Posts Tagged ‘Children’s stories’


A Town called NEVER.

April 11, 2011

Never is the sort of town you only ever see in a story. You see, it is, on the surface, a distinctly normal town. It is not too big, nor too small. It is not too near any other town or city, nor is it too far away.


Never is not in any particular country, and its people do not speak any particular language. The weather is not very hot, and not very cold. The townspeople are, for the most part, friendly and good natured, greeting each day with a smile.


So you see, Never is the kind of town which is so normal that you would only ever hear about it in a story. There is one thing that makes Never very special. It is the reason we are here, taking a look at the town called Never. It is why we are telling this story.


In the Town Called Never, Something That Has Never Happened Before Happens Every Day.


On Saturday, the townspeople found a mermaid in the fountain in the town square. She had been swept up from her home by wind and storm, and fallen from the sky like an Angel, to be caught in the arms of the waiting water. Mermaids, you see, always land in water, because the water looks after them especially. She was far away from her home, so the people of Never placed an inflatable swimming pool on the back of a flatbed truck, and brought her on the long journey to The River, which as all rivers do, led back to the Sea. That way, a mermaid can always find her way home.


On Sunday, a traveller came to Never. This was something that happened often, but this Traveller brought with her something special. In her long train of carts and wagons, there was a zoo of many animals. These animals were not the sort you would see in a normal zoo, or anywhere else in fact. These were the animals that only live in stories, and in this zoo. There was a snake, long enough to wrap around a house, which had the face of a beautiful lady. There was a Griffon, with the head and wings of an Eagle on the body of Lion, and it was indeed the noblest creature you could ever see. A cat that was sometimes just a grin reclined in the passenger seat of the lead wagon, and monkeys with many fingers and painted faces played hopscotch on the roofs of the town. They stopped for only a little while, and after they were gone, nobody could remember all of the shapes and sizes that they had seen, because you while you might see a Nessie in a zoo, you would never remember having seen it, because that is not how magical things work.


On Monday, everybody in the town gave each other gifts, even though it wasn’t Christmas, and it wasn’t anybody’s birthday. Each person gave what they could give best, and none of the gifts were bought with money. Home-makers baked fresh warm cakes, and their partners cooked dinners with flavours from all over the world. Children painted their imaginations in a hundred different colours. The elderly told their stories, and the youth listened and laughed and learned. The dogs gave their unconditional love and enthusiasm, though that is nothing rare for a dog to do. The birds gave song and the cats gave little things left on the doorsteps. The teenagers shared their music, and their parents did too, and everyone heard something new. Everybody had something to give, a little piece of their world that only they knew, until it was shared.


On Tuesday, a new family moved into the Town. They were called, they said, The Frosts. They told their new neighbours that they were moving north for the winter, because they did not like the warmer climes down south. They wore raggedy clothes, and their eyes were as black as coal. They had long, pointed noses that were quite a different colour to their very white skin, and whenever they shook hands, you would feel your hand quickly become cold and damp. But the Frosts were very friendly indeed, always smiling, except on the warmer days, when they would stay inside and you could hear their air conditioning running at maximum strength all through the day until the night time brought the cold. In the spring, the Frosts were gone – moving North, they said, for the Winter.


On Wednesday, Catherine challenged all the other children in the town to a race – a race in which their pets would compete to see who was fastest. Johnny brought his greyhound, a champion racer. Kevin brought his rabbit, because even though racer greyhounds chase the rabbit at the track, they can never catch him. Marie brought her Parrot, reasoning that something that had wings must be faster that all the pets that walk or crawl. Angela brought her beloved Tortoise Cecil, because she believed with all her heart that slow and steady would win the race. Catherine Rourke, however, surprised everyone when she produced her pet – a mighty Elephant, whose single stride was ten times longer than any of the other animals. How disappointed she was, then, when Bobby arrived with his little white mouse, whom Bobby said was  “subject in spearmints”  that would make him special. Catherine’s Elephant did run, very fast indeed, but he did not win the race.

On Thursday, old Mr. Machen built a rope ladder to the sun. He launched it on the back of a rocket he had built in his backyard, and the whole town watched the ladder fly up into the sky, and, miraculously, stay there. Mr. Machen said something about satellites and orbits, and then proceeded to climb. Many people tried to dissuade him, telling him that space was vast and cold and would kill him, and he said loneliness was just the same. He said he wasn’t going to wait for that, and that he wanted to go on a glorious adventure, and that riding off into the sunset didn’t sound half as fantastic as climbing a ladder to the sun.


Friday, however, was the strangest day The Town Called Never had ever experienced. And this is quite something, for the people of Never were used to spontaneous wonders coming into their lives, and indeed, they rather looked forward to what every day would bring. But on Friday, the oddest thing of all happened.


On Friday, Nothing happened whatsoever. Everybody got up in the morning as normal, went away to work and school and normal, and returned home for the evening meal as normal. The evening passed without incident, everybody using their free time for whatever they usually used it for. The people of Never found themselves very perplexed, when the children had gone to bed and the clocks had struck midnight, and they discovered that nothing at all had happened. Except, of course, for a perfectly normal Friday, which they were quick to note, had never actually happened before.





Story Archaeology

March 21, 2011

I read this story on Wired today about a Dad who found tape recordings of his own father reading bedtime stories.

In it, and in an article linked within that article, the author mourns the fact that physical media, like cassettes, CDs, and books are on the wane. Personally, I find myself torn on the issue. On one hand,  I love physical books. My individual history with stories is too bound up in actual paper-and-ink for me to get away from, as much as I generally embrace new information technology. In reading John McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, the book itself was as much a part of the experience as the words. It is printed on paper so thin you’re afraid that every page turn will be accompanied by a tearing noise. The story itself has the same feeling – you know, from the very beginning, that the everyday experiences it describes are stretched taut, ready to be torn by something truly terrible.  It’s a fragile and beautiful story, and the physical experience of fragile pages just drove it home for me.  Intentional? I don’t know, but that doesn’t really matter. Any story is tied intrinsically with the medium, and Words on a Page are subtly different from Words on a Screen in the same way that a story being read aloud is different from one you read to yourself.

And on the other, I recently rediscovered The Storyteller series, thanks to the wonders of digital media. The physical collection itself is hard to come by, either prohibitively expensive, or, more often, incomplete.  But I was able to obtain a copy in mp3 format, and it has been an absolute joy to re-experience them. I have found myself mouthing the words to poems I couldn’t name two weeks ago, instantly reminded by the musical cues and the rhythym of the reading what line should come next. I’ve listened to stories and felt the very same as I did hearing them as a child, the gut reaction to the words coming back to me as easily as the memory of the words themselves.

This is what digital media gives us – a place to put art and ideas that will last far beyond any physical artefact holding the same thing. Once we have scanned or uploaded a story, it will be there to be found. I count myself terribly lucky that I grew up in just the right era that I could find these stories again. The tapes I once had are old and worn out – in fact, they were already worn when I listened to them, and of the 40 something tapes I inherited, only half survived my constant use of them to be passed on to my sister, and pretty much none of them survived long enough to be enjoyed by my youngest sister by the time she was of an age to do so. (The book, by contrast, is a far more durable piece of technology than the cassette)

But if I come across a complete collection of the tapes and books when I have money enough to buy them? In a heartbeat. There is still more of the childhood experience that I’m missing. As I listen to the mp3s, the chimes remind me that there are pages I ought to be turning, and artwork that remains only half-remembered even as the words come back to me. There is the scramble to turn over the tape and hear the next story.  There is a lot of good in digital media, but we’ll never replace the physical. That said, physical vs. digital is one of those false dichotomies. Embracing digital media does not necessitate rejecting the physical. Loving the contents of your bookshelves or your CD collection doesn’t mean that backing them up in digital form isn’t a good idea. I look forward to being able to buy a book and receive both a digital and physical copy at once. One for the experience, and one that will last forever, so that at least some part of that experience can always be relived.