Nighttime on Still Waters

Today I held back time

October 30, 2022 Richard Goode Episode 101
Nighttime on Still Waters
Today I held back time
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This weekend the clocks change (in the UK). These small markers in our calendars can touch us in deep ways. Join me tonight as we stop the clock, step out of time, and savour together the unspent, untouched hour as the world around us sleeps on.  

Journal entry:

28th October, Friday

“Wild winds race ragged
 As starlings sport and shoal.

Golden leaves, sherry warm,
 Stream head height across the canal.
 A flash of brave blue. A kingfisher
 Swims the leafy cataracts of air.”


Episode Information:

In this episode I read a couple of short extracts from Susan Hill’s (1983) The Magic Apple Tree published by Penguin Books. 

Photographs of the clock I used to wind and the words for ‘Today I held back time’ can be found on the website. 

For more information about Nighttime on Still Waters

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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

Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River Weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded to 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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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


28th October, Friday

“Wild winds race ragged
 As starlings sport and shoal.

Golden leaves, sherry warm,
 Stream head height across the canal.
 A flash of brave blue. A kingfisher
 Swims the leafy cataracts of air.”



It's a mild, breezy night; leaf-blown and peaceful. The moon has dipped below the horizon It's now a night as moonless and starless as any of the crow black nights of Llareggub, under Milkwood. This is the NB Erica narrowcasting into the dark. 

I am so glad you have come. Come inside awhile and welcome aboard.



October is drawing to a close and its closing brings with it, old ceremonies brought back again – yes commodified, packaged and commercial, but for all that, point to deeper ideas, deeper patterns and cycles of thought which never quite go away. The old yearly markers, thin times, points of collective memory and reflection of stories from which we have come adrift, and lost contact with, but continue to bob and ebb in our social and individual consciousness. Thin times of the year, that remind us of something, even if we cannot quite remember what and whose nebulous images have long since lost their definition.

This time of year always throws me back to my childhood. The longer evenings – looking out of the window across the valley to the lights sprinkled on the hill opposite us, winding up Tom’s Lane, Primrose Hill, sparkling starlight white, and sodium gold. This encroachment of night into my waking world presaged great events, the arrival of the fairground on the common – smelling sweet with candyfloss and trodden straw, and sticky with toffee-apples, and pulsed with noise and lights; scavenging for conkers amid a blizzard of leaves, the clocks changing, Halloween, bonfire night, the slow build up to Christmas and then New Year. I don’t know why, but these fixed points of autumn, these autumn rites, always had a much bigger emotional impact than those of spring and summer (Easter, birthdays). Somehow, these events were invested with deeper, more visually powerful, imagery that rang in my imagination a strange and distant music that captivated me.

marked much more than the turning of the year, but somehow formed significant chapter headings for helical flow of my becoming.  

These old ceremonies link me back to my pasts

And it all began with the falling of colourful leaves, just as it is happening right now. Sycamore, and chestnut, as large as dinner plates and painted with such colour as beautiful as any Chinese lacquer-work I had seen, fluttering birch and then ash tree tiddlers, lemon and lime green, set swimming on the blustering breeze, oak, gone woody and brittle. And the smell of earth and leaf mould, and mist, and wet bark, and flamed with fungus and the tang of blue woodsmoke.

There's a passage from Susan Hill's The Magic Apple Tree that expresses this so well.


I look around here, and I wonder what the seven year old me would have thought of all this. The daily visits by the swans – as faithful as spaniels, as punctual as collies, as focused as Labradors. They even wag their tails when greeted – although I am not convinced the message conveyed is the same.

The heaving autumn skies arrowed by starlings, roistered by crows and jackdaws, harried by magpies and set afire by goldfinch. Skies with the busyness of this time of year. Resolute flights of ducks – purposeful – deliberate, beautifully economic in the routes they take. The fluid chevron sky-dances of geese, smoky and lithe. The fox now blends perfectly with her russet-red homeland, her coat the colour of dried bracken and just as wild, ghosts around the field edges, alert and as silent as velvet, unconcerned with the sharp chit-chit warning of invisible blackbirds. Rabbits hop, pause and dart. Sheep nuzzle the grass that, in summer, was thigh high. Kingfishers throw javelins of dragon-fly blue lightning down the length of the canal-side. I’ve not seen the herons for a while, but then I have not been to my normal haunts.

Oh, the white duck has been back.

Half-term has seen a busyness to the canal – although the strong winds and the heavy squalls of rains have curtailed activity to some extent. Walkers tend to be of the ‘serious’ variety now, clad in full foul-weather gear and sporting bulging rucksacks and walking poles. Rather than the little family affairs, out for an afternoon stroll, pushing buggies and ‘just walking to the next corner… oh, alright, we’ll go to the next one and then turn round.”

Undoubtedly, the biggest bit of news here was one of our boating neighbours giving birth to a beautiful little girl, Vivienne. Congratulation to Kayleigh and Chris and really warm welcome into the world for little Vivienne.





I began by describing how this time of year always puts me in mind of my past, perhaps its also something about being unwell that does that too. Remembering being tucked up in bed, thermometers with silver threads of mercury that rose and fell, being thrust under your tongue (don’t bite it!). Propped up on piles of cushions and pillows. The heap of old comics and annuals, that teetered on the ocean swell of my bed. The smell of hot water bottles and Famel’s  Cough Syrup – which boasted creosote as an active ingredient and it was worth getting ill just to lick every last drop off the big serving spoon on which it was ladled. Or the sharp, oily scent of ear drops that, some years seemed to almost nightly be dropped into my aching ears. Listening to the sound of Mum downstairs in the kitchen, the whine of the hoover, the ever-present radio.

It’s funny, how many memories ‘being ill’ can conjure. It’s not that I was ill often, though I did have trouble with my ears when I was young. And, the thing is I can’t ever remember really feeling ill, just the special feeling that being ill created. I can even remember vividly some of the hallucinations I had when I had measles at about 4yrs old, but I can’t remember what it felt like to be ill with measles. Although having contracted chickenpox in my late twenties, I imagine that it was far from pleasant!

Perhaps that is why my thoughts have been gravitating to my childhood so much. Partly the time of year, but also partly the feeling of just wanting to sink into bed, with a pile of comics and to listen, unconcerned, to the world continuing around me. The familiar roaring pain in my ears and side of face, that eventually culminated in a particularly painful abscess in my jaw also helped to draw my mind back to those days of eardrops and visits to the doctor to see why my ears were so painful in the village surgery that was beside the fishmonger’s shop where the hearing-impaired fishmonger used to sing-song our orders back to us before wrapping it up in sheets of white paper. My sister and I used to practice his ‘half a pound of coley?’ when we would get back home.

Whatever the reason, this time seems to exert a powerful hold on many. Susan Hill (again from The Magic Apple Tree) writes how, despite being told that she shift her affections to spring and summer, found it impossible to do. 

She writes:


And these rites of autumn, strange customary markers and fixed points - that became so much more significant than their origins still flare brightly in the orbit of my years. It has never been about parties or dressing up or meeting up, the embers of a bonfire, hissing in the drizzle of midnight has always touched me far deeper than the fireworks, that promised so much in their brightly coloured boxes. The smell of a guttering candle stub in a swede head, was always some how more important than processions of minature witches and ghosts - and a fistful of penny sweets. 

And this week - the clocks changed. Time slipped back an hour. The merits (or otherwise) of British Summer Time aside, there is something astounding to me about that. The tiny household ritual when you consciously and physically (although perhaps a little less today), turn back time; the opening of a door to let the dark evenings of winter in.      

Love it or loathe it, the moment each year when we move from summer time to winter time is one of those occasions that make us more acutely aware of the concept of time. For a while I was the clockwinder for the village church where we lived and these times when the 'clocks changed' seemed to be filled with special import and I looked upon them with something of an air of excitement and a strange sense of responsibility.

In some ways the transitions from summer and winter times emphasise the arbitrary nature of time; a construct that we humans impose upon our lives and worlds. Something that can be changed and altered at will. And yet there is also a deeper sense, something that lies underneath our attempts to regulate and contain. The physicality of 'holding back time', by stopping the clock for one hour (much the easiest way to reset time) offered a wonderful window into this experience. Watching from the tower over the sleeping village living through an hour which didn't exist... or did it?  


This is something I wrote about this experience in 2014.


Today I Held Back Time (Richard Goode, 2014)
             Today I stopped the parish clock
             and while the village slept,
             at the point where summer time
             falls back into winter,
             with one hand, I held back time      
             and let seconds fly
             directionless and  haphazard
             around the steepled tower,          
             like gnats dancing over a summer pond.
             The iron hands stood frozen
             to each moonish clock-face
             at five minutes-to the mute and silent hour.

 Instead of rounded golden chimes
 rolling out over field and rooftop
 there was silence
 and the pigeons in the bell chamber
 slept on undisturbed.
 And all I heard was the beating of the wind against the tower
 as I rubbed shoulders with God and angels in this place beyond time.
                    For a while I watched the village slumber
                    from the unlatched door high up
                    on the side of the old stone tower.
                    A guardian of this time of no time.
                    The ticking watch on my wrist counted out the untrod
                    minutes upon which no one had yet walked...
                                 ... or loved
                                           .... or danced.

                              In that silence,
                              I tasted each moment;
                              Those seconds,
                                       those minutes
                                                and precious quarter hours
                              that those below had yet to live.

Is this what it feels like to be God?
          To be standing in the dark, 
                                               outside time?


                         Is this the eternity of which my soul dreams?
                              Where seconds are born  
                               then slew back upon themselves
                          to be reborn later? 


Or is this just the world of the wilder things;
 the fox, hare and badger?
 Those that run as wild as wind
 Unaware of the clock not ticking
 Or the hands not moving.

                   For an hour, with one hand
                       I held back time
                       and set eternity loose
                       among the streets and alleyways.
                       And the village below me
                        slept on, unknowing.
 And my eye travelled up
 to the smudge of woodland
 on a high brow of hill
 Where eternity always breaks in.



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


Journal entry
Welcome to NB Erica
News from the moorings
First excerpt from Susan Hill's 'The Magic Apple Tree'
Cabin chat
Today I held back time
Second excerpt from Susan Hill's 'The Magic Apple Tree'
'Today I held back time' - reading
Signing off
Weather Log