Finding ways to create something beautiful in the dark nights of a complex world
June 12, 2022

'I've Got Her Now' (Love and Hawthorn Blossom)


This week has been one of extremes that encompasses the splendour of solitude and an onboard visit by three very enthusiastic police dogs (and a puppy)! Alongside all this, we took time to listen to some bats, watch the cygnets as the grow ever stronger and contemplate the hidden depths of the most surprising people.  

Journal entry:

 8th June, Wednesday

"The wind is kicking up among the branches of the ash and oaks while clouds as heavy as wet blotting paper begin to gather. 

There is that excitement in the air that portends change though the barometer stays level. The rooks are playing up and large spots of rain fleck the towpath. 

It is the time to stride across the ridgeways and old greenways in seven-league boots and drink in every second of the howling night... 

it is the time to close the hatches and listen to the rain as it rakes the cabin roof and batters on the window by my bed."

 

Episode Information:

Cygnests riding on mother's back

Two of the cygnets hitching a ride on their mother's back. The third was swimming alongside. Rather like children in buggies they are constantly wanting to switch from riding to walking/swimming!!

Swans near Preston BaggotThe swan family

I am planning to feature bats more fully in a future podcast. 

However, if you are interested in finding out more about bats, there is a very good introductory guide to (British) bats on the Woodland Trust website: Bats.

Common Pipistrelle batCommon pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus)
Photographer: Unknown
Source: The Woodland Trust

The bat sounds featured in this episode were a type of pipistrelle. We are not too sure which, but most probably (peak call frequency) they were Common Pipistrelle. For more information: Common Pipistrelle

The recoding was made using a Magenta Bat5 bat detector and a Edirol R-09HR sound recorder.

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

8th June, Wednesday

"The wind is kicking up among the branches of the ash and oaks while clouds as heavy as wet blotting paper begin to gather. 

There is that excitement in the air that portends change though the barometer stays level. The rooks are playing up and large spots of rain fleck the towpath. 

It is the time to stride across the ridgeways and old greenways in seven-league boots and drink in every second of the howling night... 

it is the time to close the hatches and listen to the rain as it rakes the cabin roof and batters on the window by my bed."

NEWS FROM THE MOORINGS  

There is a blustery wind, tonight, blowing in from the west that makes the trees and the bankside rushes dance. Nightfall has come, but it has yet to deepen into full night. Darkness seeps only slowly across this landscape pooling and bleeding from the edges, the deep quiet places. Its bat time and owl time and time for those like ourselves who find space in the night to breathe and to think and to grow. This is the Narrowboat Erica narrowcasting into the darkness, canal-side.

Welcome, it is so good to see you, thank you for coming and welcome aboard.    

[MUSIC]

This is the time of year when our nights, in UK are no longer properly dark. The sun clings to our horizon going from west to east, just below the rim - like a learner swimming clinging to the pool sides at the deep-end. It's as if it doesn't quite want to let go. It is dependent on where exactly you are, but I think even as far south as London and the home counties, we never move out of astronomical twilight into night time proper. In fact, we only just tip into it even then! To the north Scotland and Northern Ireland hold on to nautical twilight for their entire nights. 

And the night skies, here, are certainly not dark, for most of this month we will only experience the lighter nautical twilight. It might not be the midnight sun of the polar climes, but it is getting there.  

We have had quite a lot of hot sun this week, but some fairly turbulent atmospherics have been fuelling a succession of fronts, some quite stormy. The rain, when it comes, consists of great fat drops that create bubbles when they hit the water. The sort of rain that you associate with hot summers and the breaking of a heatwave. For the most part we have successfully dodged the showers. 

Over the Jubilee weekend we found a spot that was as far from civilisation as we could get. We just read and snoozed and hunkered down watching the weather fronts move overhead. The first night I experimented with trying to record the bats on our bat detector. 

The twilight was soft and growly with an almost constant rumble of distant thunder. There was hardly a breath of wind and there were flying insects a plenty. These are pipistrelle flying between the ash trees and poplars. The yellow iris opposite us, dimly glows pale in the gloaming. The canal is almost mirror calm, broken only by the ripple of rings created as the fish feed and stir the deeper waters. 

The little moorhen family is nowhere to be seen. All day the parents fussed and shepherded their single chick. A tiny ball of sparse fluff with a red dash of colour on the head. The keep close to the bank sides, clambering over the knotted tangle of roots and undergrowth. They look, for all the world, like jungle birds. 

The fry and larvae are active, spangling the surface of the water in tiny rings. It is as if there was a constant drizzle under blue skies.

Before we left the moorings, we had noticed that one of the cygnets had been lost. It was their second night. They had all moved off away from the nest. When they came back, there was only three cygnets. Nevertheless, the three remain and are developing nicely. For the longer swims - the will cover a good few miles in one day - the cygnets ride on their mother's back - although fathers are also known to take this role. This year I have only seen mum give the rides.

They are getting very cheeky and the insistent demanding cheeps have become a constant aural backdrop to our lives. The other day, I was giving them some swan food from the duck hatch. When I had finished, the pen (female) was so outraged, I thought she would try to leap into the boat! I am not totally convinced she could, but don't want to try as I have no idea how I could get an irate and probably frightened swan up the steps and out of the boat!

Talking of which, I had a Zoom call the other day. I was just setting up, when I thought I heard a rattling behind me on the stern. Thinking someone had come to visit, I turned round to find myself literally nose to beak with a perplexed duck! Fortunately, she turned and waddled onto the tiller deck. 

It was rather a case of from the sublime to the ridiculous this week! Having started the week in a place where, to borrow from Ian MacMillan, 'we tied up in the places the map never showed us,' as off the beaten track as it was possible, later in the week we had three bomb detection dogs onboard (and a puppy)! At the end of July, the Commonwealth Games are set to be held in Birmingham. Some of the sporting venues run quite close to the network of canals. Donna spotted a policeman with dog walking by and had a chat and they told her they were looking for people who would allow them to come aboard and use their boats for the dogs to practice in. And so. a dummy explosive was hidden in the study area and three sniffer dogs and a puppy were welcomed aboard! Apparently, Donna said, two of the dogs seemed to be able to tell as soon as they were onboard. The total unfairness was that I was away at work and therefore missed the opportunity of four very enthusiastic spaniels to say hello to!! 

 ‘I’VE GOT HER NOW’ (LOVE AND HAWTHORN BLOSSOM)

I used to see him nearly every day. He seemed to live in his garden. It was a garden that grew bits of machinery, bloomed with dismantled lawnmowers, discarded gardening implements, rusting, odd piles of metalwork, glass and wood: Gleanings from house and garden clearances. That is not to say that his garden was a mess. His bird tables were always very well stocked. His front-garden bench well-tended (and used). It was just that, as some gardeners find expression in their delight of life in cultivated roses or banks of riotous blooms, he found his expression for life in other ways. His back garden was a rank of work sheds from which Radio 2 would blast on summer days and a light would burn late into the winter nights. His garden wasn't unkempt - it was just 'kempt' in a rather different manner to most other gardens in the village. 

He had no job and his family were dirt poor (if I understand that expression correctly), but also - somehow - dirt rich. He would be someone who people would describe in dismissive pitying tones as having no real idea of the value of money. But I think that was exactly it. He understood its value precisely (far better than those who cast the judgements on him) and because of it was not held it in its grip. 

He spent his days (and often long into the nights) repairing bits of broken machinery (he could never resist a broken lawnmower), and building things. Largely self-taught, he would strip down and coax the refuse and detritus of others back into usefulness (often accompanied by an impressively rich range of bellowed Anglo-Saxonisms). I once took my lawnmower round to him to see what was wrong with it. He knelt down, took the covers off it. Scowling for a while - he had a continual scowl that gave his face a dark look about it (not helped by the customary smeared streaks of engine oil in it) - but it was not a grumpy scowl which people meeting him for the first time tend to assume - it was just the way his face folded when he was thinking. He sucked in air between his teeth. This, I imagine was the sum total of his formal apprenticeship in the trade - it is what all garage mechanics do when you ask them if they can do any job from topping up the windscreen washers to a complete engine and transmission change. Grabbing a handful of wiring in his large fist, loudly declared to the startled starlings just about to ravage the bird feeder, “That's just safety wiring. We can do without that", and promptly pulled it out!  

And, if I didn't see him, I would certainly hear him. He was the type of man who took advantage of every square millimetre of the footprint of life allotted to him - a great bearded, often red-faced barrel of man, whose shadow was as large and as colourful and as loud as his body. His voice carried well, rolling down the village street, echoing off the walls of the houses that lined the avenue and onto the neighbouring fields. It was a voice slightly rounded by a Warwickshire brogue.

He was always very generous - sometimes too generous. He'd always offer advice - even if it hadn't been asked. There was always a much better, easier, cheaper way to do a job - and often he was right. I could never work out whether or not he could read. I tried not to put him into any situations where reading was necessary, but instruction manuals were a complete waste of time for him and treated with much scorn and derision. For a while he had a friend with whom he spent most of the days. He was a very small round man with a continually startled face and who, for some reason, had green hair. As far as I know, no one ever asked why, it was just accepted. My neighbour and his friend threw themselves into any job with boyish enthusiasm and vociferous debate. Together, whatever the problems, after throwing the right number of profanities at it, they would find a solution.

I watched them cut down a tree once, it was a youngish sycamore that was about to bring down the village’s telegraph wires. "It's a small tree, you don't need to get tree surgeons in who will charge the earth" - they would cut it down on the condition that they could have the wood. The garden in which they had to fell it was quite tight. However, fortune had it that one of the fence panels bordering the garden had been blown down in the gales that had swept through a few months earlier. Through some mental arithmetic that seemed to border on black magic, they decided that if felled correctly, the tree would just fit through the gap. Satisfied they went off to get the equipment. When I say equipment, I mean a large chain saw and a coil of rope. 

Now, Tony Bell, if you are listening, for the sake of your sanity and peace of mind, please skip this next section!   

Outlying branches were cut down by an ingenious method of clambering up the tree as far as he could go. The problem was, it had been raining and the trunk and branches were slick. My friend’s shoes, no safety footwear here, had seen better days. Their soles were as pastrami thin and I noticed that the uppers were coming away at the welts. The smooth soles kept slipping and so he had to cling to a branch with one hand while swinging the chainsaw high over his head in a wild dervishing movement, as a storm of twigs and branches and dark oaths came crashing down on top of him. However, at last, all was done and the trunk was ready to come down. A rope was tied to it. His little friend with the green hair was instructed to “pull with all your strength as I cut.” 

The initial cuts were made. The friend, by this time, was frantically smoking roll-ups and frequently having to sit down on a nearby garden table to steady his nerves. Then came the final cuts. With slipping feet, the chainsaw bit deep - at bellowed “NOW” the rope tightened as a strange tug of war began. Then with a bang the trunk broke free and, would you believe it, if fell precisely and exactly through the small gap left by the fallen fence panel! 

 

I think you could call him (and his wife) village characters - characters that could equal any of those who echo and chime through corridors of shared village memory - the man who went to bed when he was 50 and never left it, even though he was well into his 90s when he died. Or the two brothers who fell out and never spoke or even acknowledge the others existence ever again, but their wives concocted a sort of semaphore system and would chat to each other over the roof tops from their bedroom windows. Oh, how we love those characters, the sly tricksters and lovable rogues. How we laugh at their wily wit over the townies and their obsession with bureaucracy and trivial rules. How we admire stories or their resilience against all odds, of their cunning and petty criminality. Poaching a rabbit or two on the landed estates was a strike for our freedom too - cocking a snook at the bloated, hanging-jowled, gout-ridden authorities. They are our personal localised Robin Hoods: The shout of colour in a grey world. But when they live a few doors down, when yet another teetering pile of jumble appears by the gate. When a lack of awareness of personal space or lack of social graces, it can often be a very different story.  

In older times, families like this, were often protected and watched over by the community that was the village. They were known, they grew up together, laughed (and yes, probably laughed at), drank, argued, and survived the seasons together. They were understood. There was perhaps a better place for them back then... perhaps. Today it is not so easy. The village I am thinking of has increased with new building bringing in a whole new community. A community based on social lives, clubs, parties, hobbies, lifestyles; not organically grown from the rootstock of a (predominantly) settled population.

People who don't fit in, the ones who live messily on our borders are always a challenge. They can appear intimidating, they upset the tidy patterns of our lives. They fill a sky full of birdsong with the jarring roar of an engine being tested to its limits - and the limits of the neighbours round about. Characters are great in stories; they are not so easy to live with. 

It took me a long time to get to know the man. The man behind the voice and the bluster, the big personality in the big body. Who would yell out to you when you were so far down the street that you could barely see him. A quickly learnt that his questions were not meant to be answered. They were statements that could unlock a wealth of sometimes difficult to follow. A lifetime of being looked down upon, being treated as a joke and the butt of everyone's humour shapes the heart and spirit of a person. He had incredibly thick skin - not his creased and weather-browned epidermis but a resilience - or perhaps simply an acceptance. But I found he also could be hurt very easily. 

An important lesson I learnt from him was about the give and take of everyday conversation. A soon realised that more often than not, he would always try to end a conversation or greeting with a humorous remark or bon mot. Admittedly, quite often they were not entirely humorous or easy to follow, but I recognised in him a strategy that I had also learnt to deal with the awkwardness I felt (and feel) in social interactions. Try to use humour. Be funny, let them leave with a laugh. Here was a man cut from the same cloth as me. Our first interactions took on the aspect of a rather strange jousting match. Each trying to have the last word, the last joke, the last laugh. Only it wasn't about laughter. Sometimes I read irritation and annoyance in his eyes and body. Other times, it was more sadness and defeat - or even confusion. Like watching a stand-up comedian dry up in the middle of a gig. 

That was the best lesson he taught me. Sometimes, quote often in fact, laughter at another person's joke is a much better and more precious gift than to leave them with a joke. It took me while, to unlearn my defence strategy and to be brave enough not to have the last word, to laugh, to give a spontaneous thumbs up, or affirming 'yeah - you're right there.' And it gave me so much joy too. Watching him, still smiling and shaking his head, turn from his gate and walk back up to his work sheds. Someone laughing WITH him not AT him. WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG??!!

 

I wrote this a few years back. 

The man with the voice wipes his nose with the back of his hand. He always wipes his nose with the back of his hands. They are good hands; hands that can be turned to almost anything. When our old boiler was dragged out of the kitchen, weeping oily water onto the linoleum, he came with his sack barrow (“it’ll shift anything, this will”) and took it home with him. Later we took down the old metal window frames and propped them up in his front garden like tepees made of glass. He knew a man who’d pay good money for stuff like that. It was for what he called his ‘Me Mum’s Fund’. It was to pay for his mother who had been taken into a nursing home in the nearby town.

He looks down the village street. A damp chilly wind eddies and buffets the drear sky. He scratches his head, “She kept saying that she wanted to go. You know, to be with me dad, an’ that.” But he leaves unsaid the aching truth we both know; he didn’t find it easy letting her go. “A few weeks ago, she had a blockage. She couldn’t go to the toilet. It just kept coming out of her mouth." He shakes his head, as if to fling away a memory that won't leave. "No. No it’s better she’s gone.” We stare down at the ground. A circle has been completed – he has cared and protected the one who, for so long, cared for and protected him, wiped his school boy tears and patched his skinned knees. It strikes me that, like the hawthorn, the petals of love can withstand the severest weathers.

They had been together and said their goodbyes. “I’ was yester- afternoon when she slipped away. She wanted to be with dad. It weren’t right her being on her own like that. When I got home, on the radio they played mum and dad’s favourite song –twice.” His face creases into a smile. “It was like dad was telling me, ‘don’ worry boy. I’ve got her now...’”

He doesn’t say anything more.

He cannot say anything more...

... nor does he need to.

Love and hawthorn blossoms do not need words.