Tuesday 9 January 2018

The collector of stories

I am a collector of stories.  We are all collectors of stories - not only the fiction that comes in books but our own stories, our families', the stories of people we don't even know.  Family legend, anecdote, gossip, speculation, news, jokes, dreams, ambitions ... they are all stories and we love them.  Stories help us make sense of the world, help us make new worlds.  We love to hear them, read them, tell them and share them.

I have sometimes thought of being a professional eulogiser - if that is even a thing - not because I have a morbid need to find myself regularly at funerals, but because I have always believed that people's stories matter.  They should never be neglected.  I am saddened if, at the last moment, even the seemingly unassuming person in life does not enjoy the respect of having their story told in death.  Because everyone has a great story.  If you can get beneath the surface, peel back the layers of 'ordinariness', there is always a surprise. 

Stories have found me in unusual ways recently, delivered via  - a vintage gold embroidered chocolate box full of letters scrawled on psychedelic notepaper; a navy blue 1941 pocket diary with hasty commentary on the Blitz in London; and the 19th century gravestone of my great great grandparents 'washed up' improbably in Tasmania, thousands of miles from its resting place.

From them I hear a teenage girl at Boarding school in the 1970s pleading with her sister to post the one thing she wants above all else right now - her 'Tap Turns on the Water' record.  I hear the discomfort of a man sleeping under his kitchen table during an air raid and dreaming up ways of shaking off Irene who is determined he is the only chap for her.  I hear of the death of Matilda, my great great grandmother, from exhaustion after three years with tuberculosis.  She is thirty nine and one year earlier gave birth to Louisa, my great grandmother.  How differently my own story could have twisted.

I love them all, not only the one upon which my own story depends, I love stories.

Monday 1 January 2018

New beginnings

The truth is, of course, that every moment is a new beginning - the beginning of what comes next - and in every moment is the potential for a fresh start.  To embrace this is truly exciting, empowering.  At any moment I can choose a different course.  It doesn't matter that I haven't exercised that choice until now ...  Now, I can.  Or now. 

No new beginning is more seductive than the New Year.  It bursts into life with ever more fireworks and in their colour and energy are painted every kind of dream.  Mine are remarkably consistent each year and if I haven't found the way to make them come true quite yet, it is perhaps because I haven't taken my courage firmly in my hands and opened my heart to let them in.  The trouble with dreams that you don't take hold of is that they can become the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

I have been unravelling the story of my great great aunt Annie.  Born in 1854 in an English market town, her mother died of TB when she was ten, and her father, a baker, of a stroke when she was seventeen.  Two years later she had taken her courage in her hands and was making a new life for herself on the other side of the world in Australia.  Whilst this kind of long haul travel is almost a rite of passage for gap year teenagers now, it wasn't then.  A glance at the generation that accompanies her on my family tree shows she was a pioneer.  I am struck by her courage.  There were other options to survive but she chose to be brave and dared to make her own dream.  She also followed her heart; this is a love story too.

New beginnings, at the New Year or any other time, usually contain those two ingredients: courage and love.

Happy New Year.