Finding ways to create something beautiful in the dark nights of a complex world
May 29, 2022

On Drying Days (Like This)


May slowly rolls into June, but is summer really here? The towpaths and hedgerows are garlanded in summer colours and the ducks (and swans) are beginning to move into their time of eclipse. Some of the mallard drakes are beginning to look very travel-worn! Meanwhile, days like these seem to bring a lot of childhood memories to mind.    

Journal entry:

27th May, Friday

"Two hours until sundown and a stillness already settles.
 Shadows creep low and long through the sedge and long grasses on the bank.
 The swan stretches in her nest under an alder that shimmers with blackbird song.

Later the peace will be disturbed and the sky explode with shouts and light.
 But not now. 
 Now all is still."

 Episode Information:

Washing drying on the line

All birds moult (‘molt’ – US spelling) or go into ‘eclipse’. You can find more information about the eclipse or moult that ducks and swans experience on this site: Understanding Waterfowl: The amazing molt. More information can be found here: What is eclipse plumage?

Waggoner's Walk

Clipping from the Radio Times

Much to my surprise I have found a surprising amount of information about the BBC radio serial, Waggoner's Walk.

Radio TimesClipping from the Radio Times giving details of the first episode of Waggoner's Walk (1969)

You can even listen to the complete first episode on YouTube: Waggoner's Walk - Episode 1

Waggoners Walk episode

For more information about Nighttime on Still Waters

You can find more information and photographs about the podcasts and life aboard the Erica on our website at noswpod.com. It will also allow you to become more a part of the podcast and you can leave comments, offer suggestions, and reviews. You can even, if you want, leave me a voice mail by clicking on the microphone icon. 

General Details

In the intro and the outro, Saint-Saen's The Swan is performed by Karr and Bernstein (1961) and available on CC at archive.org.

Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River Weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded to Freesound.org on 23rd June 2018. Creative Commons Licence. 

Piano and keyboard interludes composed and performed by Helen Ingram.

All other audio recorded on site. 

Contact
For pictures of Erica and images related to the podcasts or to contact me, follow me on:

I would love to hear from you. You can email me at nighttimeonstillwaters@gmail.com or drop me a line by going to the nowspod website and using either the contact form or, if you prefer, record your message using the voicemail facility by clicking on the microphone icon. 

Transcript

JOURNAL ENTRY

27th May, Friday

"Two hours until sundown and a stillness already settles.
Shadows creep low and long through the sedge and long grasses on the bank.
The swan stretches in her nest under an alder that shimmers with blackbird song.

Later the peace will be disturbed and the sky explode with shouts and light.
But not now.
Now all is still."

NEWS FROM THE MOORINGS  

May is slowly making way for June. Our seasonal calendars are far from fixed, they shift according to occupation and preoccupations. Is this the end of spring and the beginning of summer, or did summer start at the beginning of May with Beltane? Agrarian calendars differ from pastoral ones. Beltane reflects the latter. The movement of livestock from winter to summer pastures. Meteorologically, summer begins on the first of June. Astronomical summer begins on the 21st June, summer solstice. If we were to order our seasons botanically, summer flowering begins midway through May, although for the last few years, it has been a couple of weeks early.

The weather, of course, lives beyond the ordered boundaries that we try to impose; turbulent systems determined in the most part by the heating and cooling of our orbit around the sun. There has been plenty of talk about April showers this week, and even jokes about the return of autumn. Although, in fairness, whilst the days have sometimes brought us jumper weather, they have been far too warm for bigger coats. And our April was extremely dry and so (and I appreciate I am probably in the minority here), I for one, am not sorry and welcome them. It is no fun to stand at the tiller for hours in pouring rain - or even drizzle. It is cold, and the water seeps up the cuffs and down the neck. It can be miserable and I feel sorry for those who have to plough on through the rain regardless. However, it does mean that the rain pools and dew ponds that are so vital to all the communities of life, have been desperately in need of it are replenished. Besides, there is nothing better than the feel of rain. 

Whatever the season, the hedgerows and towpaths are clothed in summer colours. Early insects swarm and fly. As BB once observed, this is the best time by the waterside, before the ones that bite appear in late summer. The skyscapes still, however, have a spring-like quality to their light. A cleanness of chalk-blue that I associate with April - sometimes there is a hint in September or even October if it is soft and gentle. Cloudscapes boil and fume on days like these. Buzzards circle and mew, crows scald and hector, swallows dart, blackbirds flute, wrens jenny in voices too loud for their bodies, sparrows cheek, magpies clatter, woodpeckers yaffle, herons 'hance' with stilted legs, and the world has come alive and I find I am living in the worded land of Dylan Thomas, where there is..

"A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds..."        

These days, wakened from frowsty spring by sunshine and rain, are good days. 

In the fields, the mature ewes being sheared. They look shrunk and skinny beside the rounded cloudscapes of their lambs. To me it looks like they have swapped roles. They are not confused though. The portly lambs suckle and call for their diminutive mums as they had before their shearing. 

Older ducklings are growing and newer families emerge and then blend into the rhythm of the days. Jan saw a new hatching of moorhen chicks, but has not been able to see them since. I have kept my eyes open, but to no avail. 

It'll soon be getting near the moult for the ducks. This is when they go into eclipse, shedding old and damaged feathers and replacing them with new plumage. It is an unhappy time for birds. They lose their flight feathers and are particularly vulnerable until the new plumage grows. It is thought they also feel a bit out of sorts. I know, when our hens went into moult, they used to look very sad and dejected. Here, the male mallards in particular are looking careworn and scruffy. Although the eclipse is probably a couple of months away, the drakes, particularly, a looking a bit jaded. The glossy greens have taken a more mottled and moth-eaten appearance. I have also, just read, that swans are too approaching their moult and that it starts with the females first. It seems particularly unfair as they are still sitting or caring for young. However, males and females go into eclipse at different times and while the female moults, the male (cob) takes over the female's duties, particularly looking after and shepherding young offspring. The male swans apparently get more testy during this time and more active in protecting the female.   

It seems all of us with whom we share this planet have our own uneasy and sometimes difficult paths to navigate. There's not such a great difference between you and I, swan, as you sit patiently awaiting your eggs to move and crack. For we too face times when we feel eclipsed by life, vulnerable and flightless, broken winged and stripped bare of our glory. In those times, I will try to be as patient as you and try to believe my feathers will grow again, and once again rise into the skies on powerful wings.

ON DRYING DAYS (LIKE THIS)

There are days, usually in Spring and particularly on May washing days like this, when I can look up to a sky so heavenly blue that if I were to reach up and drag it down and were to bury my face in it I would smell the wax crayons of God; and amidst that sailor boy blue the proud castles of cumuli, boil and bluster, cauliflowering the almost spring heavens. It is on days like these that I hear loudest the call of my childhood imagination - so real I could have dreamt it only yesterday.

Perhaps it is the sight of washing billowing before the galleon-ing wind and the walks I had with Mum, on my way to and from school. Holding her hand and running to keep up with her. Down the Green Lane that squeezed its way between the long narrow strips of back-garden terraces and allotments. A silent no-man's land; a furtive quiet place from which other worlds could be spied through gaps in fences. It smelt of compost heaps and midday lunch being cooked and the smouldering bonfires of weeds. It was filled with the sound of dogs barking and their wet-nosed snuffling and most of all, the wild tear-filled wind played among the washing, pegged and propped, like a clipper's sails.

Mum was never happier than when she had pegged out her beaten but clean army of washing on the line after a morning steaming in the kitchen, until the condensation ran down the windows and walls like rain and the air was sliced by the sharp smell of boiling handkerchiefs and washing powder. And I was never happier than when, tilting like Don Quixote at the ballooning sheets and bedspreads, I raced through them feeling their coldness trickle down my face and Mum calling me in so as not to get her washing dirty and we had jam on our bread while the radio played. 

These were the days when the invisible airwaves hummed and crackled with disembodied voices that I knew so well. Pete Murray, Jimmy Young. Diddy David Hamilton welcoming Wendy and me home arriving breathless from school, Ray Moore waking us up with the 'bog-eyed jog'. John Dunn, my radio hero, gently talking us through our evening meal with good humour and intelligence. It was magical and normal in equal measure. I seem to remember the radio was always on. Not the big one in the sitting room. For much of my memory it was a large polished wooden cabinet with three large creamy Bakelite knobs, its fabric speaker grill smelt of scorched dust and years. It had a large dark linear dial that lit up when it was turned on and on which was inscribed those exotic sounding names of radio stations far away. In one corner there was a dull cat's eye, that glowed dimly green, when the valves were warmed and the speaker hissed into life. No, it was not that radio. That radio was for evenings when we sat together in the space between evening play and bedtime. This radio was a transistor that stood on the kitchen window sill - and at other times, on the table. Dulled with age, still sporting the stickers from when BBC radio frequencies changed. I also recall, it was generally on Radio 2. Mrs Dales' Diary was a favourite of mum’s. Later it was replaced by Waggoner's Walk, an altogether more 70s, gritty, set in a cul-de-sac in Hampstead in North London; a middleclass forerunner to Eastenders. Daily 15-minute radio soap operas that were aired just as I got in from school, gulping down mum's homemade lemonade - frozen into lollies in the summer. I learnt the word 'inclement' from Waggoner's Walk, for which I will forever be indebted. I also perfected my French accent from it - which, at the time, was the same as, if not superior to, actually speaking French. It had the advantage that I actually knew what I was saying. One of the story lines included a French au-pair. Looking back, I am sure there was an attempt to introduce more racier plots and subtexts of forbidden love (of all sorts). It was the 70s after all!  But all that was lost on me, I was just struck by this female French voice from a character I imagined to be just be like Alexis from school who had a fringe and dimples when she smiled and a strange air of sophistication. And so, I too perfected my French, although I could only ever say one thing - "I like my oraaaaange JOOOOS fresh." I employed it in my everyday conversations with an enthusiasm and frequency that could only be described as laudable. It was to be a linguistic achievement that I have subsequently struggled to equal.

There was also a police woman who judo threw a jogger to the ground and then got married to him. I had never heard of anything as romantic as that before. He had a Welsh flat mate who was large and laughed a lot.

But I am getting side-tracked. The blowy days of April and May, the perfect washing days, when the light is just so and the skies are chalk blue and I can almost smell again the dog-eared cartoon of Ariel or Persil and Mum humming away to Perry Como or Val Doonican and me hopping from leg to leg while I waited for Raymodo's 'What's the recipe today, Jim?"  

But for some reason, what calls to me the most is a couple of pictures from a book I have long since lost. They are of towering clouds in a powder blue sky (a washing day sky) and in those clouds was a whole town, with shops and lamp posts and a sun that shone yellow. It seemed to me that all the men in it were portly avuncular uncles with bald heads and wide smiles and they wore old fashioned Sunday suits. The type of uncle who made sixpences appear from inside your ear, even when you knew that there were no sixpences there, because you had already checked. And the women all looked like the Queen, when she was young, and wore long dresses that swept along the red-bricked pavements. There was a friendly red dragon in the picture too. I assume he was friendly; he had big smiling eyes and a head shaped like a Labrador.

I say assume, for, as I recall, the book had no covers. It was just a few stray pages and so it had no story. It was like me, without beginning or end. Just as I, one day, found myself alive in a world of sun and colour, noise and scent, this world within these few pictures, just was. And it was those pictures that captivated me and it was in them that I found my stories beyond words.

From age three to thirty, I read very few words, I immersed myself in the pictures. I inhabited them, I explored behind every wall, every hedge, and over every beckoning, windmilled, church-spired, horizon. I played with Janet and John, and Dick and Jane outside their world of words. Lanes were adventured and streams raided for sticklebacks and pirated treasure. I read pictures with the skill of a textual critic and hours could be lost over just one page. A few years ago, I bought a second-hand copy of one of my most favourite childhood books, a Ladybird book about a mountain adventure. I opened the cover and began to read the unfamiliar story that lay beside the oh so familiar pictures. A little while later I found myself, once more lost in those pictures. The story remains unread, but the pictures await for more adventures.