This episode is especially for our youngest regular listener to the podcast, Rory, who had her 6th birthday a couple of weeks ago. So tonight, we explore the narrowboat Erica and what it is like to live on a boat, and then, especially for Rory listen to a story about another little girl who met some rather strange and wonderful people.
29th September, Thursday.
“The reservoir is grey and slabby today,
Crests form on wavelets the colour of old ice.
Ghosting veils of low cloud sweep mizzly rain
On a wind that lifts the gulls and redeems my world
With their cries.”
This episode is dedicated to Rory Braso (aged 6) who lives in Massachusetts, USA – and, of course, her dad, MJ.
The winged gargoyle who guards our books and who has promised to also look after Rory's special book.
The study (in the stern) and their steps (our 'front door')
The barometer beside the bookcase (don't forget to tap it gently) and one of the porthole windows.
A cheeky face at the duck hatch!
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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29th September, Thursday
“The reservoir is grey and slabby today,
Crests form on wavelets the colour of old ice.
Ghosting veils of low cloud sweep mizzly rain
On a wind that lifts the gulls and redeems my world
With their cries.”
This is the narrowboat Erica narrowcasting to you under a wild, storm-washed night
It’s lovely to see you and it’s always good to welcome you onboard; and tonight is a very special night as we have an extra special visitor, Rory Bruso.
Rory is six years old and she lives in Massachusetts, in America, with her dad called MJ. MJ has been listening to this podcast almost since episode 1. I don't think, in real life, many people call him MJ, because his real name is Rory’s dad. Anyway, Rory, your dad told me that you also like to listen to the podcasts and that they help you go to sleep.
So, I thought, this week, we would do something even better and even though you are miles away across the dark star-filled skies and oceans filled whales and starfish and galumphing polar-bears, we’ll see if we can weave at bit of magic and, tonight, you join us all on board the narrowboat Erica.
One of the things to remember when you want to get onboard a narrowboat like Erica is that the front door is at the back… and the doors at the front are really our back doors – how great is that? Although we don’t call it the back, we call it the stern or rear. So come inside. We have a big canopy over the stern door which makes an extra room at the rear or back of the boat and a good place to put wet coats and boots. There’s a warm pair of slippers toasting by the stove fire, so while you take your wet shoes off, I will slide the hatch back so that we can open the doors.
There we go.
Right, be careful while we climb down into the boat. The ladder has three steps and it is safer to climb down sailor-wise facing the ladder. I’ll just close up the doors and slide back the hatch to keep the warm air inside and you can have an explore.
Each boat has a voice, sometimes you can hear it, at others you just feel it. They creak, and bang, click and hum. In a way, it’s their song, reminding you that everything is ok, they’re there, holding you carefully in their handlike hulls. On stormy days, the boat is constantly talking. At first, it’s a bit worrying and you think something is wrong, that things are breaking or we might sink, but after a while, it is rather comforting. On rough days, the creaking groan of the fenders rubbing against the bank tell you that your ropes are still tight and holding. So don’t worry about the noises you might hear. If ever we had to move back into a house, I would miss them.
Right, now. This little room in the stern, where we’re standing, is what we call our study.
Here beside the stove by the steps is where I do the podcasts and talk to you in the night’s darkness and my voice travels right across the salt-grey ocean waves to reach you, where you live, in Massachusetts. This is the chair I sit in – it creaks and clicks a bit. I bet sometimes you can hear it when I am talking!
Over there is the bookcase containing all our special books. However, have you noticed? On the second shelf near the little grey stone winged gargoyle that is reading a book that there is a little space. I knew there was a reason for it. Now I know, it’s Rory’s space to keep your special book. When you live aboard a small boat you have to make decisions about what really are your favourite things. So, if you can only put one of your books here, which one would it be? It’s not easy, is it? You think about it and later on, we’ll put it there – and the winged gargoyle will keep watch over it.
Ah! You’ve spotted the funny looking instrument fixed to the cabin wall! It looks a bit like a banjo without any strings, doesn’t it? It is called a barometer. It measures the air pressure and is what I use for the weather log at the end of every podcast to record the barometric (or air) pressure. That big silver dial with numbers and curly writing on it tells me whether we are going to have calm days or stormy ones. All you need to do is to tap the glass – like that – and watch the needle. If it goes to the left (falls), or anticlockwise, it usually means we’re going to have wet and windy weather. If it moves to the right (rises) or clockwise, that usually means the weather is going to be quite calm and dry. The thing about barometers is that they are almost impossible to pass without giving them a tap. I think it must be the law or something. So, whenever you are here, don’t forget to give the barometer a tap.
I like it here, especially when it is dark and the wind is howling and the boat is creaking. It feels very warm and safe.
Tell you what, why don’t we put over there, next to where you are standing and close beside the stove and the little desk with the book shelves, a nice comfy arm chair. The sort of chair that you can curl up in, and snuggle down like a harvest mouse? And then, anytime something worries you and you can’t sleep, or you feel all wrong and the world seems all a bit sideways and uncomfortable and annoying – it can happen sometimes, of if you just want a little bit of time completely on your own you can close your eyes, climb down these steps and curl up in the chair. You can read your book beside the winged gargoyle, which will always be here, or you can watch the coals glow red and listen to the rain outside beat and drum upon the cabin roof, or perhaps, if it is frosty cold outside, listen to the owls hooting under a brittle starry sky, or just simply stand on it to look of the porthole by the barometer, at the moon rippling and dancing on the water outside.
You can have a key to let you in and I’ll hide it so that no one else can find it. It can be under the sandy roots of the owl-chapelled oak on the hill without name, or I can put it in a little waterproof bag among the reeds and rushes where the heron stands on one leg for hours and hours, or perhaps we can put it by the badger holes under the prickly hawthorn thicket, where the rabbits play just as the sleepy sun begins to climb into the sky. Who do you think will be the best guardian of the key? The wise old owl, the silent, secret keeping, all-seeing heron, the snuffling badger who knows and keeps watch over all the night-folk? Have you decided? Ok, whisper it really softly in my ear so that even the willow can’t hear. Oh, I think that is a great choice! Later tonight, when everyone is asleep, I will go outside and hide it there and only you and I will know it is there. And promise, if ever you think you need to be somewhere that your worries cannot find you, you can get your key and sit in your chair beside the stove and the wind and the rain will blow and wash your worries back into the night.
But before we settle down, let’s have an explore the rest of the boat. If you go down the winding corridor in front of you, have a look at the little room on your left. That’s where our toilet is, and the wash basin and shower. Oh, while I remember, when you turn on the taps you might keep hearing a funny noise.
That’s the sound our water pump makes. That is because we need to carry all our water with us where ever we go. Right at the very front of the boat – some people call it the pointy bit – but it is usually called the ‘bow’ or ‘foredeck’ – is a huge water tank that we have to fill every week with a long green snaky hose that hiss and sometimes spits water at us. The noise then pumps the water from the tank and up into the taps.
Now on your right is a bunk cabin, where our bed is. It’s a really comfy bed, but it is a long way up, isn’t it? That’s because we can use all the space underneath to stow all our stuff away. In the winter it is full of all our summer clothes and in the summer, it is filled with all our winter clothes. Besides, being up high also helps to keep us warm on very cold days.
If you go on a little further the corridor ends and we are in the kitchen. Beside us is the duck hatch. Instead of a window, it is like two hinged little doors halfway up the side of the boat. It is called a duck hatch because you can lean out and feed the ducks. It is a good height, especially for swans, who can poke their heads into the boat if they are feeling cheeky! When it is warm, the duck hatch is always open and we watch bats swooping low over the boat in the summer, and the geese and crows in the winter.
All the inside of the boat is made of wood which makes it really warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And, when it is sunny, if you look up at the ceiling, you can see the patterns that the water makes, like shimmering veils. Sometimes white, sometimes silver, sometimes at dawn or dusk, rosy.
We are now in the living part of the boat with a sofa, our main (larger) stove, a hinged table that we can flip up, put a removeable leg under it, for meal times and when we want an extra work table. Most evenings you will find us here.
There’s just one more part of the boat I want you to see. Between the stove on your left and the record player on the right are two wooden steps and two little doors. These are the bow doors. If we open them, we are now at the very front of the boat and in what is a bit like a tent. There is another hinged table and, in the summer, we can roll up the sides and have meals out here, or sometimes I do some writing out here while watching the crows and the ducks go about their busy lives, and the sky slowly turn colour. It’s a good place to sit and think and dream.
So, what do you think of the narrowboat Erica?
When you live on a boat, like books, you can’t bring everything with you. Therefore, we had to think very carefully about what we could bring with us; bringing with us only the things we really needed.
However, we each have a wooden box, which we keep in the lockers above our bed and in which we could put our very own special treasures – things we didn’t need, but would make us sad if we left them behind. This is mine. It has lots of tins and bottles of things whose smell reminds me of nice places and people. So, if I gave you your own empty box in which to put the very precious things, what would you put in it? You don’t have to decide now, but think about the things that make you smile?
It’s rainy and dark outside. All the ducks are hunched beside the water in little groups for the night. They don’t mind the rain and they don’t even really mind the dark. The wise old oak on the hill is swaying his branches in the wind and on one particularly large branch (so he is out of the rain) sits the stout figure of an owl, with two big amber eyes – as silent as you like.
I think it is a good time to give the stove another riddle and to make the cabin warm with its red glow, for you to snuggle up in the big comfy chair, listen to the wind outside, while I tell you a story.
It’s a story about another little girl. She lives many miles away to the north. Not on a boat, but in a big bustling city, with big grey buildings and cobble stones and lots of alley ways that echo your voice if you shout and puddles that sparkle with all the lights from the shop windows and in which you can splash. Her name is Caroline. I met her once, although she had, by that time, grown up, and so I know all of these things in my story are true.
There was once a little girl who lived a long way away from where I live, but a little bit closer to where you live. Her name was Caroline, which is as good a name as many and far better than most. Whatever the weather, come summer or winter, Caroline always wore a yellow summer dress (with little black spots and two large pockets in the front) and red rubber gumboots that squeaked and shone. For, even though she lived in a big city with cobblestones and roofs that reached right up to the clouds, you never knew when you would find a big puddle in which to jump or a gutter in which you could find the feathers of birds, and marbles, and skeleton leaves (that looked as if they’d been etched from shining brass), or used bus tickets and diamonds.
And all year round, wearing her spotted summer dress and her red rubber boots, she ran at full tilt through those granite streets. Thwap, thwap, thwap went her big rubber red gumboots. Jab, jab, jab went her sharp little elbows that whirred like knitting needles at her side. Pump, pump, pump went her scabbed and plastered knees. And because Caroline liked adventures, she always had plasters and scabs on her knees. In fact, I don’t think anyone had ever seen Caroline not running. Every day, the old ladies on the park bench would see her run past – thwap, thwap, thwap; jab, jab, jab; pump, pump, pump. “My, these young folk today are always in a rush”, they would say to each other and then they would get up and have their perms re-permed and pass round a paper bag of mint imperials.
Well, one day the city shook itself and decided that it had had enough of the winter with its bitter winds and grey skies and that today it would be spring. And so having looked out of the window, Caroline slipped four Jaffa Cakes and a Crunchie bar into one of the pockets in the front of her spotted summer dress, closed the door of the little flat in which she lived and off she ran to the park to look for blossom and humming birds that had wings the colour of the foil that wrap the bars of Cadbury's chocolate and for any treasures she could keep in a glass jam-jar that stood her bedroom windowsill. The trees all looked new. Their bony brown branches were tinged with green and on one or two trees deep pink and white blossom buds could be seen. The fountains tingled with light and the city seemed to smile. Caroline sat for five minutes on a park bench, her feet swinging in the air. The old ladies went passed, pushing their shopping baskets on wheels and they said to each other, “My, these young folk today can eat Jaffa Cakes so quickly.”
Caroline was just about to start her second Jaffa Cake when she noticed that coming towards her was the bent figure of a man. He wore an old-fashioned suit, with flapping tails, that was a few sizes too small for him and which was darned at the knees and elbows. And he was so tall he had to walk with a stoop, as if the sky were too low for him to properly stand up straight. The spring sun shone making the halo of hair around his bald head glisten like spun gold. Behind one ear was a black feather quill, its nib stained with scrivener’s ink. And around him blew a cloud of dust and tiny winged insects so that it looked as if he walked in a perpetual golden mist. He had a long thin walking cane and long thin fingers, which also were stained with ink and dust. He saw Caroline sitting on the park bench in the sun and walked over to her.
“Excuse me, young madam,” he said in a voice that sounded like an old church organ that no longer worked – it was more breath than voice, thought Caroline as she looked into his pale, long, thin face. He smelt of spilt ink and old sun light.
“Yes?” she said politely.
“Palimpsest,” the Man wheezed. “Do you know what a palimpsest is?”
“I am afraid I don’t.”
“Well I do,” said the man. “Oh yes, palimpsest is a very good word, very useful to know. Oh yes, bless me, a very good word indeed. Say it out loud, little madam, and let it roll round your mouth and play with your tongue. P..A..L..I..M..P..S..E..S..T.”
“Well I don’t know it,” Caroline retorted giving her boots a little annoyed bang together.
“Well you should. Socrates didn’t know either. Goodness gracious me, no young lady, I should say not. No, no, young lady, I certainly think that he did not - and look what happened to him."
*Note to listeners*
Socrates - Lived in a place called Ancient Greece (which I believe is quite near Modern Greece), although some scholars argue that he lived in Antiquity; which is an altogether different place and suffers badly from rain. Socrates was known as the 'wisest man in Greece' because he once said, "I don't know anything." Which just goes to show how low the 'wisdom bar' was set in those days. I know just about EVERYTHING, but no one has ever called me wise. It just goes to show how much harder it is to be wise and have statues made of you today.
The thin old ancient man took a large gold pocket watch out of his fob pocket, looked at it, wound it 37 and a bit times with his long ink-stained fingers and then handed it to Caroline.
“Thank you!” she said, delighted by this strange man’s strange gift. “It’s lovely.”
“It doesn’t work,” said the man simply and then he asked, “What does it taste of? Can you taste the time?”
“I don’t think so,” said Caroline, a little perplexed, and she snuffled her nose with the back of her hand. It was a most wonderful and GINORMOUS snuffle. The long thin man’s eyes widened into saucers, for he had never seen such a big snuffle made with such a little nose. Caroline then gave the shiny metal case a little lick. But her tongue was still all orangey and chocolaty from the Jaffa Cakes.
“No, I can’t taste time,” she said.
“Ah, that’s because it’s lost its taste for time,” the man replied, his eyes still as wide as moons (well, I did say that it was a very big snuffle), “A pocket watch is of no use once it had lost its taste for time. That’s why it doesn’t work. But then again, nor do I. So, I suppose neither of us should complain.”
“What’s a palimpsest?” asked Caroline who was not really following a word that the man was saying, but felt that she should still be polite after such a magnificent gift (even though it didn’t work).
“A palimpsest?” the man repeated, as if for the first time, “Well it is certainly not a tabla rasa, dear me, that’s for sure.” And his body heaved in huge spasms of wheezing laughter.
And with that the man stood upright and he walked off clicking his long thin stick. He had just got to the place where the path curves behind a large bush of hydrangeas when he stopped and waved his black cane in the air.
Caroline gave the pocket watch another little experimental lick, huffed on its big friendly glass face and slipped it in her pocket (the one on the other side of her Jaffa Cake pocket).
The sun continued to smile and the spring breeze giggled among the leaves and bushes of the park. In the emerald cave of the horse chestnut tree, which overshadowed Caroline's bench, a blackbird sang. Its tune danced like the tumbling water in the fountain. When its song had finished, it soared into the air over her head and a jet-black feather from its wing, fluttered down in a lazy spiral and landed at her feet. Pushing the last little bit of Jaffa Cake into her mouth, Caroline bent down to pick it up and it was then that she noticed that the feather, glowing silky black, pointed – like an arrow – to a shiny, silver, brand spanking new, 50 pence piece.
*Note to listeners
For listeners who do not live in Great Britain, a 50 pence piece is a heptagonal coin; that is, it has seven sides and is exactly a half of a one pound coin – although it is bigger and has surprising pictures on one side – as Caroline has found. As such it is a thing to be treasured and sits very nicely in the bottom of a pocket in a polka-dotted yellow summer dress.
The coin felt smooth and warm and, although on one side (which coin collector’s call its ‘obverse’) it had the Queen’s head (which one would expect) on the other (the ‘reverse’) was the figure of a little girl caught in mid racing-stride, dressed in a summer dress and gumboots – and very sharp, jabbing elbows.
‘How odd,’ thought Caroline.
‘How wonderful.’ And she put the coin in her pocket, with the pocket watch, while she thought about how best to spend it.
After some thought and an immense amount of frowning she decided, what could be better than to ride round the spring city in a bus – particularly if that bus had springy, itchy seats next to windows upon which you could huff and draw smiley faces? And so off ran Caroline, thwap, thwap, jab, jab, past the old ladies and onto to the bus stop.
The bus was driven by a man who took pride in his bus and the shiny buttons on his bus driver’s uniform. He had a large white moustache and eyes made of water. Caroline couldn’t quite decide if he looked more like a walrus or an elephant. She climbed into the bus. It smelt wonderfully of bus tickets, and seats, and travel, and adventure. Putting her shiny 50 pence piece on the little counter beside the driver’s seat, she asked in a polite but firm voice, “A 50 pence ticket, please.”
The driver sucked in his moustache and looked at her through his watery eyes. Caroline thought that the driver might be deaf and had not heard her request, so she said in a voice that was still polite, but a little firmer, “A 50 pence ticket please, driver.”
The bus driver peered at the coin and then Caroline with his large watery eyes and said, “Where, young madam, would you like to go?”
“I want to have a 50 pence piece worth of a bus ride please,” answered Caroline.
“This is most h’regular, young lady, most h’regular. I need to know where you want to go.”
“I want to go for 50 pence worth,” replied Caroline, scratching her knee.
“Well,” said the bus driver, pursing his lips and making his moustache bristle like a bottle brush, “I have never known such a thing. I take people to all sorts of places; to the museum and the art gallery, to the big stores with windows full of bright colours. I take people to the dentist, to their aunts and to the big park with the boating pond. I even take people to their connubial diversions, if your young ears will pardon my directness, but I have never taken a young miss in gumboots to 50 pences.”
“Well,” retorted Caroline, “I do not know anything about connubial diversions, but I do know that I want to have a 50 pence worth of a bus ride.”
The bus driver fumbled with his ticket machine while sucking on his moustache and his eyes looked like huge oceans full of fish and weeping mermaids. “It’s all very h’regular,” he mumbled, “but if you promise not to huff too much on me windows, I’ll let you ride just this once.”
And with that, he reached down under his little counter, beside his seat, and pulled out a large old-fashioned microscope. It was wonderful and gleamed of polished brass and smelt of metal and strange chemicals. The bus driver slid Caroline’s 50 pence piece under it and he peered through the lens with one eye all scrunched up.
“That’s very old,” Caroline remarked, carefully studying the instrument.
“H’it might be, missie,” replied the driver not looking up. “The bus company supplies us with new, h’electrically operated electron scanning microscopes with two eye-pieces and a four foot length of h’electric cabling and plug, but I has no use for h’it.” He paused while he adjusted the big brass burled knob at the side. “H’it’s not electrons that I wants to h’examine. H’electrons, as a rule, don’t cause the problems.” He looked up and gave Caroline a look that suggested very much where he thought the problems usually did lie.
“Well,” said Caroline, not at all put out by the man’s glare, “I like it. It smells just as a microscope should smell.”
“H’exactly!” retorted the driver.
Caroline was on the point of turning to walk up the aisle to an empty seat near the window that looked particularly springy and itchy when the bus driver cried out in alarm.
“Hold you there young miss!! Most h’regular this is, most MOST h’regular,” The driver waved Caroline’s 50 pence piece in the air above his head.
“An’ what may you call this?” he demanded showing Caroline the reverse side upon which the running figure of the girl in rubber boots and summer dress could be clearly seen.
“I don’t know,” She replied honestly, “It was there when I got it.”
“Well, I have never seen anything of the like,” The bus driver scratched his head and puffed out his moustache.
“But it does have the Queen’s head on the other side,” Caroline added helpfully.
The bus driver looked at it.
“It has to be alright if it has the Queen’s head on it, doesn’t it?”
“W…e…e…l…l…” The driver was still unsure.
“Oh please!” begged Caroline.
“Most h’regular that’s what I call it, but just this once and mind you mind your huffing.” The driver relented. And, at that, Caroline happily slipped into the seat by the window.
“Hold tight,” called out the driver, as the bus pulled away into the traffic.
Caroline's real adventures are just about to start, but do you know something? I think you would be the much better one to tell them.
So, let’s close your eyes and join Caroline on a particularly wonderful bus...
This is the narrowboat Erica signing off for the night.
Wishing you a very restful, peaceful, night filled with the happiest of dreams.