The Lane of a Thousand Stories

It’s not just a lane. To those who don’t know. But then nothing is ever just something. Everything is much, much more than that. To us, the lane is alive with a thousand stories. Millions of lives. Endless possibilities.

For me and you, hand in hand, it’s not just a lane, is it? It’s an adventure waiting to happen. It’s Doctor Who and Clara. It’s sticks turned into sonic screwdrivers. It’s the Tardis waiting for us back home. It’s mud monsters that will drag you down. It’s Cybermen and Daleks and Zygons. It’s a stretch of concrete that twists and turns, and it’s me watching your little legs running down it as fast as you can, yelling over your shoulder to run from the monsters. It’s me, forever tensed that a car will round the corner too fast.

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They are not just puddles in the lane. They are wonders to explore with stones and sticks and welly boots that never quite manage to keep the water out. They are covered with ice to crack and slip on. They are deep with mud to squelch and squerch through. We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going on a bear hunt. They are not just puddles. They are portals to another world. Many worlds. Worlds with trees and telephone lines inside them. Worlds with a mystery face staring right back at yours.

They are not just bushes! Not just a hedgerow to hurl rubbish into. They are blackberries in the summer. Your little hands reaching in to pluck juicy berries from between the thorns. Your sleeve getting snagged on brambles. Your face smeared with red. They are alive, teeming with small unseen lives that run adjacent to ours, unknown. They are buzzing with bees and birds and butterflies, who go about their private lives without fuss or blunder. Who live never to question or worry. Me and you know they are there. And there is not a bush we don’t walk by without knowing or thinking.

Hello Mr Robin. Mr Blackbird. Mrs Blackbird. The shy Heron who takes off should you get too close. The noisy geese. The silent swans. The otters we have never seen. The rabbits in the fields and the buzzards on the telephone poles. The woodpecker drumming. Swifts and starlings and magpies and our favourite, the mighty crow. The crow rules the world, or so we secretly believe. With his knowing caaw and his murder of companions, they could take us all on, should they want to.

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It’s not just a bridge, is it? It’s poo sticks and science. It’s sygnets and ducklings. It’s where we collect conkers in the Autumn. And it’s not just a river, it’s a ford, a fork, an expanse of water fit for paddling. Your favourite place. Your tree dragon and the swing and sitting on the fallen tree, trying to catch tiddlers in a jar. Mucky feet and cold toes. Snacks in the pushchair. Summer. Shady spot, dragonflies and damselflies. Kicking the water. Us and the dogs and me lost in time, caught between now and us, this life and an old one. Me and my sister, stood in the river, captured in a moment that has lasted forever, the sunlight perfect, illuminating our small lives, fishing nets in hand, shadows dancing. At the river, I am full of a thousand memories and with you, I am making a thousand more.

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The lane seems so long when you walk so slow. It’s me saying hurry up, walk faster, come on, come on then, can you at least walk in the right direction? It’s you, picking up stones and sticks and conkers and leaves, staring at bugs, helping them cross the road, saying ‘that’s sad’ when you spot something dead because the lane is not just full of life, it’s full of death and we see it daily. Creatures too slow for the cars. It’s me in a hurry. Urging you on. Rolling my eyes. Come on, come on I’ve got stuff to do. Hurry up and I’ll get you a hot chocolate when we get in.

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It’s not just a lane. It’s songs and silliness and passing the time. It’s make-believe and storytelling and laughter and tears. Death and life and why? Why Mum? Why?

It’s not just a lane. It’s Nature, who was here first with the blackberries and the hawthorn and the Oaks and the Hazel and the dandelions, bluebells and daisies. It’s all the things that exist despite us and will go on after us. But for now, for a moment, it is our lane. Not just a lane, but our world and a thousand stories and lives.

Nothing is ever just something.

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The Many Wonderful Worlds of a 3 year-old

I realised today that you don’t live in the same world as the rest of us. And why should you?

Yours are so much better.

It does me good to let go of my own adulthood, of the chains of washing up and preparing meals and sweeping up dust and driving from here to there and back again. It does me good to give in to you completely.

Sometimes I view being with you as a chore. Sometimes I think, how much easier it would be to get things done alone, without a little voice chattering at my side. But that’s the adult me. That’s the tired Mum me. That’s the 39-year-old woman who wonders when she will ever stop feeling tired. That’s the woman who has been up since half five this morning and craves the odd snatched five minutes of coffee drinking and Facebook scrolling in the kitchen, out of sight…

But I need to shrug her off. I need to push her away and free myself from those weighted thoughts of shopping, and finances, and to-do lists and never enough time in the world. I need to be in the moment, in the here and the now, existing purely with you. I need to be more like you and enter your magnificent worlds more often.

Days like today remind me. Days when I give in purely and completely to you. Days when I become as you are and see the world as you do. Because you don’t just live in this world because this world, do you? You live in so many others, and there is no strain or drudgery in any of yours. One moment you are a ‘little puppy’. The next you are a burger flipping character named ‘Cooker.’ We never know who or what you will be next. My mind is fascinated by yours. What goes on in there? You are so tiny yet stuffed tight with so many stories!

Today you wanted to use bricks to make car-parks for your cars. You say ‘please, you be this one. Please, you build more par-parks.’ And I’m thinking, with a sigh, but we’ve got to take the dogs out, because we’ve already been to toddler group and had lunch, and it’s not fair to make them wait any longer. You don’t want to go, but I tempt you with a biscuit and in seconds you have your coat and shoes on and we are off.

When we get there, you want to choose the ways. You want to go the ways I don’t want to go. I slip into the usual habits. Grumbling, muttering under my breath, pulling at the dogs, snapping at them to behave, and you just want to climb on the big boulders and jump in the puddles. You want to show me a tree and ask why it has a knobbly bit on it, and it’s there and then that I swallow the exasperation and the impatience and just give in. I feel the fight and the stress seep right out of me.

Because I realise that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you choose ways that I wouldn’t or if you want to climb on rocks and through brambles. It doesn’t matter if the walk takes longer than I intended. None of it matters!

So I let you take charge. And you show me your world.

‘Don’t step on the black bits! They suck you under!’

‘This is my house. This is my fire.’

‘This is my hitting stick.’

‘This is my party.’

At this point, my heart melts entirely. Since you could string the words together, you have referred to a cluster of tree stumps as a ‘party.’ I have no idea where this comes from, but the sight of tree stumps makes you think of parties. So you show me your party, and jump from the tree stumps, then you say we have to go because everything is on fire.

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We run to the next one, further up the hill. A few weeks ago this place was a haze of purple, the heather in full bloom. Now everything is turning orange and brown. Leaves are falling and the earth is dark and wet. One of the dogs runs off and you yell;

‘That’s my dog! Where my dog going?’

So we chase after her and find another party. You make another fire. You show me your bed on the lime green moss of the forest floor. You are totally and utterly inside this world. You slip between worlds so effortlessly, so naturally. You tell me to watch out for the tripping up steps (tree roots) and we abandon the party to march further up the hill.

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I let you choose the way, and we go left, out across the flat of the hill, walking along narrow flattened paths between burnt orange heather and ferns.

‘Don’t walk on that path! Walk on this one!’

‘That one a river!’

‘That boat with tiny people on it.’

‘That tree is my house.’

‘Here you have to do a dance like this…’

‘Here, you have to do a funny walk like this.’

‘I’m the Doctor. I’m Doctor Dad. You’re Amy.’

And just like that, you create another world and invite me inside with you. You’ve got the Tardis key around your neck and your sonic screwdriver in your hand. You stomp your tiny way through ferns taller than you are. You crouch down to bypass needle sharp gorse and tell me we have to find the Tardis because the aliens are coming.

We circle around and down the hill. You pretend to die by going all stiff and then tell me you are another Doctor.

Which one? A girl or a boy?

‘A boy Doctor.’

Are you old or young?

‘I’m an old man Doctor. But if I get hurt, I be another Doctor.’

We walk on, and you never stop talking, never stop imagining. There is no such thing to you as just a tree, or just a fir-cone, or just a stick. Everything has infinite possibilities. Everything becomes a story.

We walk home, we make it back to the Tardis and your key lets us in, and then you see your bricks and cars, and instantly you are back in that game. A small part of me longs a coffee in the kitchen, checking my phone, taking a breather. But I shove that small part away briskly and firmly.

You want me. You ask for me. You require me in your games and in your many, wonderful worlds. I am honoured to be asked, and needed. For I know you won’t always want me there. And when the places you take me are so magical, they make me forget I am a grown up, they make me forget about unpaid bills and unanswered emails, how, why would I ever say no?

Life Is Story and Stories Are Everywhere

Just recently I penned a guest post for another blog, the topic of which was the reason I write. I know people write for many, many complex reasons, and I think there is more than one reason that compels me to make up stories, but certainly one of the biggest reasons is simply to live more lives. To become other people, to step into their shoes, to create them and control them, to live with them and die with them. It’s the same reason I read, I guess. So that I’m not just me, living this one life.

What I also notice, as I go through my one, short life, punctuated by the lives of the people and worlds I have lovingly created, is how stories are everywhere. How they make up our lives and our worlds, and our day to day existence. Maybe you don’t always notice them, but if you look, stories are everywhere. Everything is, in fact, a story. Or at least, the potential for one. The inspiration for one.

When you get an idea for a story, it’s because you asked a question. You asked, what if? You asked, why? You asked, what is going on here? And you wanted to know the answers to those questions, so you made some up.

Children are wonderful at doing this. Natural play in childhood is nothing but stories and make-believe. I find this utterly enchanting. How they lose themselves completely in made-up worlds. These worlds and stories might make no sense at all to us, the adults, but to them they do. They set them up and let them roll. They start them out of nothing, out of the thin blue air. And they carry them on, for weeks, sometimes years.

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Look at this Playmobil set up. My 3-year-old got given a box of the stuff this week but it was his 10-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister who set it all up like this. I walked past it while tidying up and found myself wondering what was going on. There is one fellow, an outlaw, tied to the roof of a wagon, for instance, and I wanted to know why. There are a lot of rifles placed on a table in the sheriff’s office, and this was also obviously part of the story. The kids had dinner and went back to the Playmobil. I had to do other things, but I would have loved to know what happened next to all these people! This might look like play, and it is, but it’s also a story in action, one that I am sure will develop over the next few days.

A few days ago my youngest sat down to do some drawings on his chalkboard. I wasn’t allowed to join in, I was only allowed to watch. He started drawing big circles and little circles with lines joining them, up. He chatted to himself and when I asked about it, he gave the circles all names like Hop and Plop and Poop and said they were all holding hands because they were friends. They didn’t have faces, but some did have bananas! He then drew a square around them all and said they had gone into a house. This went on for a while, with my son adding further layers to the story. It was a lovely moment, art and storytelling interlinked quite naturally!

Children are just natural storytellers, and we should notice and cherish and encourage this as much as possible. Tonight, one of my older sons early creations, came back to visit us, and I was once again reminded how naturally children construct stories and carry them on through their lives.

When he was almost three, my older son used to get scared at night and get into our bed. We would ask him about this and he would talk about odd little creatures he called the Muckoos. In the day, his sisters would question him, and he would describe them in ever greater detail. (They were small and spiky and multi-coloured and liked to steal biscuits) They also kept him awake at night with their noise and they did lots of naughty things around the house. As the story grew among us all, my son started blaming the Muckoos when things went wrong. I wrote a story about it at the time, which I still have, and may one day do something with!

I’ve never forgotten the Muckoos, and I quite often call my littlest son a Muckoo, as in my mind it sums up a small child, mucky and messy and troublesome and cheeky! I sometimes call him Muckoo Madness, and he will retort; I am not Muckoo Madness!

Anyway, sometimes we have trouble getting the littlest one to bed, and my older son has been helping out the last few nights, by pretending to be a creature called Gavin, who loves stories. This in itself, is just gorgeous. He insists on sitting on a pillow on one side of me, while his little brother sits on the other side. They both get toys to cuddle and we all choose one book to read. Then ‘Gavin’ has to go back to his cave, and my little son happily goes to bed. What a way to use storytelling to encourage a young child to sit still and listen to stories! Tonight, my older son remembered the Muckoos, and ‘Gavin’ told us he was a Muckoo, in fact, the last of his kind. Quite a poignant moment, I felt! It was magical to witness this ‘story’ resurfacing after so many years and I am quite convinced it will continue to develop further layers and complexities…

And for anyone wondering what the last Muckoo looks like, my oldest son agreed to draw one for you!

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