Tag Archives: social history

Stories and Tellers

As I write, I am sitting in my parents’ living room, working from my mother’s laptop computer (upon which I will lay the blame for any typos, being as I’m unused to the keyboard, and all); I owe this pleasure to my husband, who suggested we take a trip to my hometown to celebrate the fact that he’s on leave from work for a few days. So, we made the trip, and here we are. It’s only a flying visit, but it’s been wonderful. I haven’t been home in ages, and I’ve really missed it.

However, coming home, as well as being a fantastic chance to catch up with my family, has also taught me a very useful lesson. Sit back, get comfortable, and I’ll tell you all about it.

On Saturday evening, my family and I spent some time in my local pub, whereupon a certain amount of alcohol was, I have to admit, imbibed; as well as this, though, something else happened – something which I believe is rather special, and important, and worthy of sharing. As well as the laughter, and the companionship, and the happiness, there was something which is connected to all these things, but also a separate wonder, all of itself – there was Storytelling.

Image: theabundantartist.com

Image: theabundantartist.com

Storytelling is an important part of Irish culture – we still value the storyteller and the act of storytelling in Ireland, something which has its roots in our earliest history – but from the point of view of my family, it has a hugely important personal significance. My parents have told my brother and I stories as long as we can remember – stories about their lives when they were young, long before we were born; stories about local ‘characters’ and people famed in our hometown for their abilities (or, sometimes, lack of ability) to do certain things, and stories from their own parents’ time, from far back into the history of our town and its foundation. My brother and I were raised on stories of my father’s friend Wilf, for instance, a man who took on heroic proportions in our eyes because of all the tales Dad spun about him, and we were regaled with sagas of the deeds of our grandfathers and other men of their generation, all of whom seemed to have immense intelligence and wit. This weekend was no different. We revisited some of the old favourites, and some new tales were added to the treasury, particularly those told in memory of a few friends who have recently passed away; they may not be with us any more, but their stories and their memory will live on. As I listened to the tale-telling, however, something struck me – something so important, it’s amazing that it never really occurred to me before.

I love to write – it’s what I want to do, and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. My brother is similar to me in many ways, especially in his love for words. Sometimes, I’ve wondered why this is – why my brother and I are so similar, on such a profound level, despite the fact that we’ve chosen to do different things with our lives. Writing, and reading, and tale-telling, are among our favourite things, and something which we both treasure. Listening to my father telling tales on Saturday, and keeping me as rapt as ever, despite the fact that I’ve heard most of them before, made me finally realise something.

My parents are storytellers. They may not be writers, but they are tellers and creators and repositories of stories, local history, cultural history and family history. My brother and I have been raised with these stories, we’ve been fed them and nourished on them all our lives. It’s no wonder, really, that we both want to create stories, and we both love words and the power they possess. We’ve learned it all our lives.

The stories my parents tell are more than just a way to pass the time; they’re a way to bond, to create links between people, to unite communities, to store memories, and to honour those who’ve passed from our sight. They’re the most important thing we have. Most of my favourite family recollections from my childhood involve storytelling of some sort, whether my parents or grandparents or our family friends were the ones doing the regaling; all my parents have to do is mention a favourite story, and we’re all primed to listen, not only to a treasured tale but to all the layers of memory, all the happy recollections of all the times that story has already been told and enjoyed. I’ve had this wonderful trove of story all my life, and I never fully appreciated it until this weekend.

My parents gave my brother and I the best gift anyone could give. They gave us the history of our family in a series of stories, memories crystallised into tales we can treasure and keep safe to pass on to a new generation, and – as if that wasn’t enough – a love of sharing and telling and creating stories that both of us have used to enrich our lives in ways our parents probably couldn’t have imagined. If ever a parent wondered whether it was ‘worthwhile’ to spend time making up silly or funny stories with their child, or whether it was a good thing to encourage imagination by telling tales, or whether encouraging a child to enjoy language and the feeling of accomplishment gifted by the creation and retention of a treasured story was something to be aimed for, then I hope this post will answer those questions for them.

Yes. Yes, it is. Yes, it certainly is.

Happy Monday. Happy new week. Go and create some stories, and make sure to tell them, and retell them, and turn them into treasures.


All right, I have a confession to make. I hope this doesn’t lose me any followers, or make me any (new) enemies, or whatever, but it’s time to come clean.

I am an antiques-freak. There! I said it!

Image: sodahead.com

Image: sodahead.com

I’m sorry, Wonder Woman. But it’s true.

Before you run away screaming, just bear in mind that today’s post won’t waffle on about dust or weird old furniture or odd-looking experts in handknitted jumpers. I’m just going to talk about one thing I saw on an antiques programme last night. I swear.

You’re back? Good. I’ll try to make this quick.

Right. Luckily (for me) my husband is also a bit of an antiques enthusiast. By this I don’t mean we go around car boot sales (or yard sales, I suppose, for those who have no idea what a ‘car boot’ is), or secondhand shops or antiques dealers picking up ‘key pieces’ for our big ol’ mansion; I mean, we like to watch antiques programmes on TV. Also, luckily for us, the BBC is full of antiques programmes, so we generally have something to watch. It seems our neighbours in the United Kingdom are as weird as my husband and I, so that’s nice.

Last night, we watched a programme wherein the owners of the antiques bring in something for a valuation and appraisal by the expert presenters, with a view to selling it no matter what the value. It’s not like most antiques shows, where the owner wants to know about the object’s provenance, or the story behind it, and the value is a secondary concern – this particular show is dedicated to selling people’s antiques. The viewers watch it for the stories and the background to the items (as well as marvelling at the prices the objects fetch, I suppose.) I was particularly struck by one man’s story – he brought in a beautiful antique box, made of a rare and lovely hardwood. The box had been in his family since the time of his grandmother, and had come from India originally. The outside of it was beautiful enough, but when the lid was lifted and the inside was revealed, the true beauty of the object became apparent. The interior was covered with mother-of-pearl and enamel inlay, with what looked like lots of separate compartments, and the inside of the lid was decorated beautifully.

But then, the antiques dealer lifted out the whole inner tray (the part that had looked like lots of separate compartments), to reveal a further layer to the box. In the bottom were letters, mementos, family artefacts and (most touchingly) a pair of baby booties from the 1870s, which probably belonged to his great-grandmother and may have been worn by his grandmother as a child. ‘Oh, look!’ said the dealer. ‘Isn’t all this wonderful!‘ ‘I didn’t even know it was there,’ replied the owner, completely unimpressed. ‘I never looked inside the box.’ The dealer expressed his amazement at this, and asked the man if he wanted to keep the box now, to go through it for family heirlooms, but he pretty much said ‘No, I don’t care about any of it. Just get rid of it.’

I was flabbergasted.

The box now belonged to the man’s daughter, he explained, who wanted to sell it to help pay for her honeymoon. Having been on a honeymoon relatively recently, I can appreciate how expensive they are and how you usually want to spend as much as you possibly can to make it the best holiday you’ve ever had – but still. If it was me, and I was faced with the choice of having a box full of my great-great-grandmother’s treasures, and a holiday, I know I’d choose the treasures. I’m a bit of a hoarder, though – I find it hard enough to chuck away my own ‘treasures’, so the thoughts of chucking away someone else’s would be anathema to me. I couldn’t part with something if I felt it had been important to someone like a long-dead relative, or if it was part of the story of my family.

A few years ago, while working as a bookseller, the shop I worked for received a shipment of books from an elderly lady’s estate. Her sons had sold off her library and we were lucky enough to be able to buy some of it. In the midst of the books (most of which were dusty old paperbacks about Corgis, beach-combing and gardening, along with approximately two tons of romance novels), I found three handwritten books of poetry. I asked my manager if I could have them, and he was only too glad to be rid of them. They’d been written in the mid-nineteenth century by the deceased lady’s aunt (or possibly great-aunt), and some of them were beautiful works of art. I read one poem which made me cry, about a young child who was suffering some terrible pain and who was not likely to live, and how difficult it was for her parents to watch her suffer knowing that she may never open her eyes again. I hoped it wasn’t written ‘from life’, but thought it probably had been. Some of them weren’t so good, but there were some really excellent pieces of work in those books. The author had kept some newspaper clippings of her published pieces, too, and those were wonderful to see.

Anyway, the point of this anecdote is to say – shouldn’t we treasure these things from the past? Does anyone agree with my (perhaps overly-sentimental) viewpoint that things like this are important, and worth taking care of? The man on the TV programme last night did sell the box, contents included, and it went for a huge sum – far more than it had been estimated to fetch. I wondered if that was because of the treasures it contained, and I wondered why they weren’t more precious to him.

But then, I suppose we should also treasure the fact that everyone is different, too. If everyone was like me, there’d be no empty surface space on the planet, and nothing (particularly books!) would ever get thrown away.

Perhaps this is the way of the future for me!Image: theintuitiveedge.wordpress.com

Perhaps this is the way of the future for me!
Image: theintuitiveedge.wordpress.com