Monthly Archives: April 2018

Truth Be Damned


Robin Hood’s ‘grave’ could be bulldozed and covered in concrete”!

Screams the headline. Well, the site is called Robin Hoods grave, there has always been some controversy over it and when a TV programme investigated with ground penetrating radar they found no sign of bones under the grave stones. The absence of Robin’s remains may not surprise some, there is quite a lot of evidence available to suggest he was always a fictional character and never had a body to start off with. The question therefore is: does it matter if they concrete it over?

Robin Hood is a folk hero with better than average geographical specificity. He is undeniably English, his adversary is unarguably the Sheriff of Nottingham and he is inextricably linked with Sherwood Forest. We also have unusual clarity about what he did: anybody you ask will tell you he was a champion archer and he lived outside the law with not one version of the tales making him a part time magistrate who was handy with a frying pan. The thing about him that is most uncertain would appear to be his basic existence… and I say it matters not one jot!

What is important about the guy who stole from the rich and gave to the poor is not who he was, it is who the rich and the poor were. The earliest written reference to our hero is from 1377 so his stories were in common usage before then and probably had their genesis much earlier. During the three hundred years since the Battle of Hastings, the general populace of England, the Anglo-Saxons, were heavily subjugated to William’s conquerors. The Normans were rich because they took all the land and the Saxons were poor because that was an easy way to keep them under control. The Normans considered themselves a separate and superior race and all Saxons slaves. The oppression of the Saxons was systemic, violent and total. The outlaws of our early medieval folklore, like Hereward the Wake and of course Robin, were not just poor people getting by, struggling with one despotic official, they were freedom fighters, the rebel resistance, battling for their country against a tyrannical occupying force. A quick look at the top movies of the last thirty years will show you how powerful a story that is, even if it happens in a galaxy far, far away.

The Robin Hood story as we know it is part of what UNESCO call our Intangible Cultural Heritage. It is our story, it shapes how we think about ourselves as a nation and feeds into our attitudes to morality, authority and personal freedom. Like King Arthur, Luke Skywalker or even Jesus, arguments against their factual, historical actuality are largely irrelevant; how we relate to the story emotionally and psychologically is the important business.

Would it matter then if, in pursuit of further wealth, the rich and powerful in collusion with the local authorities destroyed the probably invented resting place of a possibly fictitious character?

Simply, yes.

Much as it is the psychological resonance of the stories deep inside us that determine our behaviour, physical items and locations connected with a story reinforce and amplify the re-telling of the tale. Those who feel threatened by a story will seek to denigrate (“It’s not really his grave.”) and eradicate (“Therefore we can bulldoze it.”) these foci. Those who are comforted or inspired by the story will rally to defend them.


As indeed they did. It turns out that the Telegraph’s article is no more factual than the green clad cop-dodger himself. The plans have already been changed to leave the site of the tomb untouched. In a time of idealogical austerity, with the rich avoiding their taxes, I can see Mr. Hood’s merry band returning to the forefront of the folkloric cannon… whatever the truth of the matter may be.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

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A Tractor, A Pint and A Packet Of Fags


Stories matter.  Although only fantasies made of air, they are potent and can have effects in the real world.  Sometimes it’s possible to see people responding to a story, their reactions give away profound changes in opinion or attitude that are happening inside.  We storytellers love these powerful stories and seek them out.  However, the most important story of all is the one you tell yourself abut who you are.

I went to a small, rural primary school then the small, rural, comprehensive secondary school that it fed to.  This meant that I remained in the company of many of the same people for all eleven years of my school life, fine if they were friends but… well I’m sure there were people in your school you would happily have not had to see on a daily basis.

One compatriot from the second category was a chap called Terry Jimbble*.  He had an early growth spurt and at the age of five was taller than average and heavily built, sadly this gave him aspirations to class bully.  Fate had a different path laid out for him and the rest of his development was rather slower.  He soon lost his physical lead, which was just as well because his heart wasn’t really in bullying, he didn’t have the necessary psychopathy for a career in violence and extortion.  Academia didn’t appear to be his oeuvre either and he settled down to a school life of low level vandalism and lesson disruption with occasional flashes of minor thuggery for old times sake.

I was initially a target for Terry, until I caught up with his height and forgot to be appropriately scared of him. He hit me.  It was surprisingly un-painful and I laughed (possibly through mild hysteria). After that our relationship became one of mutual avoidance interspersed with short exchanges of verbal insults.  This relationship was perpetuated in to secondary school by us having to get there on the same bus and being put in the same form.  If this was a film the writer would eventually put us in a tight spot together and we would discover some kind of mutual affection born of long association and the shared danger.  But that is not the story.  The story is not about me and him, it is about him and his story.  Now, you may be expecting one of those inspirational stories in which Tessa will take up a sport/fight for a university place/suffer a terrible accident… and win through against the odds!  But it’s not that story either.

One day in the fifth year during registration Terry came over and sat down next to me.  Since he appeared to be in a peaceable mood I refrained from the traditional jibes and we stumbled in to the unfamiliar territory of a conversation.  Fortunately Terry had an agenda and after a brief exchange he got to the point.
“Do you know why I muck around in lessons, and kick off all the time?” he said.
“It’s because I’m not learning anything I need.  I know what I’m going to do when I leave here. I’m going to drive a tractor all day and in the evening, I’m going to go down the pub and have a pint of beer and a packet of fags.  Then the next day I’m going to do exactly the same thing. I’ve been able to drive a tractor since I was ten.  All this school is just wasting my time… and theirs.”
It was a weirdly honest and direct confession and it stayed with me.

 

A couple of years later I was cycling in to town when the driver of a very large and very smart tractor waved me into a farmyard.  I asked Terry how things were going.
“Everyday I drive my tractor” he said with a big smile on his face,
“and in the evening I go down the pub and have a pint of beer and a packet of fags.”
“and I’m really happy.”

He told himself a story. He made his story real and he lived happily ever after.
Well at least until the smoking ban.

* Not his real name.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

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