‘We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships…a voice like all of time and all of the fog that ever was:…a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I’ll make a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls…’ The Fog Horn – Ray Bradbury
At the end of the north pier, where the river transforms into the sea, the fog horn dwells. Housed in a squat, brown lighthouse on the pier that took more than fifty years to build because the waves kept breaking it down, beyond the Black Midden rocks where so many ships saw their end; there the fog horn dwells. At night, I can hear its moan, seeping in the windows. That deep, melancholy howl is one of my favourite sounds in the world. Sometimes, I hear it in daylight, if the air is quiet, often accompanied by the honk of ships’ horns. But it’s a sound that really belongs to the night, when it speaks to the loneliness within us all.
The world is a softer, more mysterious place when it is wreathed in fog. Fog blurs the landscape round the edges. It makes the air feel hushed. The world around us is altered or no longer there. In the park, as others sleep, we walk mist-blurred paths, lit by fog shrouded lamps. The river is gone, everything south of it lost in a foggy haze. Before work, I’m alone in another park. To the pond, where the trees are damp and laden with dewy spiders webs. Canada Geese and mallards float lazily, as though the fog makes them slower. Beyond, the distant trees blend into the horizon, the buildings behind them invisible. Fog is not unusual here, where it rolls straight off the north sea. A drenching, gossamer fret that leaves droplets on the skin and a freshness in the air. The week before last, the fog barely lifted.
Fog is perfect for tales of mystery and suspense. It distorts and bewilders. It cloaks dastardly deeds or monstrous creatures. Its mystery lies in what it might conceal. Until recently, my favourite fog fiction was the 1980 movie The Fog, in which a town’s history comes back to haunt it. I love the movie probably more for its atmosphere than its story. But then I discovered Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Fog Horn, with its conjuring of the ancient mysteries of the deep and the aching loneliness of the horn that calls to it.
Fog is really nothing more than droplets of water suspended in the air. Yet the science does no justice to the wonder of experiencing it and the emotions it evokes in us. Where I feel delight, others feel fear. The word ‘fog’ is synonymous with confusion and gloom and murky evocations of Victorian London would not be the same without descriptions of the smog caused by a lethal mixture of soot and fog. But usually, fog is transient. Just like that, the fog is gone and the world is no longer enchanted. We’ve come through the fog and everything is clear once more.