unfortunately, I'm trying it hard to concentrate and it has nothing to do with tobacco. From time to time the noise of a coffee grinder is making me jump and whenever the cafe's blender is operated it is as if an electric drill is seeking solace behind the counter.

Then there's the acoustics of the cafe. People's voices seem shrill and I can hear every word of the conversation three tables behind me. The music in the cafe is also grating. I can't quite hear it but I know it's there because it sounds like good music and it's frustrating me.

I never used to be like this; I used to put up with cacophony and ignored the distractions of bad noise and its stupefying effects. And it has nothing to do with age either, it's down to a fascinating individual; a Hollywood actress called Poppy Elliott.

She is the managing director of Quiet Mark, the not-for-profit trading arm of the Noise Abatement Society charity, but which is not itself a charity. Elliott is the granddaughter of the man who set up the Noise Abatement Society and is as passionate as her grandfather about the need for a quieter word. The company awards 'Quiet Marks' to companies that release products that are designed to make the world a quieter place.

When I met Poppy she pointed out the noise that surrounded us and explained how noise levels are driving us slightly insane. She is campaigning for a world where the stress levels caused by our non-quiet environment can be brought down, thus increasing our productivity and making us happier. The problem is that when this is explained is that it's difficult to think of anything else, you literally can't hear yourself think.

"Quiet Mark's objective is to work together with industry and consumers to transform living and working aural environments. We do this by offering a universal symbol and system of support that helps us to re-tune the sounds that surround us and de-stress our personal space," she says.

Quiet Mark's premise is that the reason products are noisy is because it is cheaper to make them that way. It campaigns for quieter products whether they are airlines, trains, hair-dryers, food-mixers or even those pesky cafe blenders.

Quiet Mark has been endorsed and supported companies such as Lexus, Electorlux, Sennheiser, and even politicians. Lord Taylor of Holbeach, parlimentary under secretry of state DEFRA at the UK's department for environment, has called Quiet Mark a "welcome initiative."

Recent recipients of a Quiet Mark embrace all product sectors. Philips picked up one for its Wake-Up Light alarm clock that arouses sleepers by light and not sound, and Yahama received one for its Quiet Range instruments where musicians practise with headphones.

Quiet Mark has even endorsed a movie and a building. Terence Malick's Tree of Life was recognised for its 'quiet' movie-making and even the Shard was awarded one. Europe's tallest building with 1,200 people working on the site 24/7, 365 days a year over three years and adjacent to Guys Hospital, it was vital noise that levels were kept to a minimum.

"They did a fantastic job without raising voice and sound limits. We are passionate about offering proven alternatives to noise issues, therefore all Quiet Mark's product submissions are assessed by a team of the UK's leading acousticians at the Association of Noise Consultants, and we are endorsed by the UK Government Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs", she says.

The more Elliott talks, the more I realise that it's not just cafes where noise makes me flustered. When I got home, the dishwasher and washing machine were in full flow. The radio in the kitchen was blasting out and the TV was idling in the sitting room. Family voices added to the din and I made a decision.

For one day a week I would have a 'quiet evening' at home. No dishwashers or washing machines after 7pm, no TV or radio and just the sound of the wind and the rain... and that's where I am finishing this piece, with peace and quiet, not blender and fury. It works for me, maybe it will work for you as well.

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