Could you live without bird sounds? I couldn't. How about advertising? Oh, dear God, how I could.

Sometimes the complete absence of something marks the moment you realise you've become so habituated, you never paid it much attention. Until it wasn't there.

I remember a trip to Tuscany in 1988. I'd flown to Rome via Singapore. It had taken hours longer than it should've, and I was jetlagged to hell. A Kiwi friend collected me from the airport and we drove north to Sienna, where she had been stomping grapes - or some such romantic wine-involved activity - for the previous few months.

Upon arrival, I took a bath. It was a stone house, high on a Tuscan hill, with a clawfoot positioned under a wooden-shuttered open window, looking over endless rows of grapevines. Exhausted, I lay back in the warm water, while supping on a gorgeous, life-affirming claret. I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt great, but something was wrong. Something was missing. It was spooky not knowing. It was even spookier when I realised.


No birds. No bird sounds. No nothing. Silence.

While I chose to enjoy the other delights of Tuscany, that absence remained profoundly disturbing to me throughout my entire stay.

A decade before - in my teens - I had spent a few days in Cuba. Arriving in Havana from mainland USA, I was quickly struck by the lack of any advertising. No billboards, no signage, no newspaper, radio or TV ads.

It was the 1970s and the advertising industry in the West was at its zenith; boldly describing itself as an art form. I was old enough to know that the way I felt - weird - was a sign of how proselytised I'd unwittingly become.

You could, of course, make the obvious connection that neoliberalism has now invaded our western psyche to the degree that most citizens don't appear to understand there's even a problem. But we're not quite going all the way to Houston today.

Instead, let's head to my doctor's surgery waiting room, and possibly yours. Or my hairdresser's, and undoubtedly yours.

What is it with their undying affection for commercial screaming radio? Why do they torment us so?

I go to these professionals because they're good at what they do. But the suffering they knowingly put me through has me questioning whether they're quite good enough.


While she's working on my hair, I've raised the incessant ranting of some local, high-pitched radio jock, and his dreadful musical choices, to my hairdresser. I've told her, on a scale of human suffering, it's somewhere very near to being hung, drawn and quartered.

Her response? "Oh, I don't even hear it anymore." Yes, but, I do. She then attempts to pass me a Woman's Day to "distract me."

Later, I'm waiting at my doctor's surgery and feeling like death. Surrounded by other people looking like death, we're all bombarded with a radio ad booming appeals to "down" some erectile dysfunction drug, so you can "raise" your manhood from the dead. Awkward.

We're all bombarded with a radio ad booming appeals to 'down' some erectile dysfunction drug.

To take my mind off the next screeching rant about some new shade of eyeliner, and because there wasn't a National Geographic in sight - New Zealand version, of course - I pick up a women's magazine heaving with adverts all dedicated to making women feel even worse about themselves than they already do.

Finally, having waited an hour before seeing the doctor for six minutes, I stumble out of there with a prescription. The chemist is right next door. I'll just pop in there. Surely they won't have a radio blaring. But, of course, they do.

I eventually drag myself out the door and into the relative calm of overwhelming traffic noise, before heading to the supermarket.

Pushing my trolley down the aisles, listening to a soothing Linda Ronstadt pumped through the overhead speakers, Blue Bayou is disrupted by an insistent male voice beseeching me to buy the Griffin's Super Wines for $1.99.

Crawling on all fours back to my car, I learn from the news on the hour that KFC has sponsored the upcoming Rugby League World Cup. I wonder if fast food will mean even faster rugby, or will they keep dropping the greasy ball?

Next morning, after a flight to Auckland, I arrive to an ad-filled airport. I step into the morning air, grab a cab, and stare at the huge billboards near the first set of lights.

You can't miss Fonterra's humongous hoarding. A green, bucolic scene overlaid with the words "Welcome To The Home Of Pure Dairy".

Suddenly the words of Blackadder's mother, upon suspecting he has a sheep in his bedroom, come flooding back. "Oh Edmund, it's the lies I find so hurtful."

And then I hear familiar music. Take me to the April sun in Cuba.