The nearest river junction to my home is in Kelso. It’s Civic Week.
We live up on a hill. Listening over the past couple of nights, we’ve heard fireworks in the sky. Celebrations down in the valley.
Today, on World Listening Day, the people and parties are gone. We’re hearing a hangover.
Kelso’s characteristic sound is its cobbles. Growing up, I lay awake in my grandparents’ house in Horsemarket, listening to cars rattling across the cobbles, the drunk race-day men pouring from the pubs, grandad’s unearthly snore, like a slow echoey giant walking the timbers overhead. It wasn’t a place to sleep easy.
By the Junction Pool, where the rivers Teviot and Tweed meet, Kelso is obliterated by a constant rush of white noise. The pool itself is quiet, the water slow-moving. The white noise comes from a cauld, used by the salmon and trout to travel upstream. A small waterfall, in essence. It’s like a soundbed that cushions and blunts everything else.
Layers pierce through. On the far bank, a couple laughing. Overhead – birds. I don’t know birds. Gulls? Something crow-like? Squawks and tussles in the air. Mike is with me and we listen. He names them. Black headed gull. Jackdaw. Something lighter, more delicate – swallow. Very far off – grey wagtail, I’m told. I wasn’t tuned in. I missed it.
Mike hears a birdmap when we go out walking. Each individual, its life, its territory, its name. My own birdmap was always a crude cartoon. Pheasant, cuckoo, and dislocated twittering. But lately, I’ve been learning birdsong ID near my home. The soundscape is pulling into focus. Yellowhammer. Martin. Curlew. Blackbird. Now I can’t get them out of my head. They’re everywhere, vivid. Beaks, lungs, feathers. It strikes me that listening is changed by naming.
Far in the distance, there’s a man shouting through a tannoy. The shows are in full swing, way across the other side of the town. His voice carries over the field, the river. Rags of amplified sound. His lips, a microphone, a cable, amp, speaker, all the way across Kelso to our ears.
Other sounds, close by: the click of a shutter, a blop of rising fish, Doppler flies. Our clothes, hair rustle. A generator drone.
We’ve lived here 12 years. It’s the first time we’ve stood on the bank at Junction Pool.
See video here.