Tag Archives: school

If Truth Be Told


Sometimes I am surprised by something story related that turns up on the net, not because it is on the net but because I remember being told it at primary school and am amazed that it was considered appropriate. One such item is a famous painting and it’s attendant story: “The Truth coming out of the well” by Jean-Léon Gérôme. The painting features a rather pleasant Mediterranean courtyard corner with a vine climbing up the walls. In the foreground a young lady is stepping over a low wall wearing nothing but a shocked expression.

The story that goes with the picture is that the Truth and the Lie meet one day. The Lie says “What a lovely day”! The Truth looks around and has to agree, since the day is rather nice. The two amble around together for a while and eventually arrive at a well. The Lie tells the Truth: “The water is very nice, let’s take a bath together!” The Truth, once again suspicious, tests the water and discovers that it indeed is very nice. They undress and start bathing.

Now, I’m not sure what you think but, as a 6 year old I was dubious about the concept of random strangers meeting up and going skinny dipping in the water supply. I especially had trouble with the idea of taking a bath in a well as this would surely necessitate some level of naked climbing or levitation, on top of which they had no towels or soap with them and the whole episode seemed rather unlikely. Looking back I realise I must have been a much more literal child than the adult I grew into and clearly had issues with extended metaphor, so for anyone else who is struggling with details of this nature I should probably suggest that they are unimportant, just the dressing, let them go. It is an allegory and as such it is the interrelation of the two characters that we are supposed to be paying attention to.

Suddenly, the Lie gets out, puts on the Truth’s clothes and legs it. The Truth is unsurprisingly rather miffed and clambering out of the well runs around trying to find the Lie and reclaim her clobber. The World, seeing the Truth naked, turns its gaze away, with contempt and rage.

And this is the bit I had trouble with in terms of appropriateness. There seemed to be a double standard about the nakedness issue. If we are not supposed to look at her naked then why are you showing us a picture? Also, someone’s nicked her clothes, why is everyone being mean to her? Furthermore, I really didn’t like the ending which leaves the world a very dark and hopeless place. Is this really the world view to present to infants?


The poor Truth, so the story goes, went back to the well and hid in it, feeling ashamed of her nakedness. Since then the Lie travels the world freely, dressed as the Truth, satisfying the needs of society, because, the World, in any case, harbours no wish at all to meet the naked Truth.

See what I mean? Grim. Today though, I am a storyteller and I know things that I did not know then. I know that Truth did not stay in the well. She crept out under cover of darkness and turned up at the Storyteller’s door. There she was taken in, given food, comfort, a warm bed and gentle embraces. Now each day the Storyteller dresses her in material of metaphor, wraps her in robes of fantasy, heightens her appeal with hats of hyperbole and sends Truth out, hiding in plain sight, to whisper in to peoples hearts.

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

The Travelling Talesman

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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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