Story radar

Stories are everywhere. There are stories that are already told. There are stories that are re-told. There are stories yet to be told. The potential for stories is overwhelming. As human beings we love storytelling.

Whilst on holiday this year I made a resolution to set up my story radar.

Once we reached each destination I looked around the dwelling we had arrived at and scanned the telling tales of human personality. AirB&Bs are particularly good for the whimsical and quirky and far outstrip the hotel experience if you like picking up on stories. Knickknacks, wall hangings, the choice of books and so many other details all reveal storylines. The story the observer may pick up may of course not be the truth. As the receiver of a story we interpret in our own unique way what we observe as a result of our own set of experiences. My mind was well pleased with the sleuthing that I had tasked it to perform. But what was I going to do with these stories forming in my head? Those details that appealed I noted down in my daily three pages. Who knows I might use them in a piece of creative writing. But you have got to be selective with your writing scrapbook or you can be quite overwhelmed.

Sitting in a restaurant or outside watching people pass by I can’t say I was the most attentive travel companion to my partner as I was away in a world of potential stories. There was one restaurant where I was deeply involved in working out the relationship of the owning couple and my partner was getting quite fidgety! I had to turn off my story radar sometimes or I might have been left quite alone with my own devising!

Our holiday was essentially a walking holiday with a difference. The story hunt added an extra magic. When not concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other on a rocky coastal path my mind was scanning the world around me. It dawned on me that walks provide many a storyline. Just looking at the descriptions in walking books there are many tales told about aspects of the landscape, architecture and the people that lived there. Human beings leave behind a trail of story hints wherever they have settled. The best walks we did on the holiday were those that hinted at human stories. On one Dorset walk called ‘The South West Coast Path to St Adhelm’s’ we passed a garden memorial to the Royal Marines killed between 1945 and 1990, visited the 800-year old St Adhelm’s Chapel, the Coastguard Station and a memorial to the work of radar developers in the 1940s and during WWII. Plenty of stories there and potential for some to be retold.

As mentioned there are stories already told. My story radar also had a setting to locate any authors in the areas we were visiting. In Cornwall it was Daphne du Maurier. Everywhere I looked there were references to her and I found myself reading an article on her in an old edition of Cornwall Life May 2017: ‘Daphne du Maurier – Celebrate a Literary Life in Fowey’. Unfortunately we weren’t in Fowey otherwise I would have liked to have followed her trail and perhaps retold something about her life. Next time perhaps.

But it was in Dorset that a story already told but retold came to light. It was on a very misty day that I discovered the life story of Mary Anning. We had planned to go on a coastal walk near Lulworth Cover to Durdle Door – a natural stone arch created by the movement of tectonic plates during the rising of the Alps in Europe after the end of the Cretaceous period. Geology has always fascinated me. The mist was so thick and it was raining lightly so we decided to go into the visitor centre at Lulworth Cove to let the weather pass. Browsing through the books on geology and fossils I came across a couple of books on someone called Mary Anning who collected fossils from the Dorset coast in the early 19th Century. One of the books was a non-fiction account of her life and the other was fictionalised. I chose to buy the fictionalised version of her story by Tracy Chevalier called ‘Remarkable Creatures’. Simple book cover design and tantalising title! Fictionalised versions of real people’s lives are often easier to read in my opinion and this particular story about fossils might need a bit of spice to make it palatable! I had also read and rated highly Tracy Chevalier’s novel based on a famous painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ so I knew I was in for a good read. In the retelling of Mary Anning’s life in a fictional form I have been introduced to the whole new topic of fossils. Just goes to show the power of storytelling to engage us all in life-long learning.

Whilst travelling home by car I kept myself entertained with advertising stories. Whilst sitting in a long queue on motorways I discovered amongst other advertising stories that you could have a camper van that folded in half; and more intriguingly a ‘Greener Goodbye’ funeral. Glad I wasn’t driving. No danger of an accident! Not only were the vehicle advertising stories engaging but also the number plate stories people tell by forcing numbers and letters to have meaning. I was well amused but for reasons of anonymity I won’t divulge any specific number plates!

Human beings are storytellers. Our capacity with language helps us to spin tales and create the world around us and within us. Our storytelling potential is enormous. Our inner and outer worlds can be made richer or poorer by the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we see and hear. The onus is on each and every one of us to filter the stories that will benefit rather than hinder us. Not only are we storytellers but we have the ability to choose the setting on our story radar.

Memorial to 1940s Radar Developers Dorset Coastline – PHOTO CREDIT: Sanandi-jacq

Glimpse of shy bather

The walk along the coastal path from St Ives to River Cove is three and half miles long and the area is described as ‘a very remote part of the west Cornwall coast’ suggesting an area of natural beauty. The path is assigned a level three difficulty. The craggy cliffs mean ensuring correct placement of boot on rock and keeping the eyes engaged on feet whilst walking up and down the steep paths. Fortunately there is some let up from the highs and lows as the path widens out and plateaus now and again. The decreasing need for eye-foot attachment means we can gaze around us.

In one of those moments when the eye could wander we caught a glimpse of a shy bather on one of the rocks below. The being was unmoving; its face and back turned away from the path. Deceased perhaps? We scrambled down the rocks to get a better view. Alas, we had disturbed the shy bather. The head lifted and a doleful face stared at us for an instant (just in time for the photo) unhappy at being revealed as something other than a rock. Camouflage having failed the shy bather flipped up its tail and disappeared into the sea. The highlight of our walk – a rare and close up glimpse of a seal sunbathing.

Seal bather on St Ives coastal walk © Sanandi-jacq

Furry beings on Portland Isle

Don’t say the word … they’re here! © Sanandi-jacq

Over the weekend we were out walking on the isle of Portland in Dorset. We kept coming across long-eared furry beings set on stone with cryptic messages such as ‘WE ARE HERE’. Non-plussed we walked on with the intention of discovering the answer to the mystery.

It turns out that on the isle a limestone called Portland stone is quarried. This stone hails from the Jurassic period and is used in such public buildings as St Pauls Cathedral and Buckingham Palace in the UK and the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Apparently, in the past when the stone was being quarried there was danger from rockfalls and stone avalanches. The quarrymen would notice that furry long haired beings would emerge from their underground dwellings just at the point that a rockfall or avalanche of stones was about to occur. Over time a superstition emerged on Portland that you should never mention the six-letter word beginning with ‘r’ because it brings bad luck. Hence images of furry beings with cryptic messages are to be found along the coastal path particularly at points where rockfalls are more likely.

The rest of the day we spent imagining alternate names. Hare’s cousin. Long-eared furry beings. Coneys. Bunnies. And we don’t wish you were here!

Walk on …

Thanks for joining me on this adventure into the whisperings of the mind …

This blog has finally got off the ground six years after my partner and fellow walker Alan died suddenly in 2013. In 2014 I set off on a long pilgrimage across Northern Spain to celebrate his life and to move on with my own. I undertook the journey with an old friend. We took two weeks off each year to complete the 500 mile pilgrimage called the Camino Francés to Santiago de Compostela. In 2017 we finally reached Santiago. Much has happened since.

I still haven’t published the novel that Alan kept urging me to do but I have started a blog instead to inspire me to write more often and to get back the motivation to get the novel written and out there. Thing is … I want to change everything now … .

Not only did I go on a long walk but I gave up my corporate job and went and lived and worked in an ashram for a while learning yet more about yoga and witnessing my ego self and its reactions to the world. It was both a sublime and disturbing experience as you can imagine. The ashram experience taught me a lot but particularly how to witness what is going on inside me and around me. When I left the ashram it was such a shock to be back in the so-called real world. The noise and the level of stress overwhelmed me and it took me about a year to readjust. I may still be readjusting now. Daily yoga practice witnessing the ego has certainly been my constant companion. Two golden birds in a tree – one busily pecking around (the ego) and the other witnessing (the higher self).

Walking on … practising yoga … and writing.