The Greek myths tell us that there are times when the gods come down from Olympus to walk amongst mortals. We had a very similar experience when, on a sunny day in late March, David Johns came to visit us and record an episode for his canal-based vlog Cruising the Cut.
11th May, Wednesday
“The carp are spawning!
May rain casting rings on thrashed water,
The flash of fin,
And a watery thunder
That rumbles along the side of the hull.
I lie in the half-light of dawn,
Suspended above the silty jungles
Filled with so much life.”
Erica ready and waiting for David's visit
Cruising the Cut
David Johns of Cruising the Cut
You can view David’s episode on Nighttime on Still Waters (via YouTube) here: 265. Evoking the spirit of pirate radio - on a canal.
Wooden Writer's Box and Portable Desk
My wooden writer's box and portable desk
For information about the wooden writer’s box: Blue Star Crafts.
I have the smaller A5 version of the Messenger Wood Box. There are a number of companies producing this type of box. Another popular maker is: Galen Leather and their Portable Writer’s Box and Desk.
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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In the spring sunshine of an end of March morning David Johns from Cruising the Cut Vlog came to visit. It was to be the final day of an unseasonably dry and warm spell. The sky was blue but whispy, horse's-hair clouds warning of incoming weather fronts had begun to be replaced by thicker midlevel banks and a playful wind was beginning to kick its heels.
I have to admit to having quite a few qualms about the visit. When David contacted me at the beginning of January about the possibility of featuring Nighttime on Still Waters in one of his vlogs, I was initially very divided about it. It had nothing to do with David or Cruising the Cut, I have an immense amount of respect for both. And David, certainly did not put me under any pressure. It was just that Nighttime on Still Waters is about the love (and power) of audio worlds, spoken words, sounds, a shared space in the night of a complicated word. It's about, in some way, taking a break from the frenetic visual world, where our eyes are constantly assailed with images, it's about finding space to see things more deeply than simply a processed signal from an optic nerve.
When I started, I had always thought I would politely refuse offers that would involve either the Erica or myself appearing on video or print - although, to be absolutely truthful I really thought that there wasn't the remotest possibility of anyone being interested enough in the podcast to offer in the first place! I wanted to avoid being responsible for the cognitive disorientation I encountered as a seven year old when I found out that the dashing Tony Archer from Radio 4's the Archers, looked like my Uncle Bert or that the person who played little Shula Archer was in her 30s! Besides, I like being anonymous, that most of the people amongst whom I live and work have no idea that I podcast. I deliberately refer to what I do as 'narrowcasting' - although it pains some podcasters who see the internet as a field ripe for plucking and the avenue to stardom. This is niche, its not for everyone, but you and I like it, and that's enough for me.
At one point I had even thought of using a pseudonym for the Erica. However, the podcasts were already underway. As I said in the interview, one of the main reasons I began the podcast was simply as an audio journal to keep family and friends informed about our life - and they would have thought I was completely mad if I started changing boat names and things! Besides, the name, provides an important centring connection between the boat and mum, which I felt - and still do feel, functions as a helpful reference point.
And so, when David contacted me, I was a divided soul. What tipped the balance, apart from the fact that I felt I could trust David, was that I had put together the noswpod website and - after a lot of heart searching had included a couple of photographs of me in it. I was also really touched that David felt that there might be enough things to include to sustain a vlog. After talking it through with Donna, we said yes and so we tentatively set the date for around the end of March and springtime.
A couple of days before his arrival we gave each other a good haircut with Penny's dog clippers. After all, if we are going to be rubbing shoulders with the YouTube, Boat-Vlog, Greats, we might as well go for the full Hollywood experience and style it out. Besides, a visit from David Johns deserves nothing less. Penny gloomily watched the entire scene with a very long face, appalled at such wanton misuse of her grooming equipment, as she always did at hair cutting time.
Earlier, on the appointed day, we'd all gone as a family for a walk along the towpath. Penny was finding getting around more of a trial. We took it slow and easy, Penny reacquainting herself with old haunts that were once so familiar to her. Her nose snuffling new growth and old stones. Ducks on the bank, dozed in the sunshine. Moorhens scuffling and splashing, turning the water and the air around them into liquid diamonds. A haze hung low on the canal. It was a golden silver sort of day.
There's a strangeness about meeting someone you know through video or film. A sort of surprise that they look the same, but also out of place, like seeing your teacher in a karaoke competition - something, I should say, which has never happened to me, so I have no idea why that example popped into my mind. Or perhaps, it's more like I imagine it is how the ancient swineherds felt when the Greek gods appeared amongst them - like 'Oh, I know you so well' and 'that's really odd, you are real!' all rolled into one.
First thing to say - David is far better at gadgetry and digital communication than I am. A few years back, my third years watched me amazed as I wept as I tried to follow their instructions on how to set up a WhatsApp group...thing. David texted me to say he'd arrived and by the time I had located the 'g' for 'I'll come and Get you' he was already down on the other side of the canal. No doubt my text arrived on his phone as he was driving home!
I went over to see if he needs a hand with his equipment just as he was nimbly vaulting over the sheep-field gate down by the alder carr at the edge of cut, a compact but bulging bag and a folded spider of a tripod under one arm. And there, again, was that curious Janus hybrid of someone you know so well and yet is also a total stranger. We had watched him before we had even bought a boat. Actually, Donna had been watching Cruising the Cut before we had even thought about thinking of maybe living on a boat. When we did, it was his vlog and the Foxes that provided the initial information. The research compass that provides the map and tells you what sort of questions and the vocabulary that you need in order to dig deeper.
And so, like so many, we have known David, in a kind of unknowing way, for a long time. He had in a peculiar way become part of our lives - 'Oh, I think David did a vlog on that!', 'I'm sure Cruising the Cut has been here'. Of all the vloggers, I think that is why for so many of us, his news that he was selling his boat to move on land, hit so deeply. It felt like we were losing a reassuring presence. A presence that never took himself seriously, and often let us laugh at his mistakes so that we could avoid them, but who also had a gentle authority that we felt we could trust. It is also why it has been such good news that the move does not mean turning his back on the waterways.
So it is strange meeting someone who feels like an old friend but whom you have never met. All the points of connection and reference run just one way. Am I being too overly familiar? Or am I over compensating so that I am not being too overly familiar? I know his sense of humour; he does not know mine. I can joke about 'cheese sandwiches' (although, we don't), but what can he joke about?
I am sure David is used to this and he was the epitome of warm-hearted politeness.
I should also make clear at this point, that the David you get on Cruising the Cut is exactly the David you get off camera. There's that boyish sense about him that I recognise from his vlog. I don't mean that at all derogatively, as if he is immature or, in some way, not fully formed. No, far from it. He is a consummate professional, skilled in what he does, and someone who either by nature or by profession can read people well. No, what I mean by boyishness, is a hint of infectious enthusiasm and fun. It's the coiled spring of life and energy of someone who has never lost their curiosity and interest in the world around. A sense of aliveness that is contagious.
He is also someone who is good at his craft - and when I say good, I mean GOOD! His journalistic training is not just in evidence in the finished product uploaded to YouTube. He works with people so well. Explaining what is needed and why with sensitivity and clarity; guiding and supporting them, and most of all, knowing when to step back and leave the picture.
I had always imagined that producing a well produced vlog entailed a lot of work. It was partially the reason why I didn't create a vlog of my own. But I hadn't realised how much work it entailed! I have to say, my admiration for you vloggers has grown considerably. It's not just the equipment - all I do is step up my laptop and microphone! Its working out what shots are needed and from what angles. Doing multiple takes of the same thing from different angles. How that is all put together at the editing stage is beyond me completely.
Also, how do you manage to talk coherently in front of a camera?
It's like, as soon as the camera was pointed at me, all rational thought, ability to string a sentence together, even to retain some semblance as a human left me completely. It was totally appalling. It was like I was locked inside my head and I could only sit there in paralysis while I heard my voice engaged in some weird stream of consciousness. My brain was working with a slipping clutch and I could do nothing about it. All the while David silently nodded encouragingly and smiled his reassuring smile, and assured me that, that particular gnostic ramble could be edited out.
I was so worried about the interview and convinced that the only useable part if it was that 'I live on a boar', that the next day I emailed over to David a lot of other material so that if he wanted to persist with this desperate endeavour he could use instead of the interview, but that I also could quite well understand if he simply wanted to retain his dignity and walk away from this whole sorry saga.
The fact that he managed to put something together in which I not only have been saved from appearing as a jabbering fool, but has garnered interest in the podcast is a testament to his skills in salvaging silk purses out of particularly grotesque sows' ears.
Thank you David!
Links to the episode as well as to David's channel can be found in the programme notes.