Monday, 7 October 2013

The Travelling Storyteller

On The Road Again – A Message To My Children

I knew a boy who was from birth, lured by a life on the open road. Some of his first memories (at around 3 years old) were of sitting at his bedroom window looking out at the big wide world and planning his escape from the confines of home. Some days his mother would see him in the garden with his fingers clinging to the fence, looking. I hear she came out once and asked him what he was looking at.

"When will I be big enough to go, Mummy?" he asked her.

It was not that he was unhappy with his family. He loved them, and they him. In fact I think it was feeling so secure about home and family that gave him the confidence that he could leave it. And it was not long before he did. Much to his parents' horror, some months before his fourth birthday he set out. He had worked out how to get over the tall side gate to the house. Heart racing with excitement, he headed off up the hill with a chocolate spread sandwich and an piece of cheese wrapped in a handkerchief on a stick, just like the one he had seen in a storybook. He was not sure where he was going – just out there. After about a mile he had the idea of visiting his grandmother to tell her about the adventure upon which he was embarking. She had a great sense of adventure too and would surely not tell him off. She was pleased to see him and after about half an hour, was careful not to let him see her telephone his mother. Just as he was saying that he needed to continue on his travels, his mother arrived in a frantic state. The boy's journey was cut short and he was severely warned about the dangers of being out on his own along busy main roads at only three years old. The mother, of course, did not understand that her son was completely safe and capable. He had been planning the trip for some time.

As time progressed, the boy continued to escape - small sojourns that were a practice for the big escape. The gate having been extended in height, he resorted to crawling under the hedge. There was no holding him. The parents wondered what kind of child they had produced. Soon the boy discovered atlases, maps and children's encyclopaedias. He began listening intently to radio and television programs, learning about places he could travel to. Lying awake thinking about them at night. More thought was given to the things he needed with him and he packed a secret running-away bag. A small duffle bag. It had a front zip pocket, into which he put the odd few coins he found lying around the house. Generally when he ran away, his mother had a good idea where to look. He would usually call into the corner shop, where he was popular with the three elderly sisters who ran the place. His mother would call there first to confirm his route and time of escape. Then she would try the swings and slide at the park. If he was not there she would try his grandmother's house and after that a petrol station and car repair depot on the outskirts of town, on the London road. This was about two miles away. At three or four it was usually as far as he could get in the time before she noticed him missing from his bedroom or the garden and caught up with him. Being unable to drive in those days, this provided his mother with a good deal of exercise as well as worry. No amount of warnings would deter him. Even when told of a little girl of eight along the road, who had been killed by a lorry when sent to the greengrocers by her father, he felt not the slightest hesitation about escaping again. It was his destiny.

It may also have been destiny that protected this little boy from the perils of the road. Some would say it was simply good luck. He himself believed it was due to his careful attention to detail. He remained convinced throughout his early years that a small child could learn to be as effective as an adult at getting about safely. Nothing his parents did or said would deter him from this view or from continuing to escape from home and in the end they came to accept it as something they could not change. They bore it as an affliction, you see; regarding themselves as parents with a problem child. A 'disturbed' child, perhaps.

Eventually, after continuing to cause havoc and worry within his family, the boy reached adulthood. Free to make his own choices in life, he took time away from higher education, and then from work, to hitch-hike around his native England, before venturing further afield into Europe and then on to India and North Africa. Years of his life were spent in happy wandering through new and fascinating countries, meeting local people and sleeping under hedgerows, on beaches or in haystacks. He loved this life and put study and career ideas to one side for a number of years, in order to travel further. People he met on his travels and his friends and family back in England alike, loved to hear the stories he told of his adventures. They told him how they envied him his life, but could not bring themselves to join him on the road, for they were busy climbing the ladder.

Although the young man loved his wandering life, he knew deep inside that one day he might meet someone who would make him want to give it up, and one day that event came about. Returning from the Orient with a beautiful young woman, the young man soon channelled his sense of adventure into life with a young family, albeit taking his family during his children's early years to live in some of the countries that he had previously come to know during his travels. His children seem to delight in the stories he told them at bedtime or on long car journeys.

In middle-age, drawing upon his experience of life and people, the young man set up a business that became a big success. He became wealthy and comfortable, although he never forgot the simple things he felt were most valuable in life. As the man's children grew, they developed a similar longing for the adventure of travel. As teenagers they sometimes asked him to take them on wandering journeys on the road, but he was too busy with work. At the same time he began to find his life cluttered with possessions and responsibilities. Fortunately, however, his wife valued him for his free spirit and encouraged him to take time away from work to go wandering with his son. For a year they travelled overland together to the Orient, telling stories and drinking-in the variety of cultures and landscapes. The man realised that this was the true purpose of his life. The sense of destiny he had felt as a small boy flooded back and when they returned home he put commerce to one side. Travel, wandering, sleeping out under the stars and storytelling became his purpose again.

And so it was that a sense of happiness and calm became the true reward of this man's life. His life had followed a long and eventful circular journey, rather in the same way that his physical wanderings had. He had set out full of enthusiasm with a singular focus. He had encountered obstacles along the way, causing him to divert in another direction. But he had learned from mistakes. He had overcome difficulties that had made him stronger and wiser, and eventually he had come to reap the rewards of his efforts. Now that his children had grown-up, he was encouraged by his wife to take her on wandering journeys with him and to write down the stories that previously had lived only in his head. Sometimes his adult children joined them. No longer did he feel he needed to choose between a life with his family and a life on the road.
And the stories? The stories came forth from his mind like a river in full flood. Stories he had been telling for years as well as new stories, gathered from the memories of his life and the people he had met along the way. People were moved by the stories, and he was happy. Happy to be back out there, on the road again.

Hold on tight to your dreams.

Picture courtesy of www.nocaptionneeded

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