Thursday, 9 April 2015

4: Stories

It is probably no small wonder that I am a writer. Stories were part of the fabric of my life from when I was tiny. My father, an English teacher, had shelves of poetry, Shakespeare and the classics; my mother ensured no Christmas or birthday was complete without a new book to read. But more than that, they told us stories...

1) Mother

Some of my earliest recollections of my mother involve her reading. Every night at bedtime several of us would gather at the end of someone's bed, and my mother would read to us: Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, and a particular favourite, Bedtime for Frances, by Russell Hoban. I loved not only the stories, but the soothing sound of my mother's voice, which for some reason I always associate with rain falling outside. Perhaps it's that memory of feeling wam and cosy inside, and the childish thought that she could always protect me from whatever monsters might be out there. Whatever the reason, I loved to hear her read. Her voice was calm and kind, and she had an ability to conjure up a picture in your head of the story she was telling. As a small child, I think possibly the best part of the day was listening to her read. I still miss the sound of her voice.

At other times, she sang to us - but each of those songs were stories too. There was the tale of poor Tit Willow, (which I've belatedly realised is from Gilbert and Sullivan) who committed suicide, and my absolute favourite bath time song (which I sang to my own children):
My baby has gone down the plug hole/my baby has gone down the plug/the poor little thing/was so skinny and thin/it should have been bathed in a jug/the mother turned round/to the soap on the rack/Twas only a moment/but when she looked back/my baby has gone down the plughole/my baby has gone down the plug.
Proof (if any needed) that children have quite gruesome imaginations. But really I was FASCINATED by the tiny baby going down the plug, and wondered with mild curiosity if the same fate awaited my baby brother. I didn't think my mother would drop him down the plughole, but still...

2) Father

My father on the other hand, made up stories. And what glorious stories they were. There was one about a girl With a Wig and a Wag, and a Brown Leather Bag who outwitted a witch at every turn, to gain riches (I think), I can never quite remember the end. Or there was the nutty and brilliant Night of the Urgent Detergent - a play which I don't think he ever finished. It was a great pity he didn't, as he had a genius with words, and a very silly imagination which was appealing to small children. Another favourite (not written by him), but one he liked to tease us with in thunderstorms, begins like this: "It was a dark and stormy night, and the people cried, Antonio, Antonio tell us a story. So Antonio began, 'It was a dark and stormy night, and the people cried, etc ad infinitum" Like my mother, he had a great reading voice and he could hold us for hours repeating those words over and over again. I think we were slightly less fascinated the time he insisted on reading The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner at the dinner table, but what both he and my mother did for us in spades was allow us space and time for our imaginations to run riot.

3) Siblings

And run riot they did...

I have seven siblings, and our childhood was punctuated with perfomances of plays, usually written by my eldest brother. My twin and I alternately starred as the Little Billy Goat in the Billy Goats Gruff, one sister was the Dormouse in Alice (which allowed for much tormenting as she was shoved in the teapot). Being at the younger end of the family, meant very few opportunties to shine dramatically, but my love of drama and storytelling was certainly fostered by those early performances, as well as by the games we played after tea each night.

In order to preseve her sanity in the winter months, my mother allowed us to play a game called Charge of the Children, in which we ran upstairs banging all the doors wildly, shouting and generally letting off steam, before decamping in the big bedroom at the front to play games.

The games were always the same as far as I can remember. Firstly we played Dr Who, in which my bro was (naturally) the Doctor, my two eldest sisters were a variety of baddies, the next one down was Jamie, and my twin and I were an interchangeable Zoe and Isabel (we did a lot of interchangeable role playing.) I think Dr Who was possibly my favourite, but I also enjoyed my brother's not very subtle version of Batman: Fatman and Dobbin, in which he (of course) played Fatman, middle sis was Dobbin, and two big sisters were the Penguin and the Joker, with my twin and I having the not very exciting bit parts of baddies' assistants.  The final game was completely made up, called the Linen Binner and the Tapper, which consisted of my brother climbing into our double cupboard, and tapping, and being followed by my sister in our plastic linen bin. The rest of us got to watch perplexed. I never quite understood what was going on, and much preferred Dr Who. But as no 6 in the family, I learnt very early on, that I wasn't going to get a chance to tell the story. Which is, perhaps, at some point why I decided to tell my own ...

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