Finding ways to create something beautiful in the dark nights of a complex world
Aug. 15, 2022

Hot August Nights (Listening for the thunder)


It has been a sweltering hot week with temperatures in the 30s (90F). Join me onboard NB Erica, on a hot August night just as the heatwave is about to break, as we listen for the rolling sound of distant thunder. 

Journal entry:

10th August, Wednesday

“The last of today’s sun slowly climbs 
 the dolphin-backed ridge of hill,
 colouring the broad cluster of oaks
 and tawny grass with long shadows.

A few hundred yards from me
 A barrel-roofed lock cottage, 
 Its red door peeling
 And windows now blind.

My notebook lies empty beside me 
 While my head is filled with so many thoughts
 That have track of words to convey them. 

Bats fill my silence.”  

Episode Information:

Summer daysNB Erica in the August heat

Hot days on the Grand Union
Hot days on the Grand Union

Evening Cool
Evening cool

In this episode I refer to the music of the jazz singer Cassandra Wilson and refer specifically to versions of Darkness on the Delta and the achingly beautiful Love is Blindness.

The field recording of distant thunder was recorded by ‘sagetyrtle’ and uploaded to Freesound in October 2010.

Once again, in these podcasts, I appear to have pronounced Lowsonford incorrectly. I have no idea why as it is not difficult to pronounce! It should, of course, be low-son-ford and not law-son-ford. According to Temple-Thurston, the old working boaters used to call it 'Lonesome Ford'.

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

10th August, Wednesday

“The last of today’s sun slowly climbs
the dolphin-backed ridge of hill,
colouring the broad cluster of oaks
and tawny grass with long shadows.

A few hundred yards from me
A barrel-roofed lock cottage,
Its red door peeling
And windows now blind.

My notebook lies empty beside me
While my head is filled with so many thoughts
That have track of words to convey them.

Bats fill my silence.”  

[MUSIC]

WELCOME

Clouds are beginning to cast their paths across the empty skies. A waning moon has only just arisen. It’s a hot sticky night on the canals tonight, and there is a warm welcome for you here.

This is NB Erica narrowcasting into the sultry darkness of a hot August night.

The wind has died down a bit, but there are little eddies of night breezes, let’s enjoy them together. Welcome aboard.

[MUSIC]

NEWS FROM THE MOORINGS  

Things are a little different tonight. I have purposefully been keeping off the internet, so that we can both have a complete break. But I am aware that a lot of people have sent their good holiday wishes and contacted me. However, I haven’t been able to respond properly to them. Thank you so much. I will get back in touch with you all.

It’s been a lovely – although hot week. A lot of rest. A lot of reading. We’ve also met some great people along the way too. That’s the lovely thing about canals and boating, the small temporary communities that build, flow, and ebb. The people you pass. A sense of like-mindedness, sharing the same purpose. The boater that stays a little longer to help with a tricky gate. Helen on Pipistrelle helping a cruiser that kept getting wedged in the locks. A chance meeting in a pub with long-time listener Steve Tyrell and the crew from Narrowboat Precious Jet. The wonderful couple who were staying at the beautiful barrel-roofed Lowsonford lock cottage, made famous by Ernst Temple-Thurston in The Flower of Gloster, who helped us through the lock. I am really glad you had such a wonderful holiday.

Although I had been planning to record podcasts as normal, I think realistically, I have had to make the decision that I am not going to be able to do a podcast for next week. However, all things being equal, with a fair wind, smiling gods, and all that, we will be back the week after.

[MUSIC]

HOT AUGUST NIGHTS (LISTENING FOR THE THUNDER)

Can you hear it yet? Listen. On horizon, over the skyline, is it coming? The distant sound of thunder rumbling from the east, riding a front of saturating, energising, rain.

I sit here, on this hot August night and listen for that tympanic roll of the kettle drum of the cliff-tall clouds.

The air has been hot and thick with the sticky, dusty heat of long sweltering days. It lies heavily on the canal and banks veiling water and leaves in a matt bloom of pollen, and dust, and dried grass seeds. The tall rye grasses, the golden-sugary brown of Caramacs, snap to the touch like brittle rods of spaghetti. Sections of the canal are dulled with the marbled swirls of a dusty greasy film. Even the sunlight looks dim within it – as if, recognising what it has done, the sun is too embarrassed to set the water alight with the usual blinding dazzle of its aura. Here it can no longer bore its blindingly white void of iron-heat into the water.

It is hot even at 8.00 in the evening. All week, the temperatures have been climbing through the high 80s and now into the 90s (31-33 C). The grass is parched and brown and the earth baked hard. Dried leaves, some still richly green, skitter along the ground on the back of warm winds. The fields are the colour of ancient parchment.

And I sit here, in the dark, waiting. Listening – listening for the sound of thunder on the distant horizon.

The dusty summer days draw on, with their long days of roasting August sunshine. The rise of fields has turned to tawny beige and barley yellow. Ragged tufts of sedge and the rust-red wire of sorrels break up the beached dunes of sun-bleached pasture. The ubiquitous oak and ash at the shimmering field margins in the distant, sing siren songs of oasis cool.

Clusters of bright red honeysuckle berries punctuate the tall, proud, limbs of the hazel. Squirrel paradise. The ground beneath crackles underfoot.

There’s a moorhen that continuously crosses and recrosses the canal, determinedly pushing her furrowed path from one bank to another – straight as a die; like a little ferryman.
In all honesty, I am not sure if she is the same bird. It’s just that each time I look up to look down the canal, there she is ploughing her was across the shining water – even in the hottest parts of the day. 

Now, brooding black clouds of jackdaws flock, jostling the air with their raucous cacophony of movement and sound. Their heads and shoulders showing just above the long parched-prairieland grasses – sand coloured and just as dry. Crows wheel overhead on ragged wings. It’s sultry and oppressive and I feel marooned in the swirling turbulence of Van Gogh’s 'Cornfield' ['Wheatfield with Crows'].

A large golden dragonfly whirrs up and down the canal, zigzagging from bank to bank. A small soul - half prehistoric fossil come to life, half biplane. His wings afire with the molten reds of today’s dying sun. Even the kingfisher, that loops low – flashing blue sparks bankside – is tonight outclassed and outshone by the sheer wonder and beauty of it all.

For the most part, we have managed to keep relatively cool – pitching from shady spot to shady spot. Curtains closed, all the hatches open, welcoming the cooling breeze as it swirls and tunnels down the length of the boat. Tunnels come into their own on days like these. The foggy spirals of cold damp air flowing out of their portals just above the water. The crystal chink and plink of water dripping down the sides, from the entrance vegetation of fern fronds and liverwort. Here, the world smells damp and humid, like the hot houses in Kew: Exotic, thick, green. Inside the tunnel, the shivers of icy waters that pour and splash, drip and snake down the back of your collar elicits altogether a different type of cry than normal.          

The skies are, at last, beginning to veil. There have been some amazingly deep cobalt blue skies, virtually without cloud. Yesterday, clouds began to form. Not the compact cumulus towers. Clumps of higher-level cirrus, looking more like cotton wool swabs that have been teased and torn apart back to their former constituent parts.

I am rubbish at finding pictures in clouds. Clifford, on the other hand, is great at it. He has spent a lifetime with clouds; photographing cloudscapes. Not for their science, but for their art. Finding within their tumultuous grandeur fantastical images and patterns. I can see them when he points them out. But beforehand, the dragon with the horse’s head would have passed me by unheeded.

If he were here, Clifford would have no problems with those clouds that drifted slowly from the East. He would have laid on his back, among the tall, dried, grasses the colour of barley-water, and that chirruped and clicked, and whirred and fizzed with insects. And he would have found great panoramic canvases unfolding above our heads – that told us – oh such stories. Stories as old as time that we need to desperately hear again.   

A few of the clouds were greying in their centres, bulking, growing. The cloud the size of a man’s hand?

And the weather forecasts rain storms ahead.

And I sit here, in the study here, lit by the single light that pools a circle on the desk, and I wait; Listening for the distant roll of thunder.

Away in the distance, there is a sound like that of breakers on an ocean bar; an almost pneumatic exhaling. The busy motorways and arterial roads never sleep. I used to find the noise of the traffic passing by the bedroom window of my childhood comforting. Envisaging each vehicle as they passed. The fully lit double decker buses, with their swinging conductors who could balance on the platform without holding the pole. The motorbike rider, chasing the single spot of light that wavered and danced just in front. The lorry driver, going to who knew where?

But tonight, it is not to the motorway I listen. It’s for a more elemental, primal roar. And it is one that touches a far deeper part of me.   

It’s Cassandra Wilson type of weather. The kicked-back, lazy sensuality, of a jazz enthused with southern blues. 'Darkness on the Delta', rehabilitated in Cassandra’s powerfully plaintive and humane singing from its darker racial overtones. I cannot listen to her version of ‘Strange Fruit’. But somehow, these writhing tensions, razored and cutting, that coil below the surface, seem to fit, days – and even more so – nights like these; filled with ominous heat and darkness. These are the nights that are filled with edge; nights that fuel passion and transgression, that fire the heart and the senses. The autumn and winter campfire nights might be the nights for ghost stories and peering tentatively into the big unknowns, but it is the hot summer nights that force us to reflect on and acknowledge the darknesses inside of us.

It’s hard not to be aware of our bodies on hot days like these. I mean our bodies as corporal sensual things. Each sweltering day, my t-shirt and trousers have clung to my body. My fingers constantly sticky. It is the heat that can remind us that we have bodies more effectively than the cold – where we are cocooned in clothes. A cool breeze flits through the cabin that stirs the air. Every pore, every hair of my arm and neck is sensitive and relishes the gentle caress of that movement of air.

These are the nights in which we are brought face to face again with ourselves as sensual beings. Cassandra Wilson provides the perfect soundtrack.

I have been listening to her ‘Love is Blindness’ on repeat

[READING]

It is soulful and as haunting as her voice, but it also contains one of the most soul-tearingly beautiful, harmonica riff I have ever come across. It is so amazingly understated, purring and growling along with the bass line. An understated howl of the elements like the distant thunder for which I am listening and waiting.

Today, the sky is a little milkier. High level ice clouds, try to veil the sun. The wind has dropped. A sort of supercharged breathlessness of expectation. A change of weather is about to come.  

But I will miss this. Please remind me of it. As much as I sit here, listening for the songs of thunder – I will miss this.

On the cold damp nights of raw north-easterlies and never-ending mud, I will miss this.

I will miss these days of fawns and yellowed fields and verges, bleached beige and tan. When the undergrowth crackled to walk through, and the russet-red sorrels stands tall and proud amid a parchment-coloured sea of grasses. I will miss these days of t-shirts and sitting on the cabin roof chasing words, giving up, and just sitting breathing in the scent of summer air.

I will long for warmth again. The feel of the sunshine and living not encumbered with coats or boots.

It wasn’t long ago that I was sitting here. Beside me, the stove glowing cherry red, while outside sleety rain whipped against the cabin sides and reminiscing about the nights when the ice sang around the boat. Soon, I will be reminiscing about these days, with their hot sultry nights, of a summer soon passed.

We walk our ways through the paths of our future memories.    

SIGNING OFF

And so for a week or two, take care.

Enjoy the path that leads you through your future memories. Listen for the thunder. Enjoy the sun, enjoy the rain.

Stay safe, good journeys.

This is the Narrowboat Erica signing off for the night and wishing you a very peaceful, restful night. Goodnight. 

 

WEATHER LOG