Illustration: Simon Letch
In his 1973 film Scenes from a Marriage, Ingmar Bergman painted a terrifying picture of a relationship under pressure. Of course, if he'd wanted to make it really horrific, he should have called it ''Sounds from a Marriage''.
For a start, there's the snoring. Jocasta says she doesn't care whether they get rid of the curfew at Sydney Airport because, past 11pm, she can hardly hear anything over the dull roar of her beloved life partner. Add more than a thimble-full of red wine to the already adenoidal husband and it's as if the night flight to Bangkok is in the front bedroom gunning its engines for take-off.
The snoring, she alleges, is expressly designed to keep her awake. It's like a dense piece of classical music - something by Mahler or perhaps Shostakovich - full of quiet passages that lull you into a state of dreamy repose, followed by a sharp cymbal crash and the introduction of the timpani.
More accurately, the composer keeps changing. One moment it's a passage of Debussy, the waves crashing rhythmically on the shore in a section from La Mer; the next it's Wagner's The Ride of Valkyries.
Jocasta speaks as if snoring is the most evil of all sounds. In order to reassure her that things could be worse, I've been researching the 10 Most Horrific Sounds Experienced During a Relationship.
I wonder which have been heard in your household?
❏ The sound of an orthodontic device being inserted. Want to limit the size of your family and yet can't afford expensive contraception? The answer may be the purchase of a dental device designed to reduce teeth grinding. When inserted into the mouth at bedtime it makes a wet squishing sound rather like a fat man farting on a vinyl sun lounge. When removed, or adjusted in any way, the sound is even worse, like a gumboot that's become stuck in an unwilling walrus and is being energetically pulled free. Even more notable is the effect on the wearer's speech patterns, as he leans over with romantic intent, and puts that so-easy-to-refuse offer: ''How about shome shlap and tickle, my shweety?'' The explosion of saliva, both audible and airborne, is guaranteed to keep you chaste over many a long winter night.
❏ The sound of clunking when chewing. ''The horror, the horror,'' said Kurtz at the end of Heart of Darkness and surely it was in response to a particularly noisy encounter between one of his dining companions and a particularly tough bit of steak. The clunking sound appears to emanate from the point at which the jaw hinges together, and - with every bite - there's the audible suggestion that things may be working loose up there. The whole contraption appears liable to spring apart at any moment. That's the tension you are now forced to live with: maybe this time the piece of meat will finally win the battle. In an explosion of half-chewed meat and exhausted body parts the jaw of your partner will simply detach and hang loosely from his face. The horror indeed: and to think people say snoring is bad.
❏ Nervous tapping.
❏ Off-tune whistling.
❏ The intentional and evil cracking of knuckles.
❏ The sound of sucking while eating. The trick is to work with gravity and not against it. Bring the soup spoon up towards the mouth and then tip it slightly, releasing the liquid into the processing area known as the mouth. From there it should be a simple trip downwards. Gravity again will prove to be your friend, providing of course that you are not standing on your head at the time, and why would you be? Given the elegant simplicity of this method, why is it so commonly refused? Instead, the spoon is held level with the lips at which point the diner attempts to form a pressure vacuum between his lips and the spoon sufficient to lift the soup into the air and across to the mouth. This is more a magic trick than a dining method. Remember, soup is a substance. It should be seen and not heard.
❏ Anything involving the chewing of ice.
❏ Anything involving the sucking of teeth.
❏ Anything involving conversation while otherwise occupied with the cleaning of teeth.
❏ Anything involving sinuses. Search through the love poetry of John Donne and Andrew Marvell. Gaze at the paintings of Botticelli or of Degas. Listen to the love songs of Bacharach and Cole Porter.
Is there any mention of the sinus? No, didn't think so. While the curve of an ankle may be attractive and even the wrinkly bit on the elbow of a beloved may have its appeal, the romantic associations of the sinus are few. One understands that one's beloved may be equipped with a sinus or two but do we need to be reminded quite so regularly of the good work they are doing in the field of mucus transportation? No, thought not.
Really the list is so long and, frankly, disgusting, one almost yearns for the sweet sound of a little melodic snoring.
Ear plugs anyone?