The fog horn at Nash Point
The first post of 2018, and I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year! Being as last night was New Year’s Eve, my mind wandered back to my childhood, and how things are different now with the celebrations. I’d often be staying at my Nan and Gramp’s house in Cathays on New Year’s Eve, and for me, the highlight of the night always came at midnight when the New Year turned over.
Typically I’d spent the evening up to midnight working on something creatively, being too young to go out, drink and party. Back then it was often Citadel Miniatures I would be painting, finding the peace and quiet at my grandparents conducive to the fiddly work of decorating the small lead figures.
All the time I’d be looking up at the clock, counting down the time, the TV on in the corner providing background noise and distraction. There’d be the thick cut ham sandwich with piccalilli around 10, and before I knew it the time was near. There was only one place to be when the clocks struck twelve, and thankfully it was only about 20 foot away from where I was sat with my face screwed up painting chainmail on an Orc.
When 12 came, we’d go out in the street along with many of the neighbours. My grandparent’s road was a long terrace, one of the many that lay in parallel in Cathays. It was great buzz out on the street, you’d hear the cheers raise up from everyone outside to see in the New Year! Back then fireworks on New Year’s Eve was not standard (we’re talking late 1980s here) so you could actually hear this, rather than the whizzing and explosions that characterise the start of the New Year these days.
There’d be cheering for a good twenty to thirty seconds before you’d start to hear what for me was one of my favourite noises, the chorus of foghorns from the River Severn. It was a beautiful sound, low and plaintive, a distant groan that travelled for miles across the water and across the city. At midnight any boats out on the Severn would blast their foghorns and the land-based ones would also sound, like the big one at Nash Point in the photo above.
Typically you could hear foghorns in Cardiff at night when the roads quietened, and life wound down. I’d often listen to them from my bedroom on Stacey Road when the window was open in the warm summer nights. The foghorns then were sparse and infrequent, but on New Year’s Eve, they came as a chorus with different tones, depths and frequencies. It would only last a minute or so, but it was a glorious noise.
You don’t hear it these days though, partially because the sound is drowned out by the fireworks, and partly because foghorns are less commonly used on the boats these days, with their GPS to warn of their location and presence. I really miss that New Year’s peel though, it was a real treat to the ears! Maybe these days there is still shipping out there that does it? Perhaps next year I should go down to a quiet place on the coast, away from the fireworks, and listen out for the ghostly wail once more.