Snatching the sound of Manannán's song on the bite of a northwesterly wind
Dec. 11, 2022

Those eyes of old (look out at me)


“Those eyes of old look at me and, through the haze of your futures, I look back at you…” 

On this freezing December night, snuggle closer to the stove as I reflect on the strangeness of coming across an old photograph of me as a small child as well as the adventures of the Archdeacon on ice.    

Journal entry:

 9th December, Friday

“The scent of wood smoke and cold air.
 The warm, dry sound of someone splitting firewood.
 Each teasel head is framed in a perfect halo of sunlight.
 Today, at least, their sainthood is revealed.”

 Episode Information:

Dru Marland's Canal Ice ScaleDru Marland's 'Canal Ice Scale' (see below for link)

In this episode I read an extract from the Anglo-Saxon poem Andreas and I refer to Eleanor Parker’s book Winters in the Word: A journey through the Anglo-Saxon year published in 2022 by Reaktion Books. 

You can see and buy a copy of Dru Marland’s wonderful ‘Canal Ice Scale’ from her Etsy site: Dru Marland ‘Canal Ice Scale’ (postcard).
Photograph of me as a young boyThe photograph of me as a young boy that is featured in this 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

 9th December, Friday

“The scent of wood smoke and cold air.
The warm, dry sound of someone splitting firewood.
Each teasel head is framed in a perfect halo of sunlight.
Today, at least, their sainthood is revealed.”

[MUSIC]

WELCOME

Wreaths of mist in loose cobweb veils hang in the almost still air above the canal, whose waters shine dully like wet pavement slabs and just as hard. Thick crystalline ropes of hoar frost coat every surface. The grass crunches underfoot. This is NB Erica narrowcasting into the dark December night from a frozen landscape.

It's already nearly 4 degrees below zero outside (about 26F) and that's before midnight. The humidity makes it feel even colder, but in here we're warm and the kettle has been replenished. The biscuit barrel is out, so come inside and rest beside the stove awhile. Thank you so much for coming and welcome aboard.

[MUSIC]

NEWS FROM THE MOORINGS  

[READING]

So runs the Anglo-Saxon poem Andreas. Well, we haven’t had the snow (as yet, although there are rumours on the wind that it may be coming), but we have certainly had the ice, the frost, the hare hildstapen (‘hoary battle marchers’). Eleanor Parker notes that there’s word play here. In Early English, har means ‘white’ or ‘grey.’ It still survives today in dialect and regionalised forms today. Along the east coast, sea fogs rolling across the land are called ‘haar’ – possibly after the old Norse variant. It is also where we get our word ‘hoar’ and ‘hoary’ from. But within Early English the association of grey and whites with old age meant that it could often denote “aged, venerable, experienced.”

The writer of Andreas wants us to understand this – this frost that has taken hold of the land is as an army comprising grizzled, battle-hardened, tried and tested warriors. Warriors seasoned by many campaigns. The land has been taken captive and it’s been taken captive by a formidable power that brings everything to a standstill. Even the homeland of men has been ‘locked up.’   

And it certainly has much of that feeling here. During this week, the land here has indeed become frozen – the waters shrinking, sluggish. Is brycgian, ice making or forming bridges. Our movements curtailed, or, at least, requiring that extra thought ‘do I really need to go out or can we do it some other time?’ 

Night time temperatures have been dropping to around -6.5 C that is around 20 F and both the stoves have been running constantly. We’re not quite locked in – although I have seen a boat further up that is. It has to be really cold for ice to form around the hull of a boat that is being lived in. Usually there is a small ¼ to ½ inch gap between the hull and the ice. Having said that, a couple of times in the night or early in the morning when we are getting up, we have heard the rasp and metallic bump of ice rubbing and breaking against us.       

The water pipes have now frozen and don't look as if they'll be useable until next weekend. We made sure our tank was full before the freeze hit, so we're ok and just keeping a close eye on our use of it. If the freeze lasts longer we have a couple of contingency plans. Life afloat makes you adaptable and helps you to learn to be inventive. 

The canal is pathway of jagged splintered ice plates, a thrown crazy-paving cracked and refrozen. The day before yesterday a boat went through. Judging by the exposed shards, at that time, the ice was probably only ½ inch thick or so, possibly a little more. It is now thicker and the whole surface has taken on the cold-grey aspect of a miniature crevassed glacier. What to do kingfishers and herons do? Where do they go? Herons at least can fish the fields – you can see them in the summer. They are not averse to taking worms and insects, but a kingfisher’s diet is exclusively of fish. There are some spots of ice-clear water, but they tend to be busy places. The congregating point of ducks and moorhens. Not ideal fishing points for the children of Halcyone and Ceyx.

Perhaps, during these cold snaps, they instinctively hunker down, lying low, in their bankside nesting holes and wait out for the thaw. Perhaps, somehow, within the kingfisher’s consciousness, there is something like “þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg – that passed over… so may this.

The day after the frost came, I stood at the top of the hill and looked out onto a new world.

In the shadowed-lands flat white frost fields lay where once there was the dark still waters. Elsewhere, a dull, slushy, laundry-water, grey sits pitted on the surface. The ducks have made a little pool of clear water in which they furrow and plough their way, cutting shallow contours into the water. However, most are happy to squat on the grass bankside and doze in the December sunshine that slants low from a crystalline sky.     

Earlier in the day, the ducks struck out across the ice-plains to visit us. Clumsy waddles, veering between indecisive caution and reckless abandon. A duck flies in to join them – there is nothing like the fear of missing out to tempt a duck to the wing! He glides in, wings outstretched, air-braking with precision, feet forward for the landing and then disaster. Instead of water there is rutted ice. He trips forward, crashes onto his face and joins the jabbering throng in an inelegant heap, sliding to a stop, chin resting on the ice. The others take little notice. He picks himself up, shakes himself, flutters his wings and stomps off with the others in search of free food. Street-cred restored… maybe.

The ice was just about thick enough to bear a duck. IC 3 by Dru Marland’s ‘Canal Ice Scale’ – “Swans push their way through. Ducks stand around looking pleased.”  Thick enough, that is, for the standard heftiness of a mallard. Our dear (and I use those words advisedly) Archdeacon, is not, unfortunately for him, a standard size duck. Being a feral domestic duck, he is a bit bigger and consequently heavier. IC 3s are not suitable landing surfaces for Archdeacon type ducks and so, when he came winging in for the action in his own brash and inimitable way, he went straight through. That wasn’t too bad, for him, no doubt, it was just an unusually hard bit of water he had chosen to land in. The problems arose when he tried to get out onto the ice. Each time he tried to lever himself out, the edge cracked and toppled him back into the water. What made matters worse, another boater was tossing food to the ducks and he could see this which added urgency to get out. Repeatedly he attacked the edges, repeatedly it cracked and crumbled under him. Looking rather crestfallen and perplexed, and very unlike the usual little chap. He was fine and was never in any danger. The widening space of clear water (that his efforts were creating) was more than big enough for him to take off from. Unlike swans, or even geese, ducks can take off almost vertically.       

Today, we are around IC 5 – “Boats move around with difficulty, pushed ice rafts up densely. Need a barge pole to break ice. Much swearing.”

[MUSIC]

CABIN CHAT

[MUSIC]

THOSE EYES OF OLD LOOK OUT AT ME

Those eyes of old look at me…
... and, through the haze of your futures, I look back at you.

I came across this picture again. It popped up in a timeline, as photographs and memories sometimes do, unannounced, unexpected. A fleeting impression and then scroll on. But this time I didn’t. I don’t know why. It is a photograph with which I am familiar. It captures me, young, sitting on a doorstep – or the threshold, at least – in the sunshine laughing. At ease, happy; relaxed at ease. I am looking directly into the camera. Of course, my laughter is not really being shared with you (or me) the viewer. Like the Paleogenic flies caught in amber, this is a moment of times past, frozen in the aspic of light on film – photo-graph, photos – light, graphē to write, inscribe. Writing with light. A moment in time, that captures the light of that sunshine in which I sit and uses it to paint a picture that I now hold in front of me. And in that frozen moment is captured not just a little figure of a boy, but a shared moment between him and whoever is behind the camera. The sharing of laughter – how could the photographer not be laughing back? How could the photographer not feel, if only for these few stolen seconds, as at ease with life as the little boy? There is something shared here that is much more than the sharing of the warmth and the light of that sun on that bright day long ago.

I have said that I am familiar with this photograph, but nevertheless it seldom fails to make me pause. There is another that evokes similar feelings. I am a little older – perhaps 7 or 8 and standing in the back garden. The photograph is in distinct, a little unfocused and bleached. It was taken with Mum’s old Kodak box camera which, later, she gave to me. Cheap, mass-produced, plastic – but it smelt wonderfully of photographic celluloid. But what arrests me, is not the image of me, but my shadow, stretching out across the lawn. It somehow makes it more real. Again, that stolen moment of frozen time capturing not just me, but my effect on the world. I remember visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford once and the thing that most captivated my attention and from which I found it most difficult to drag myself away from were not the amazing fossils or the skeletons, or the stuffed animals of creatures that once lived. The thing that caught my imagination the most was a fossilized stratum of a mud flat that was criss-crossed with the tracks of dinosaurs. You could see movement, life – the change in gait as, perhaps something caught the creature’s eye or an obstacle appeared. I get the same feeling when looking at handprints in palaeolithic cave paintings and, more recently, from the discoveries of early humanoid footprints. The ghosts of the past somehow grounded in the rock, soil and mud.            

 

There is something strangely disconcerting about looking deeply into a photograph of yourself taken before you can remember. There is a disorientating feel of connection and dislocation that, somehow, I should know this stranger who looks back at me, because it is ME. But he remains just that; a stranger, happy in his world, oblivious of mine and the histories he has still yet to live.

It is as if my sensory grip on the cliff-face of my experience slips and my world pitches and reels.

 

Would he recognise me? Would there be something about me that he, in some undefined, inexplicable, way draws him to me as I am somehow drawn to him?    

 

I keep looking at this little laughing figure sitting in the sunshine by a backdoor.

Those eyes of old look at me…
... and, through the haze of your futures, I look back at you.

 

Yes! Yes, now I DO remember…. 


I can remember those shoes; the feel of elastic over the bridge of my foot, my fingers curling over the smooth, slightly ribbed texture of the soles... and the smell of rubber and dust... and the coolness of those glazed tiles. 

I remember when buttons felt as big and as creamy as deep-glowing moons of coloured fire, slipping hard and soapy between my fingers and how they defied the narrow, buttonhole slits in all my cardigans, making my fingers hurt and me cry with sheer frustration.

 

But then again - perhaps - I don't remember... 

          not really...

                          ... only the awareness of vague formless sensations of experiences collected through the dream-time avenues of memories and the songways of my past. 

 

       What sounds could you hear in that place of sun and laughter? Were there bees humming? Was there the clink of a Sunday morning mechanic busy about his car? Could you hear birds? The belling melodies of Ice cream vans? Lawnmowers? Were there dogs barking and music playing?

 

I struggle to remember in the same way that I struggle to recognise in you my heart, my veins, the water of my eyes, the beat of my soul... 

               ...and I also fear that neither would you be able to recognise in me the 'I's that we both know and are. That you would look across at me through this chasm of years uncomprehending, with wariness, suspicion.

_________________________

 

So, I sit here - looking across the calendars of my years - and all I want to do is to reach out and protect you: 

       To put my arms around you and to hold you in that sunny, laughing day. I want to shield you from all those days that are my memories and that you have yet to live; from those careless, thoughtless words of youth that you will hear and that will bury themselves deep within you so that you will never forget; those voices that will stay with you and bend the paths you take; the glances given (perhaps not even really meant) that will take away that laughter...

... oh, it will return. That laughter WILL return many, many, times, but never in quite the same way as it was then. 

 

I am now older than you can imagine, sitting there in the sunshine of your childhood. I am older than your grandfather. Imagine that? Yes, you do make it to that age – although, to me, it is not old at all, and ‘old’ men are much older than me. But it is true that I must seem old to you. The thing is, it still feels like I am starting out. The things that puzzled and perplexed me in the days that follow that captured moment laughing in the sun, still perplex me.

If our places were reversed, and you were I and I were you, which we are, but if I were the young me and you were the older one, I’d be filled with so many questions about my future. But I hope that you would be wiser than that. For, though I know the paths you will take, I have so little to give you apart from ‘try not to worry’. Look to the fields and to the crows, listen to the wind, feel the rain, for this is where you will feel at home and where your heart will leap. Learn not to be afraid of this incredible, wonderful world, it is your home and will nurture you. Listen to the voice of the Arctic dwellers when they teach their children that the voice behind the power of nature is fine and gentle and it says 'be not afraid of the universe.' And I know you will – for look! This is where you are – right here talking to you, looking out at me across the maze of the histories you have yet to live. But there are so many things that I still don’t understand and we never really grow beyond the playground. But it will be in the playground that you will begin to learn the important things that will change and chart your life; that will give you a reason to go on. Look for the wood beside the school, the falling leaves and sycamore helicopters, and the scrunch of leaves, and the colours and earthy scents. The quiet corners where people seldom go and the library in which you will sit and pour over the same books, lunchtime after lunchtime. I still have never found out why I find friendships so difficult to form or sustain, so don’t take it to heart. But you WILL marry and find there a woman whose love shelters you and makes you strong.

There's So much ahead of you, little one.

You will discover things that will make your world grow dark and you will learn to fear and when you look into the night skies you'll cry. For it was in Eden, before there was ever any fiery sword of exile, that we first learnt about fear. Little man, you will hurt people (though you never wished it) and that hurt will remain with you and you will make so many, many mistakes...

                          ... and, you see, I want to save you from all that...

 _________________________                     


.....But is this the father in me speaking? Wanting to protect, wanting to keep safe a young flame who doesn't yet realise how tender it is.

And yet I see you there - sitting on that sunny porch - and I realise that I am not your father. I am in no position to be your guardian. It is YOU who is MY father. I am grown from you, not you from me. I am YOUR progeny. What I am, in part, is because of what you were/are and all those thousand upon thousand other 'me's caught millisecond by millisecond in the flicker-board of my life; each one taking over where the other leaves off.

Now I understand what you are saying to me. You have others to care for you (and they cared for you well) and those others will dry your tears (when those times come). I see again the spontaneous, unselfconscious laughter of one poised on the edge of a glorious world. I see once more the little child who laughing opens his arms to the world and says, "I'm here, what wonders will you bring to me?"  

That little laughing lad will one day, through film and pixel, sit across from me and say, "this is what you have come from. This is how your journey started - with laughter and open arms embracing the world. Finish it too with laughter and open arms."

 I am glad you were there - little man...
        Your heart still beats within me.

SIGNING OFF

 This is the narrowboat Erica signing off for the night and wishing you a very warm, restful and peaceful night, goodnight.

WEATHER LOG