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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

We are storytellers

whether we like it or not. So I’d better learn to live with it and move on.

My Grandfather was a great storyteller and a first rate sigh-er. Sighing was his way of expressing enormous disgust and exasperation with anything unsatisfactory that was going on within earshot.

This was particularly evident when we wanted to switch the TV on. Under normal circumstances in my Grandfather’s house the watching of “my programme” required the applicant to submit in triplicate and at least three hours in advance the proposal that one wanted to watch “my programme”. In his august committee of one, this required careful reading of the Telegraph listings page (to cross-check the information being given) and after careful consideration of the application Granddad, with a due sense of exhortation and warning, would grant his permission.

However, if the TV were to be turned on without this lengthy consultation then the sighs would ensue. Massive, despairing sighs denoting that his grandsons had clearly given up on life and that their cathode ray, teak-laminated drug dealer in the corner had them in its icy grasp and there was put simply, no escape and no hope.

Because my Grandfather was a storyteller.

I’m not talking about the happily-ever-after kind of story or empty, made-up, frighten-the-children stories. No. I’m talking about real stories about real people and real things. Sit down and have a conversation with him for half an hour and you’d find out that “there was a house, which has since been knocked down, where…” and a thousand other tales like it.

Where did all this stuff come from? And why was he carrying it around?

He had it in his veins. So do you. So do I. He didn’t know you didn’t have to talk about this stuff. He did it because he was grounded in every experience he’d ever had and every person he’d ever met. He collected their stories not because he wanted to but because they collected him; stuck to him like tics. And it doesn’t stop there.

The sharing of these stories roots you and the subject in a time, a place, a landscape, a house, an emotion, a moment. What is the sadness behind the boarded-up house? Who was it that gave that wood its name? Why am I not the first person to walk this path by the river? Making that connection helps my own feelings about that environment somehow swim into slow focus. Think, just for a moment, of a place that is special to you: because your predecessors also knew it was special; because they used to take you there; you know why it’s special because you know its history; because someone told you.

These stories, these curiosity-tingling, stranger-than-fiction, five-minute, wide-eyed, heart-rending stories, not only connect the teller and the listener but the listener with the landscape. I believe, and my long-dead Grandfather seems to concur, that the more we listen and the more we tell, the more we understand our own sense of time and place.

The Beginning.