Any boater who is faced with the prospect of numerous locks ahead will know how wonderful it is to find someone who is prepared to take on ‘lock-wheeling’ duties. This episode takes some time out to reflect on the podcast as well as explore the many listeners who have become tireless lock-wheelers for it.
10th February, Friday
“Ice skates lines across the water.
A thin brittle veneer that cannot hold
The oak’s reflection.
The morning sun sets fire to the reeds.
I am dazzled by their flame.
My own, canal-side, burning bush,
If you want to become a lock-wheeler for Nighttime on Still Waters or would like to know more about it, you can find more information here: ‘Lock-wheeling’ for Nighttime on Still Waters.
In this episode I refer to the work of Tim Dee. He discusses ‘Adam’s curse’ in his book The Running Sky published in 2009 by Penguin Books.
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.
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.
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Would you like to support this podcast by becoming a 'lock-wheeler' for Nighttime on Still Waters? Find out more: 'Lock-wheeling' for Nighttime on Still Waters.
10th February, Friday
“Ice skates lines across the water.
A thin brittle veneer that cannot hold
The oak’s reflection.
The morning sun sets fire to the reeds.
I am dazzled by their flame.
My own, canal-side, burning bush,
This is the NB Erica reaching out across the night's sky to you, wherever you are.
You join me on another still, dark, February night. The moon has yet to rise and when it does it will have to contend with a sky blanketed with low cloud. The reeds and osier whips are motionless and silent. A sporadic moorhen churp is the only sound to break the stillness.
I am so glad you are here. I was really hoping you would come. The stove is warm. The kettle is hot. The biscuit barrel is full. There's a seat waiting especially for you. Come inside and welcome aboard.
The cold weather did return. Actually some of the night time temperatures were a lot colder here than forecast, with dips down to -6 and -7 (round about 20 degrees F). This meant the return of the ice to the canal. However, the much milder – warmer even – daytimes meant that the ice was never given the chance to consolidate. It was only in the areas of shadow that it persisted. The ducks – and moorhens even – manged to break it up by ploughing their passages through it. Consequently, it remained, for the large part, a lot thinner and therefore more prone to melt when the temperatures rose.
The daylight hours are noticeably lengthening – as is the strength of the sun’s warmth. The wild, dark, river of crows at first light, is about three minutes earlier each day. The nettles are doing well, bursting through the oak mast in inextinguishable emerald-green flames. So too is cow parsley and robin run the hedge (or cleavers). The swans haven’t been around so much – or at least, I haven’t been aware of them. Donna and I did see them much further down the canal on one of our walks and I saw a pair much further up – although they were too far to see if they were our local couple.
The archdeacon seems to have got himself a consort. If you’ve been listening for a while, you will know that he is generally found with a couple of male or drake mallards – whom I often refer to as the ‘unholy triumvirate’. I’ve noticed that this winter this hasn’t been quite so evident. Often the Archdeacon has been either on his own or part of larger groups. This last couple of days I have noticed that there is definitely a young female duck in tow! He still swims ahead of her (rather than following – as appears to be the custom with paired couples in this community), but she clearly is keeping close to him - often voicing the fact with constant abrupt bark-like quacks! Is the archdeacon at last beginning to settle down? We'll see!
The world is once again white. It was -4.5 (24 degrees F) when I left the boat earlier. But there’s a strange, unreal, quality about this morning. A layer of fog lies suspended about 15 to 20 feet off the ground, cutting the trees in half. Even the circle of dead elms have lost their tops, they appear to have no end; growing into the sky. On my way, I stopped off at the convocation of oaks. By then, the sun was beginning to rise above the horizon into the cloud, and the rich apricots and pinks had turned to a wash of insipid yellow and nicotine.
The canal is frozen again. I kick the ice in the inlet for the birds and the horses. It shatters fairly easily. The horses were keeping themselves to themselves this morning. Instead of slowly and ponderously sauntering over to me, the grey watches from afar my progress down the field. The other two keep on foraging the grass. When I shout out ‘hello’, the larger one stops, looks up, and turns her head away. It’s a ‘leave-alone’ type of dawn. I’m fine with that. I can do ‘leave-alone’. I like ‘leave-alone.’
I sit for a while and look at the smashed ice and the dead willowherb. The canal is once again, glazed with matt varnish and static. Although it is not completely held. The night-time cold is finding it hard to compete with the daytime warmth. I think this is buckthorn that the ivy is cloaking so richly, but I am not sure. I wish Tony was here, he’d know. He’d look at it with eyes that know wood. I always got the impression that it was not just knowing about it, but KNOWING it. Knowing the silent language of Treebeard deep within it. He trained as a tree surgeon, but there’s always been more Tom Bombadil in him than lumberjack. When we were young, he’d suddenly stop and say, ‘look at that oak! Isn’t it amazing?’ I’d look and see a tree that looked pretty much like a tree should look. ‘Yes,” I’d say, but I knew I hadn’t seen the tree that he had.
To be honest, I have no idea why I am suddenly fixating on the name of this small tree, that I sit beside week in and week out. Ok, initially it annoyed me that I couldn’t quite place it. Everything suggested it was a hawthorn, but there are no thorns. I ploughed through my tree identification books to little avail. In the end, I just came to know it as a companion in my silence, listening together, with the dead willowherb and elms, to the bird song emerge from the dawn.
Writer and naturalist, Tim Dee describes it as ‘Adam’s Curse’. “We are all descendants,” he argues, “of the first name-giver of the animals who traded proximity and connection for separation and classification.” Is that what I am, again, trying to do? Like it or not, I am the son of Adam after all. I also am the son of post-enlightenment rationalism too. Dee is right, names do create distinction – demarcate and highlight difference. But names also, perhaps, are our only way of filling that void of that which we have lost, the void where there was once a sense of connection and kinship – fellowship even (in the best sense of the word).
What would change if I did know for a certainty that this was buckthorn? What would I lose in the naming of the names? Perhaps I should this morning take my cue from the horses. After all, they can read the currents of the days in subtle ways that I cannot. They have decided that it’s a ‘leave-alone’ kind of day. I am happy with that. I am none the wiser, or, perhaps on this day of hanging fog, in some strange way I am.
This week I just want to take a little bit of time to give you some news about this podcast. First of all, I want to assure you that there’s going to be no dramatic changes. When I first started, I had a couple of ideas (that were fairly similar) about how to structure it. I wanted something that was fairly flexible and wouldn’t hem me in too much so that I became trapped by the format itself, but would allow me to explore and develop things, try out ideas and also give me the space just to be me. If you have listened to the podcast for any length of time, you will already know that my interests are wide and fairly non-specific. One listener said to me, ‘you know, I can never predict what your next podcast will be on.’ I have to agree with him. I often don’t either. But it is that, which I enjoy the most.
The podcast in many respects mirrors what is going on in my head and heart – it’s like this flowing river – sometimes terrifyingly fast and uncontrolled and I feel as if I am being submerged under it, at others worrying shallow and empty. But the thing is, so far, that river keeps on flowing. I know, in the past, there have been times when I have run aground, movement stops – that which carries me, drained away. The writer’s or creator’s block. Those times are not nice, words lose their colour, lose their flavour – I get irritable with them. Rather than digging my hands deep into the corn-bins of adjectives, I seem to have lost my taste form them and no longer get that joy from playing with them, mixing them up, seeing what feelings, ideas, beauties they can bring. So I know these times can happen, and possibly will happen again. When it does happen, it is not the end of the world (although sometimes it feels as if it is). It is simply a matter of beaching the boat for a while and waiting. It’s the old ebb and flow business again.
However, for the most part, the process is very much like sailing down a river – you never know what you will discover around the corner, or the way the light will strike the surface of the water, or how the river’s mood will change. Turbulent, angry, uncomfortable, placid, gentle, soothing. And you can’t fight it. You must simply go with it. We are going somewhere, but who knows where? Least of all me. And I think that that is the way these podcasts should be; flow with the current, follow the stream, enjoy the places it will take us to – the planned, the unplanned, the surprising little backwaters that open up into new unexplored worlds.
You see, it is happening again! I set out to say one thing and have now got distracted! But, then again, isn’t that what late night chats are – when they are at their best? Unplanned, serendipitous, following the streams of our thoughts and souls? But this exemplifies the point that I wanted to make, about a format that would allow each podcast episode enough latitude or flexibility to follow these little digressions and detours – to dart down a backwater if one looked particularly inviting.
I purposely resist trying to impose a theme for each episode – creating a sense of place, a space that we (you and me) can share together so that we both begin to create something beautiful. I will sit here by the light of my little desk lamp, the night world stirring outside, and fling words into the darkness and you will take them – add your own special meanings to them and from them create the most beautiful pictures from them.
And so, each week there may be a special focus – of sorts – the episodes are deliberately not themed. Nevertheless, I do try – hopefully in a way that is not too contrived – to have what I have in my planning notes from a number of years back – a narrative arc, that can loosely hold all the disparate elements together.
Each episode begins with a journal entry taken from sometime in the previous week. This is followed by news from the moorings (wherever we are), some times more about the world outside the boat, others more boat-based. I have recently included a new segment – the Tuesday Morning 5.30 am slot. This is a bit of an experiment and I am not too sure how it will go. We then have the cabin chat where I can say hello to listeners who have got in contact, and then there’s the final section – which is, generally, where the title for the podcast comes from. This concludes with signing off and the reading from the weather log for the night of the recording.
As might be expected, the actual podcast has changed fairly considerably from what I originally had in mind. Initially, my aim was to produce an audio journal, rather than straight blog (or round-robin style newsletter) for family and friends of our life living aboard a narrowboat. I had intended it to be either ‘this is what it is like and what we have been doing’ or to include my reading chunks from different old narrowboat books on the history of the canals and working boats and boat families. I had also planned to read out Mum’s book on her life (which, of course, included her time on the canal). However, it didn’t quite turn out that way! Although I still want to read out Mum’s book – I will probably do it as a linked by ancillary podcast to this one.
What I hadn’t really anticipated was how popular this podcast would become – particularly overseas. This meant that I needed to rethink about the use of readings from other people’s works. If the podcast audience was around a hundred or so, it would be highly unlikely I would get ensnared in copyright disputes. Unlike music, where the use of copyrighted music is strictly controlled and policed, written work is a little more lenient. Publishers generally are ok, so long as a reading is clearly accredited, with short extracts from works in their catalogue. Many view it as an important mode for advertising and publicising their books. This is why I always endeavour to include in the programme notes the full bibliographic details for any books which I have featured and include either a link directly to the publisher or the author (rather than generically through, say, Amazon). However, I am careful not to abuse their generosity and so always aim to limit the passages to a page or two at maximum – and not to replicate it in the transcript. I know that there are podcasts – and some that are very popular – that are essentially readings of books or short stories. Nevertheless, it makes me a little uncomfortable. Artists and writers have a precarious enough life as it is and, at the moment, we live in a society, that tends to expect art for free.
Which really brings me on to my announcement. It stems from a conversation a few months ago, which I sort of briefly referred to here, about the podcast and donating money. I think I left it by saying something like, I will think about it more.
Again, like the structure of the podcast, I have no plans for any significant changes. Very early on – and much against the general trend in podcasting to financially capitalise on it. I was adamant that the podcast should be free and have deliberately avoided the pressures to monetise it. It seems to me, that the very ethos of the podcast is its welcome – that it aims to be inclusive, all embracing. If there are differences between you and me (and there possibly are), in this space, of a narrowboat’s cabin in the depths of a winter night, they don’t matter – because what does matter is that, here, we are just two people, trying to find our way through a complicated world and do the right thing (whatever that is). And I don’t want to exclude anyone from that – particularly because they cannot afford it.
I also have resisted the pressure to include adverts. This is mainly because I know that many listeners keep the podcast on play and so play episodes back-to-back in order to go to sleep and the last thing they would want is some raucous voice and/or music selling them things. Also, if my social media timelines are anything to go by, the adverts I would attract (because that seems to be my advertising demographic) would be for funeral homes and incontinence pads! And, let’s face it, you wouldn’t want that, would you? Mind you, when social media still viewed me as being relatively younger, they insisted on posting adverts for cheap degrees (for which I did not have to submit any work for assessment) or budget graduation and prom dresses – I have never managed to fathom why!!
Having said all of that, I am also very aware that for some people, having a means by which they can support the podcast in a concrete way is important – a way of contributing and being a part of this venture we are on. It’s something I have been wrestling over. If you want to contribute and feel more part of this – what can you do? Of course, for me, the fact that you are listening and the enjoyment you help to create is the most important. I also really appreciate your comments and messages of support. In all honesty, I still have butterflies when I click the publish button for each episode. Mastering and editing each episode is a brutal way of highlighting all the flaws! So, I am always really grateful (and relieved) when I hear that you may have enjoyed a poem or an episode. Clicking the like button (I know that many podcast providers don’t offer this facility) does help, as does leaving a review. Again, I cannot tell you, how touched I am at your really kind words and how much encouragement I get from them. Thank you! Also, I am really grateful for everyone who publicises the podcast, telling friends about it or sharing it on social media. It is always lovely to hear from people who have ‘just found’ us because a friend recommended the podcast.
But I also have been asked if there is a way to support the podcast financially. Again, initially, my reluctance was about how to do this in a way that maintained what I feel is the integrity and ethos of what we are doing here. I did investigate Patreon and buy me a coffee, etc. My resistance was that in order for something like Patreon to properly work, it would involve producing more subscriber only material that I just don’t have the time (or mental space) to create. It also then creates (in my mind at least) a tiered system, when almost by definition some content is exclusive and therefore not available to all.
However, through Buzzsprout, who are the hosts of this podcast (they are the ones to whom I upload the finished audio file – they add their own industry regulated refinements to it so that it is compatible for providers like iTunes and Spotify – and who then release it to the many thousand individual podcast providers or directories, one of which will be the one you are listening to right now). Buzzsprout have instituted a way in which listeners can support a podcast by donating money as either a one-off payment or on a more regular basis. The key thing is that there is no obligation, no commitment and you can cancel at any point. For me, this appears to be the best solution (for now) to get over the problem.
The advantage of this system is that because Buzzsprout are administering it, all donations will initially directly go to paying for the running costs – the monthly fee I pay Buzzsprout to host Nighttime on Still Waters. Any money over that, I can then use to pay for the webpage fees. In this way, the podcast can become self-supporting and self-financing. The costs aren’t huge (which is why I chose to podcast in the first place and I have deliberately chosen to keep costs very low), but for the podcast to pay for itself would be helpful.
Therefore, I have taken the plunge – you might already have noticed the support button on your podcast icon – and set up the support page. I have called it ‘lock-wheeling’ for Nighttime on Still Waters as I think that is the most apt description.
‘Lock wheeling’ relates to the practice of going on ahead of a boat to set up the locks (filling or emptying it as needed) and to open the gates so that the boat can go through with the minimum of effort. Technically, this should be done by bicycle, cycling ahead - hence the 'wheeling' of lock-wheeling. As a lad, I can distinctly remember the clatter of a rusty bicycle with dubiously inflated tyres and even more dubious braking systems, rattling along the towpaths. A figure hunched over the handlebars, a windlass in one hand, on their way to the next lock. It was always the cue that soon a narrowboat (perhaps to John Dickos or to Roses Lime) was on its way. It is an often overlooked, tiring work. It hasn't got necessarily the same glamour or romance as standing at the tiller and guiding the boat through the countryside and industrial wharfs.
Lock-wheeling can be thought of as the frantically paddling feet below the serene swan. Literally, the legwork of canal cruising. A lock-wheeler is worth their weight in gold. Their task is invaluable - and I can personally tell you, it is ALWAYS highly appreciated! It is the lock-wheelers that ensure the journey is as smooth and as stressless as possible.
I aim to keep Nighttime on Still Waters free to all listeners, but I also know that there are many who want to feel that they can show their support (do a bit of lock-wheeling!). You can 'lock-wheel' for the show in so many different ways and I know many are already doing so - by recommending and posting reviews and comments. However, from time to time, I have been asked about financial support. Please do not feel obliged – Nighttime on Still Waters is FREE. However, any money given will be used to offset running costs and enable me to access more advanced editing and transcription services.
Your support (in whatever form) is always very deeply appreciated!
This is the narrowboat Erica signing off for the night and wishing you a very restful, peaceful, and safe night. Good night.