Last night I was accosted by a storyteller. He didn’t take anything of value – a little time, perhaps, but it was going spare. He filled my head with stories of bees and hares and witches and spells and thumped out a rhythm on a drum. He dragged me into a chorus - “He walked for a day. He walked for a week. He walked for a month. He walked for a year…and a day. Then he stopped.”
“No, there isn’t any poetry tonight,” said the lass behind the counter as she took my order for a mug of hot chocolate and a large slice of cake. “We’re launching the Festival of Storytelling.”
I didn’t know anything about the Inverness Storytelling Festival which kicked off at the Velocity Café in Inverness. The first Thursday of the month is usually a poetry and a pint night. I had a bag of poetry books and a bottle of pear cider. The usual crowd of people were absent. An unfamiliar lady sat in my seat and a man with dreadlocks placed a drum on the floor.
The unfamiliar lady was the mother of the man with the dreadlocks. Her other son was sitting a few seats away. I smothered a prickle of jealousy. She had two sons she was immensely proud of. I wished, for a moment, that I was her, that I was there to cheer my lads on.
If you put aside the sons and the grandchildren, the lady and I had a lot in common. Neither of us are particularly happy in a crowd. We both fight the hermit gene. She probably told me her name but, sadly, I already have too many names to remember.
Dougie, the storytelling son, wanted to create an atmosphere from a distant past. In days gone by when people lived quite isolated lives – the distant past? That sounds like life today. You don’t need to live in a lonely croft house in the middle of nowhere to feel isolated. In those days people were hospitable to strangers. A hot meal and a warm bed could be bought for a song or a tale and news of what was happening somewhere else.
So he opened up the night to stories and songs. He told the first story about an unlucky man on a journey to find God. Only God would know why he was so unlucky. I’ll not tell you the story just in case you meet Dougie MacKay someday. He tells it well – with his drum and the chorus, “He walked for a day. He walked for a week. He walked for a month. He walked for a year…and a day. Then he stopped.”
Another storyteller, a lady this time, told a tale about a girl and a frog. Scattered throughout the narrative were songs that she sang with a lovely voice. Yes, the frog turned out to be prince – no surprises there!
Maybe there is a difference between a told story and a read story. The next story was hot off the press, written earlier that day by a woman sitting in a café, drinking coffee. I confess I wasn’t rally listening. I was looking through the documents stored on my kindle wondering if I had a story I could share. So, yes, I wasn’t paying attention. Hypnotise me if you will and I doubt if I can tell you any details of her story. It could have been a ghost story perhaps or something of a Halloween nature. No, sorry, it’s like my Chemistry classes from school – a real blank.
I didn’t find a story on my kindle, but the next best thing was a narrative poem – “Rosie Baxter's Legacy” - that I had written many years ago.
I read it and did my best to inject a little drama into it with expansive hand gestures and an attempt at varying the voices of the characters. I figured that I would never see these folk again, these storytelling people, and acting was part and parcel of the evening. It went down well. I got a round of applause. The poem has a really gentle message. I wasn’t out and out preaching – but truth was slipped in quietly!
Dougie did another story about bees and a blue eyed hare.
The evening ended with a song. The man was a little wild looking. He has an amazing bushy grey beard that made me want to search it to see if there was bird’s nest lurking inside. He had been sitting at a table with a pile of leaves, berries and nuts – a forager’s treasure. He explained later that everything on the table was edible.
He unslung a ukulele, not to my ear tuned properly. He himself wasn’t tuned properly either but he belted out a song about a soup-stone in a pot and a family that never went hungry.
The evening came to an end. I left with a smile on my face, feeling that my soul had supped well. I imagined Jesus walking through the door. The master storyteller would have been right at home.
But Rosie Baxter and I didn’t do so badly either!