Saturday, 20 February 2010

Stories from childhood

Once upon a time, when the world was a more innocent place (well, it seemed it to me) and the "radio" was still the "wireless"... You will gather that this was eons ago. In those days, we in England had just the one broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC, the Beeb, or Auntie). They broadcast through three channels, only they weren't called channels then. There was the Home Service (current affairs, plays etc), the Light Programme (light entertainment, comedy, popular music and so on) and the Third Programme (classical music concerts and probably other things in which I had absolutely no interest: one doesn't when aged four). It was the Light Programme which was the channel of choice in our house, especially for my brother and me since it was the Light Programme which broadcast children's programmes. By the time I was aged 9 or 10 I was an avid listener to Children's Hour, which wasn't an hour as it ran from 5.00pm till 5.55. Then there was the shipping forecast, followed by the six o'clock news. Children's Hour was presented by Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac) who signed off every evening with what would now be called a catchphrase: 'Goodnight, children ... everywhere'. But I meander.

Back when I was 4 or 5 - before I started school - the programme was Listen with Mother. This was broadcast at two o'clock (I think) and lasted for about 15 minutes. I can't recall whether or not I listened with Mother or whether she took the opportunity to have a quiet cup of tea or do the washing up or something. But I do remember that there was always a story, and that the narrator (always a lady) started by saying, 'Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.'

Fast forward a couple of eons. I'm a father of three children, boys aged about 9 and 6 and a girl aged about 3. On Sunday afternoons I walk the dog for an hour or three - I need to escape the mother-in-law - and the younger son decides to come with me (did he want to escape the m-i-l too?). His preference is to walk through Stanmer woods and he is never happier than when he has fallen leaves to scuff through or muddy puddles to paddle in, saying in a mock-horror voice, 'Mum will kill me when I get home'. 'More likely to kill me,' I thought, but she never did, either of us.

One day, YS was dragging behind and I decided to encourage him along by telling him a story. He didn't want to hear about Goldilocks and the three bears or any of those fairy stories. I had to make something up as we walked along. So I made up a story about a foal (although I probably said a pony as I was ignorant of horsey nomenclature) called Henry. The next Sunday I had to come up with another story, and in the end there was a whole library of Henry Horse stories, all in my head.

Fast forward again, almost 10 years this time. I had arranged to visit a potential new client in a distant part of the country, too distant for me to make the return journey in one day. Potential client offered to put me up for the night. I knew he had a young daughter and I thought to make a book of one of the stories but my drawing skills are as negligible as my culinary abilities so there would be a problem over the illustrations. But before that visit, we stayed a few days with my cousin. Her son, then a teenager, now a Lieutenant-Colonel, was a reasonable artist and I bribed him into doing the illustrations for me. I think I offered him a share of the royalties if the book was ever published.

I discovered the text and artwork buried deep in the works of the computer - which is what prompted today's blog. So, dear reader, come back tomorrow - same time, same place - and I will tell you a story about Henry Horse playing football.

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