Radio head

Penelope Walsh’s work output knows no limits since she landed a pair of headphones

Last word, The Knowledge

Penelope Walsh’s work output knows no limits since she landed a pair of headphones.

I used to be a ‘shush, all quiet in the library, I need total silence’ kind of a writer. Woe betide any colleague who tried to switch the radio on in the office. Then something switched. Perhaps it was the radio station. Perhaps it was the acquisition of a half-decade-old pair of Satwa’s finest headphones, donated to me by a departing work mate. They are still going strong, and now in daily use.

Since then, I seem to have developed (firstly) a dependency on my headphones, and (secondly) a set playlist for life in the office. It’s become like Pavlov’s dogs. Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who cottoned on to the existence of the unconditioned response back in the 1890s by presenting dogs with bowls of food. Once you put the leash on, a dog knows it’s time for a walk; once I don headphones and fire up some Portuguese fado music, I can feel the urgency of a looming deadline and I know it’s time to write.

This is not as simple as listening to a little light music while I work though. Neither am I talking about motivational tapes of chanting and bell chiming. Like beverage pairing with your dinner, I’ve developed a back catalogue of perfect music for each type of task.

New music is a no go, it drains too much concentration. High pressure situations require US rockers System of a Down: you can do almost anything at lickety-split-lightning speed, if you type in time to these guys. The most uninspiring day-to-day admin work needs The Beatles, because life just seems instantly more invigorating when played out in tune to the Fab Four. Writing prose articles has to be done with non-English language lyrics, or no lyrics at all. The genius of Morrissey, Morrison and Mick (Jagger) is just too distracting. But my ‘world music’ repertoire really comes in to its own while writing restaurant reviews, in some instances providing a feeling of cultural terroir for my dining experience. A little Django Reinhardt with a Parisian bistro, a blast of Manu Chao with a Brazilian restaurant.

I imagine, if the World Cup (which kicked off last week in Brazil) took the same approach, football matches would be a whole lot more exciting to watch. Imagine the speed and vibrancy of a game played in time to a fast-paced samba soundtrack. Make Wayne Rooney play whilst plugged into The Clash for 90 minutes, and after England make it to the final, there’d be talk of testing him for performance-enhancing substances followed by a knighthood. Perhaps, there would even be a lot less ninja-kicks and head butts too, if regular bouts of Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ played through the tournament. Think about it FIFA, you’d be on to a winner.

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