About a hundred billion years ago before I ate so much potato that I am now confined to a wheelchair and able to starch shirts with my tears, I went on a story telling course.
It was at the Story Museum in Oxford.
It is the bronze level story telling course which will take place over three days this year, and by the end of which will enable me to pick the three little pigs up from the bottom of a swimming pool with my teeth.
It is being hosted by the master story teller Chris Smith and the master educator/storyteller, the improbably named Pie Corbett.
I love saying; ‘the improbably named Pie Corbett’. It is like his show name.
Anyway, Mr. Corbett, is, according to my friends in the educating world, a bit of a bloody legend.
I’m afraid that I wouldn’t know, as on our first day he was too poorly to attend, having a hot date with flu instead.
So Chris led us through the ins and outs of how to tell a story.
It is not as easy as you think.
Actually I’m not sure what I thought it was going to be like at all, before I got there.
As you know, in my capacity as crazy story teller lady at school I spend quite a bit of time telling stories to children of one variety or another (stories and children). I think I had hoped I might pick up some pointers as to how I could make them more fun for the children, and hold children’s attention longer.
I also envisaged being able to teach these skills to some of the older children so that they could tell stories to the younger ones. We already have a kind of mentoring scheme for reading books in the school. The able children from the top two years of the school help the less able children in the bottom two years of the school with their reading books by hearing them read for ten minutes every morning before assembly. It’s a good idea as learning is often easier from peer to peer than from adult to child, and I thought it might be nice to pinch a day a week where the older children could reward the younger ones by reading to them.
I might still be able to do all those things, when I’ve finished the course and had time to inwardly digest and practice some stuff. But the whole process, as mapped out on the course, requires regular chunks of time with the children you are working with, because it is a fairly in depth process of building the skills in the children so that they then become fantastic communicators. There is evidence to show that making them super story tellers physically and vocally will have a knock on effect on their written literacy and they will become increasingly literate in leaps and bounds.
I don’t doubt it.
And it would be great to do, but I do not have that kind of time with the children, because there is so much already going on in school that I have to bob and weave in and out of the current of everyday schooling, and sneak in where I can.
I am pretty good at sneaking, but if I disappear a class for half an hour at a time someone is going to notice eventually.
One of the main things that unsettled me, was that the course was absolutely about the oral story telling tradition.
Which of course, when you think about it, is what it would be.
Not how to sit in a nice, comfy chair and whip out a picture book, and read it in an alluring manner, which I now realise is how I utterly visualised it.
Even though, with hindsight, this was a bloody stupid thing to visualise.
But it still came as a bit of a shock to me.
The focus of the course is considerably less about comfy chairs, and much more about the whole physical art of telling stories.
It was basically a day of drama class.
There were other elements to it, and we will build on those elements as the course progresses, and the idea is that by the end of the course you will have a core philosophy and methodology that will make your school/class into a story telling school from tip to toe.
But the first day was mostly The Kids from Fame but with less leotards and more role play.
It’s a good job there were less leotards, because it was blinkin’ freezing. I spent most of the day trying to nurse the feeling back into my toes, which made me feel very uncomfortable. Then I felt very uncomfortable because if I were in a line up of ten people and you were asked to pick which person was least likely to want to do role play, I’d be the person you picked. Then I got a migraine.
It was not a good day for me.
I do not mind making a complete gibbon of myself in front of children. They kind of expect it.
I do get excruciatingly embarrassed doing this sort of thing in front of grown ups, which I do not consider myself to be.
As soon as someone asks me to do anything remotely role playish I just feel the tide of repressed English awfulness washing over me like a giant tsunami of shame. I want to button my cardigan up into my nose hair, flatten myself against the wall, and point at someone else saying: ‘He’d love to do it. I’m afraid I can’t. I have a bone in my leg.’
I would love to be unrepressed and free to pretend that I am a small vole with relationship issues, or a burly wood cutter called Dave. I really would.
But the thought of it mostly brings me out in a cold sweat.
Most of the people on the course were brilliant at this kind of thing. I sat in a room with twenty nine teachers, all role playing their socks off and came to the conclusion that most of them were actually repressed actors, and maybe that is what we English people do with our wannabes. We cannot send them to Hollywood, so we award them a PGCE and send them off to influence young minds.
Which is absolutely fine with me, and better than them waiting tables and starving to death in garrets.
But it made me very aware of my own shortcomings, and first I was embarrassed about this and just wanted to run away.
I mean really, really run away.
When we broke for morning coffee I seriously thought about going out to the toilet and never coming back.
Then I took myself into a corner and had a stern word with myself.
Sometimes it is good to do things that push you way beyond your comfort zone. It is very easy to get complacent about things as we get older, and I do not like that in me or anyone else. It also makes a mockery of me encouraging the children (my own and anyone else’s) to try new things and to be brave, if I cannot do that myself.
It also made me empathise with the children who, when encouraged, mostly decide not to be encouraged and prefer to sit in a corner sobbing.
I am that child. On the inside.
And sometimes on the outside.
So I girded my loins and went back in there and did my best.
And I cannot pretend I was brilliant. At about three o’clock when Chris Smith asked me to get up and demonstrate some piece of information I had volunteered, I refused, which slightly shocked everyone I think.
But by that time my migraine was washing over me in waves, and I had had enough of being brave. I had had enough of everything.
I came out at the end of a day a limp rag, and it took me hours to get home.
By the time I did get home I had convinced myself that it was all a bit rubbish, which it wasn’t at all, and that I was a bit rubbish, and I wasn’t, and that I hadn’t learned anything, which is not true either.
And as the time has passed I have thought a lot about that day, and I realise that I did something pretty monumental, for me, which was not run away, and to participate as much as possible, even though I really didn’t want to. I also learned a lot, and I think that under the right circumstances I could pass that learning on.
And I also learned to tell a pretty cool story, physical actions and all. And I told it for Jason and the children on holiday and they were all stunned and rather impressed with me, and I was rather impressed with myself.
And I’m thinking that maybe, one day, I might be able to tell it to some other people, and that would not be quite as awful as I think it would.
And that by February I might have recovered my equilibrium enough to go in for round two.