Ian McMillan: Humdrum night in dreamy Darfield

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Imagine that you’re in a plane that’s been severely delayed; you’re on your way to Leeds-Bradford Airport and you should have landed hours ago but it’s 1.30 in the morning. The night is a clear one and the moon is full and shining like a chucked pound coin. You’ve got a window seat and you’re looking out at the ground below, trying to work out where you are from various landmarks. Let’s pretend that your eyesight is better than it really is, and you can spot and identify minor details on the ground.

You pass over a place called Darfield, a village between Barnsley and Doncaster. In the garden of an ordinary house in an ordinary street you can see a man, a middle-aged man with grey hair, standing on the lawn staring up. That man was me, my travelling friend with the 20/20 vision, and I was standing in the garden because I was listening for The Hum. You fly by and leave me cupping my ear and the sound of your plane’s engines fades away but The Hum persists. Oh, it persists.

I’d gone to bed early because I knew I had to be up first thing in the morning. I’d hit the sack at 21.45 and I’d hit it so hard it had knocked me out. I was sleeping soundly. I was dreaming I was in the chorus of a musical on a huge stage in London’s West End; I don’t know what the musical was but in it I was carrying a barrel across a cellar and singing something that had a great tune and profound words. I remember thinking, in my dream, or thinking that I was thinking in my dream, that if I could remember the words and the tune I could write them down and write the musical and become very famous indeed.

Then, in the dream, it felt like some bees were approaching the cellar; or somebody began to saw trees in the cellar or drill something in the cellar. Then I woke up with a start (which is better than not waking up with a finish) and I heard it: The Hum. It was a real noise, not a dream noise. I sat up in bed. Where was The Hum coming from? Had I left something running? Was it some piece of obscure household machinery? Had the Hoover switched itself on because it was planning to make an escape?

I stood up. The Hum wasn’t in the house, it seemed to me; it was coming from outside. I opened the window and leaned out like I was in a play. The Hum was unending, but it seemed to be far away. It wasn’t on the street, it may not even have been in Darfield, but it was somewhere in Barnsley. Probably. Apart from The Hum, the night was clear and still. The Moon illuminated everything, except the whereabouts of The Hum.

I put my dressing gown on, and went downstairs in search of something, like that little lad at the start of The Snowman. I unlocked the door and the sound of the key in the lock sounded loud and clicky. I wandered round to the back garden and stood there, listening. And there it was: The Hum, humming and humming.

The plane flew over, replacing The Hum for a couple of minutes and then receding. And there it was again: The Hum. I stood there and the moon stared at me. Humming? Maybe.