It is close to the day to turn the page on my calendar and enjoy the picture for November. The story goes that a picture speaks a thousand words and the Scottish mountains I will be looking at have their own mysterious tales to tell. There’s something about the hills that soothes the soul and while my favourite sight of them is denied under current restrictions, a picture of their near neighbours will do.
There is no shortage of narrative to conjure up from that view. For a start, there’s the old hymn about hills, and questioning from whence doth come mine aid?. For me, it’s something to do with their totally reliable permanency no matter what is going on elsewhere. I digress! That hymn was learned as one of many when, as Sunday School wee ones, we were marched in to join the grown-ups in the Kirk. The stories heard on a Sunday morning and the pictures to illustrate them were absorbed without question, as were the rules about not going out to play in our Sunday best. The best thing about Sunday best was that the garments were so seldom worn, they never wore out. Outgrown clothes were passed down through the wider family while we waited in anticipation for the kilt and coat from an older cousin. Hand-me-down satin blouses were commonplace, but the fancy white fuzzy-wuzzy bobbly hats knitted by my Other Granny, meant we felt we were a’ the bash, because nobody else boasted such crowning glory. My Granny, the one who is more familiar to you, might have been heard to exclaim we were “a sicht for saer een!” but that’s a story for another day.
A good story can have many strands but its wonder depends on how it is delivered. My Mum was our storyteller and Dad the story reader, about her days as a young woman during WWII, and from children’s classics he had won as school prizes. Round the fire, we listened entranced to funny and sad stories about dances with pals in the Toon Hall, and friends lost in planes that didn’t come back. Cuddled up on the couch, one on each side so we could see any pictures, we suffered along with Black Beauty, laughed at illustrations of the Mad Hatter and understood how much luckier we were than Tiny Tim. My Granny wasn’t much for volunteering stories about her young life and would usually answer with just enough generalisation to satisfy young curiousity. With hindsight and greater insight, it is clear that any reticence to give detail was to protect and suppress what lay beneath, but that is a long story.
Have I made it sound a bit gloomy? Totally the wrong impression! There was no paucity of Happy Ever After; we had the next edition of Sunny Stories delivered every second Thursday to look forward to. Lucky ones have benefitted from childhood stories, whatever our age or cultural references – I hope you will enjoy recalling yours.
We know that storytelling is as old as those hills, and to hear about the traditions in different cultures throughout their history and ours makes a lovely story in itself. Legends and myths passed down through millennia may have a greater influence on our psyche than we admit; the spirits of the Gods, Ancestors, Faeries, Kelpies and Silkies still prevail for those with minds open to the possibility.
Who can measure the effect on our offspring of falling asleep to Mr. Bump’s mishaps or Chicken Licken’s concern that the sky was falling down? Did they have disturbing dreams about Green Eggs and Ham or opening the door to a tiger who has come to eat all their Rice Crispies? I expect not, for the most part, or that any concern for the protagonist’s well-being would have been short-lived. At least the stories from books or the favoured “Once upon a time, when you were little …. “ taught the difference between imagined and real.
Tall Tales about Davey Crockett and Ned Kelly were embellishments of reality, but harmless. We know a Shaggy Dog Story when we hear one, and can tune in or out depending on how receptive we are prepared to be. Then there’s the Cock & Bull Stories we hear or, okay then, make up, as excuses to avoid social occasions that have the potential to bring out hives when we think about who else might be there. Many a homework jotter has been eaten by the dog, and ancient aunt’s demise warranting absence from a Monday at the workplace. This kind of story does no real harm to anyone but the teller whose twinge of guilt might be a tad uncomfortable to live with for a while.
But Fake News – that’s a different story! I can’t be certain when I became fully aware of the phenomenon, or when those words crept into my vocabulary. I have no doubt that it is now causing me concern. What is worrying is that, while some we are fed is instantly recognised as such, the need to double-take, rethink and still be left wondering, can lead to a level of doubt that has me none-the-wiser regarding the validity of some news items I have read or heard.
We can look at tables, graphs and pie charts purporting to illustrate results of statistical analysis to support their particular aim, and we can decide what measure of trust we place on their claims by scrutinising all aspects of their reliability. Even propaganda is fair game because we can see it for what it is, but what is more difficult to avoid is the subliminal diet of sensationalised headlines which have done their intended harm because attention has been drawn. Of course, whether we consider a news story to have some merit or none will depend on our personal interpretation and understanding of its content, and if it is something we want to see or hear. I am always up for diversity of opinion and the discussion it generates, but that is only worthwhile when both arguments are based on fact. I acknowledge the likelihood that one person’s fact is another’s fiction, and it was ever thus, so I have nowhere else to go with this, except to admit it might be best all round if I stick to stories written just to entertain.
Much of my attention this month has been on stories and I have decided that there’s nothing beats a good one well told, when at its heart is something to laugh at, or frighten the pants off us, or a lesson to be learned from the fable. There is a treasure trove of coffee time escapism to be found on www.storyawards.org and when that pile of ironing, spare room redecorating or depth of dust on the dresser can no longer be ignored, there is a wealth of listening to be had on BBC Sounds: Short Works series . I recommend The Cleaner, because the actor quine fa’s readin’ it oot is my chum. Ifhttps://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000nd0x If that’s not enough, there’s always The People’s Friend. My early introduction to grown-up hints of romance I owe to my Granny’s subscription to that magazine. It still survives after 150 years of publication and claims to be the best choice for anyone who loves feel-good quality fiction. What’s not to like about that when you get a knitting pattern for a jumper thrown in? There is nothing disturbing there then, apart from the likely propensity of the advertisers to sell stair lifts and bath hoists!
I know that some of you have had a go at writing stories, to great acclaim or just hanging on in there knowing that with a bit more graft, your creative genius will surface. The proliferation of writing courses and the popularity of writers’ groups reflect the desire in many of us to nurture our creativity and hone our skills, often for no more reason than our own pleasure and to learn from the constructive criticism of our fellow scribblers.
How often have you heard a friend say to you “You should write that down” because what you have just told them is funny or interesting and ought to be noted for someone at sometime to read? If you haven’t done it, “why not?”, I ask. My next question is to myself – who am I to speak? I have a folder storing a few successes and some rejections, many of my favourite particularly classy jotters containing first, second or third drafts demanding further edit, all neatly ordered on the shelf, and there is a box of colour-coded indexed ideas for development one day, which sits within arm’s length of the jar of sharpened pencils. There is also an abundance of good intention. In fact, I must add getting back to writing to my To Do list, or maybe write a list of my To Do lists first.
Now, that could be the story of my life!