Ian McMillan: Music that comes from the very depths of me

What’s that noise? Sounds like a crash of unseasonal thunder coming over the muckstack from down Grimethorpe way, or maybe somebody up the street’s having a king-size skip delivered and it’s come adrift as they’re unloading it. Or has my wife dropped some hard-backed books on the floor upstairs? Or is young Thomas watching a film with avalanches in and he’s accidentally sat on the remote and turned the volume up to what I once heard somebody refer to as Uncle Max? (As opposed to Auntie Min, of course.)

Ah, sorry. It’s none of the above. It’s my stomach rumbling, if rumbling is a powerful enough word for what my abdomen is doing at one to one-and-a-half-minute intervals. Ever since Christmas it’s been gurgling like a plughole, making noises that range from a gentle bibbly-bibbly-bibbly to a guttural Gnaaaar. Oddly, and I don’t know what this says about me or the birth of language in the days when Cro-Magnon Man roamed these parts, my stomach appears to be rumbling in a Yorkshire accent. The other night I’m sure I heard it say “Get coyl in, Malcolm!” but that can’t be true, can it?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

I’m not ill, though. I feel fine. It’s just that, probably due to the amount of rich food I scoffed over the Yuletide Festival of Calories, I’ve got a full orchestra tuning up under my shirt. The loudness I described earlier is unusual, because the Stomach Philharmonic usually begins quietly. I’ll be sitting on the settee and there’ll be a gentle sound at the edge of human hearing that could be played on the lowest string of a cello. More cellos and a couple of violins will join the band, almost un-noticed, beginning to build, though at this stage in the Tummy Concerto No1 the buzz of a passing motorbike will drown it out.

At this point I gaze out of the window as though a helicopter is passing. Then the unmistakeable sounds of clarinets and oboes join the ensemble, and a kettledrum or two, and sometimes a muted but still recognisable cymbal, reverberating in the noisy air. I now know there’s no point pretending to look for whirling rotor blades, and there’s nothing to be gained from staring at the other people in the room and trying to shame them into almost believing it’s their stomach making the apocalyptic and dissonant sounds.

I shrug, a deep Parisian shrug, but somehow the shrug seems to act as an amplifier and the sound of a Stegosaurus greeting the rising sun fills the space. The other people in the room are looking at me as though I’ve just admitted to a crime. I abandon the shrug and try Plan B, so called because it involves a Bit of Belly Beating. I find that if you give your stomach a bit of a pat, followed by a three-second pause and then another, sharper, pat, it stops the rumble sometimes halfway through so it’s just a ‘rumb’ followed by silence. The absence of noise is delicious but it’s the kind of silence new parents experience when the baby’s gone to sleep: a silence on the edge of sound. Yep, there it goes again. Bibbly-bibbly-bibbly. Gnaaar. I’ll just try staring at my brother.