Finding ways to create something beautiful in the dark nights of a complex world
Jan. 16, 2022

Echoes of Distant Memories

The remnants of two days of murk still cling to the hedgerows and trees as you join us tonight on the narrowboat Erica. A very slow thaw is polishing the dulled surface of the water making reflected lights once again dance with life. Curl up and let’s enjoy those little shards of distant memories that still colour out present and fill us with such powerful emotions.


The remnants of two days of murk still cling to the hedgerows and trees as you join us tonight on the narrowboat Erica. A very slow thaw is polishing the dulled surface of the water making reflected lights once again dance with life. Curl up and let’s enjoy those little shards of distant memories that still colour out present and fill us with such powerful emotions.  

Journal entry:

“12th January, Wednesday.

This morning the canal looks sluggish and dark.
 Two rooks throw calls against the marble sky.
 Beyond the horizon a pheasant startles a distant wood.
 Penny stands and waits for her friends.
 My fingers and toes burn."

 Episode Information

In this episode I refer to Dru Marlan's quirkly wonderful chart for guaging the thickness of canal ice.  

Dru Marland - Canal Ice Scale chartDru Marlan's IC chart

You can buy it as a postcard at her etsy ‘shop’ here: Canal Ice Scale Chart. More of her terrific work (including her wonderful 2022 calendar – which is selling very fast!) can be seen here: Dru Marland

I also refer to my 'batplane' that I recieved from Father Christmas at the children's Christmas party held at my Dad's works (de Haviland or Bristol Siddley - I can't quite remember which). This was in the 1960s when the earlier iteration of Batman was all the rage!

Here is a photograph that I found of it on the internet -

Batplane

The Batplane

Although I cannot remember how old I was at the time, here is a photograph of me taken roughly about this time. 

Me and camera

"It was the time of my Eden before the naming of names had begun."

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

An evening light pours through the coloured glass leaded fanlight above a front door. A liquid living amber that is as gold and as sharp as the tincture of iodine and sends my senses reeling. It plays on rucked hallway rush matting that scratches my legs and leaves Maori patterns on my knees, and the ebony dark floorboards, with its shiny, beetle-black nails, that smells of polish and dust-itch, and most of all home. The comforting, steady, tchlock of the grandmother clock, in its time-worn black case, whose heavy weights were wound with a rattle of clicks and clunks; the melody of time. Its scratched base a record of the bumps my toy cars made as they whizzed and vroomed on their unaccountable journeys. 

Oh and the batplane! Did I tell you I had a batplane?! How can any boy not not be envy of the world who has a batplane? It smelt of cheap brittle plastic, it had a friction drive so that when you pulled it backwards it rasped and whirred with an angry buzz that hinted of sparks and papercuts and zithered across the black hallway floorboards. I got the batplane at the Christmas do at Dad's works. I think, at the time it was de Havilland, or maybe Bristol Siddley. It was for the children of the workers. One grey afternoon before Christmas my sister and I were dropped off there. We were cast adrift , alone, upon the great cold greyness of an unknowable ocean. Everything seemed so alien and unrecognisable to the little world I had left behind. I felt that, at any moment, Wendy and I would be submerged beneath its indifferent chaotic breakers of noise and movement. I followed Sis like the children of Israel following Moses, struck dumb by the awful terror of it all. 

It was a big echoey hanger with long tables and rows and rows of jellies in little paper bowls, and a woman had her head cut off, and the noise, oh the life shrivelling noise! And Sis was there and very grown up and I clung to her like glue. And when the magician asked everyone if he should cut the woman's head off I cried out 'No!' even though the blurr of children around me howled 'YES.' She was beautiful and had a woolly green dress and looked like every mum who waited at the school gate for my friends to come. She reminded me of the prince in the pantomime who had dark hair and legs as smooth as melting neopolitan ice cream. She shook her head and said 'no', but laughed. If I had my batplane then, I would have swooped like a ferocious cormorant from the sky and plucked her to safety. But I hadn't. Sis was lifetimes older than me and held magicians with the degree of disdain that only a world-weary elder sister can muster. 'Her head won't be cut off!', even though the cabbage or swede or whatever fell in two clean pieces from the guillotine blade. But I couldn't watch as the blade fell. I have blurred memories of the laughing lady being helped to her feet and returning to us. hollering, stamping, mortals and the up-turned derisory sniff of Sis. And they clapped the magician as if he had done something wonderful and had forgotten that he wanted to chop the head off the woman and that they had all cried yes even when she said no. This was indeed a darker magic than Grampie's magic that can pull thruppenny bits that smell of cigar smoke from behind my ear. 

It was later that Father Christmas distributed parcels with industrial efficiency. That was when I got my batplane whose wings snapped off with alarming ease and that snarled and wasped its way across the wooden floorboards of the hall and colided off the off the grandmother clock's battered pedestal.

But I digress, let's go back a bit further to that amber-washed evening in the hallway of my half-remembered childhood.

A long dancing sunlit beam of reassuring warmth, that speaks of completed days and work over. And here I am, sitting on the floor, waiting, entranced by the light, the tumbling dust motes of gold, the soft shadows, and the evening-feeling in the air. The world smells like mum’s yellow dusters. Was there a chaos of toys strewn around me? I seem to remember there was always a chaos of toys around me; toys and books and comics. Cars with their tyres removed. Bubble gum cards. Bazooka Joe comic strips. Jelly rubber monsters that glow with the light of lucazade bottles with huge eyes and snackery teeth. Toad spawn strips of cap gun cartridges that smelt of gunpowder and fireworks... But was our front door ever jewelled with painted glass; amber and green and red? And for what or for whom was I waiting?

 

A new bed; as large as the sky and as soft as the moon’s smile. It hugs me in its warm, downy, safeness. This strange room swirls with the whirring tick of an alarm clock. And the night smells of Chick’s face powder and Grampie’s cigar and Lilly-of-the-Valley soap. In the hall, plaster ducks fly across sunset walls and a family of blue, china rabbits hop along the mantelpiece and somewhere, Otto, Grampie’s magic duck, is waiting; waiting to pull out a magic card with its beak and I know it’s clever, and magic, and funny, but I don’t know why. And tomorrow, when the ‘sleeps’ is over, there will be new things with the risen sun. Here, in the silken, honeyed, darkness my eyes feel as sticky as syrup. The wordless rhythms of dad’s and Grampie’s deep voices join the harmonies and counterpoints of mum and Chick and they drift in and out, mesmerising me, filling my head with cotton wool and clouds. As I drift to sleep, time forever stops, reified in my mind; forever captured and imprinted on my memory. I will never know what happened the next day.   

 

Light filters through net curtains. They’ve faded and yellowed in the sun. Their touch is rasping and the metallic tang of their scent when you crunch them between your hands and bury your face in them matches so well the taste of condensation that runs down the window panes and startles the tongue. Little black bodies of dead flies cluster on the windowsill that is so creamily smooth and glossy white, like a giant block of warm ice-cream, that it demands to be licked. A feeling of warmth, safety, and familiarity exudes everything – as warm as the sun on the rich wood of the upright piano with its strange dull metal candle holders. Or were they candle holders? I’m certain that there were ornate brackets, burnished and tarnished in equal measure with time and use and I’m sure they were flecked with candle wax.

 

These constitute not my earliest memories, but some of my deepest ones. Memories that flicker and flare to the touch-paper of my life today. Are they ‘true’ memories? For I am aware that even the act of trying to capture them, compels my mind to fill the gaps of these gestalt shapes. I force my dream-memory of waiting in the hall to fit a hallway that I can remember. I can no longer be sure that the rush matting and stained wood were originally there. So, do these memories shift and morph with old stories I’d read or been told? Are they, in fact, seasoned by a lifetime of dreams – so that the history of my life and the history of my dreams and imagination meld into one? They certainly have the feel of dreams. Does it even matter? For am I not the man that I am today not just because of the life I’ve lived, but also those bedtime stories read to me, and the night-time dreams they weaved?

 

I cannot profess any knowledge of the science of memory, but I am sure that I am not alone in having these shape-shifting images that are so mundane and trivial and yet are also invested with so much; flashes of common place scenes that nevertheless continually manage to take our breath away. Why should such memories remain so powerful?

 

As I say, it cannot be because they are the earliest of my memories. Not as early as those arising from the time we lived on the boat; of licking malt extract from a spoon; being held in mum’s arms on the canal bank while dad tried to start the Kathy’s engine. But they are nonetheless early.

 

Perhaps their power lies in that these memories were anchors to emotions of which I was becoming aware, but was as yet unable to name. Is that why out of all the days of my childhood, the handful of seconds I stood, with my blue Tri-ang scooter, outside the little coal merchant shack at the end of our road still cuts through my senses with a tang sharper even than its scent of coal and creosote? The gritty red bricks, stained by time and sun-warm to the touch, the putty, blackened with soot and coal dust, pitted and peeling around its grimy little windows. Why should those images, out of all others, remain so potently fixed and posses the ability to throw my mind and heart reeling in the vertigo of nostalgia? I can still feel the scooter’s rubber handle grips; its pressure as it leans propped against my leg. But it is the emotion, the feeling of well-being, contentment; of excitement of the new, whilst feeling so secure and safe. I was a little boy feeling my way through a world that could touch me internally as surely and as powerfully as it could externally. I had no words for these feelings (and I lack an adequate vocabulary for many of them still), but as they welled up and broke onto my consciousness, like the best of mountaineers, I must have hammered a little piton-flag, rooting it to my memory; not of ownership, but of participation. Perhaps that is why, once the door is opened, I am flooded with them; hundreds of tiny shards of emotions in pictures that prick and prickle my adult consciousness. It was the time of my Eden before the naming of names had begun.

 

If this is the case, then I am so grateful that my kaleidoscope is made of happy memory shards; that the earliest reference frames for my vocabulary (and, therefore, life) was one of safety and security. And they are still a part of me, still part of my deeper internal vocabulary; that discourse at the heart of the soul that renders words inept. When they swim into my consciousness, I feel the longing of their call. But it is a call forward not back. Oh, there are times, when in the middle of crises and insecurity I can still yearn for those sunny, red-bricked, days of scooters and the sharp metallic taste of condensation on my tongue, but their true function is as my lodestone. It is through them, I can judge whether I have yet reached that goal. I have learnt to distrust the shifting compass points of status and wealth, but these shards, these dreams of memories and memories of dreams, remain (and will forever be) the real and truest measure of my life.

 What lost memories wash across your life, tilting your senses with distant music, pausing the clamour of your world? What echoes of memory of the unchanging you weave their way through your life? What echo dreams of memories swirl like summer fragrances, inexpressible, shimmering just out of reach of words, make you the you who has got to this place, reminding you of who you are and where you have been? The soft echoes of memory that accompany the futures that await.