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1 October, 2008

Out! Now! (Pardon?)

When I was a young child, my father took me to an airshow.  I suspect he was disappointed that my response to a jet engine was to scream and cover my ears, but as proud mothers do, mine took it as evidence that I have 'special' hearing.  I don't think I do; I have problems isolating a particular voice in a room full of noisy conversations, such as in a pub, but otherwise I'm probably normal.

I was reminded of the airshow incident (or incidents – as my mother tells it, my father repeated the experiment a few times) when the fire alarm went off today. I've subsequently discovered that a department elsewhere in the building had been celebrating a colleague's birthday, without realising that thirty cake candles would trigger the heat/smoke sensors (which we hadn't known had even been installed). It may have been a lucky escape, as another colleague is approaching his sixtieth, and the system includes sprinklers....

The first I knew was a breathtaking assault by the loudest, shrillest sound I recall ever encountering: a painfully, even nauseatingly loud noise that demanded instant action – I couldn't get out of the building quickly enough, and was still aware of discomfort two hours later. This wasn't the hearing impairment of a rock concert, but literal, immediate and lasting pain.

My first thought was that like most aspects of the new offices, the alarm had been configured wrongly and needs to be toned-down, but perhaps not: the important point is that it worked, safely evacuating the affected area in moments – annoyed people move quickly but calmly, rather than in a panicked rush. Maybe minor ear injury – and I'm serious; I do think damage was done – is considered an acceptable side-effect.

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