TALES FROM MY STREET: STORIES TODAY – MORE BROADCAST BUT LESS TRACTION

“How was Wales?” I ask Nige.

He takes a long contemplative swallow of lager. “You know how we get our stories from the telly and books?” he says. “Well, I’ve just been staying in a place where stories are kind of unsegregated. They just roll around town, turning up anywhere they damn well please.”

“Where was that, exactly?”

“Place called Penderyn, on the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons, as they say on Country-soddin’-file. Trying to have a holiday. Booked into a nice B&B in the hills, a couple of miles from the village. First night, I went into this pub called the Lamb.”

“Sounds like a scene from ‘American Werewolf in London’.”

“The problem with that particular scene is that it might be funny but it ain’t really true, Tel. It’s the usual suspects’ – middle-class writers, that is – view of what rural working class people are like.”

“You being about as rural as Nandos. So, what happened in the Lamb?”

“It’s really just a one-room pub,” he says. “When you walk in, it’s like you’ve appeared on stage. It’s obviously not changed since the 70s and it doesn’t care. The guy who owns it stands behind the bar and you can’t not meet his eyes as you go in. He and the pub and the drinks and you are all part of the show. You can’t not be. It would be plain rude if you just took your drink and sat in the corner with a book or your phone, ignoring everyone.”

“You broke into song, or what?”

“No. We all told stories. Not like Shakespeare or Salmon bleedin’ Rushdie. But about life and people you know and where you’ve been, and it all weaved into this kind of communal non-stop tale that you were real glad to be part of.”

“I can just about remember when this pub was a bit like that, thirty years ago.”

“Yeah, but since then it’s been bought by a brewery, ain’t it? And somehow people round here don’t feel so inclined to tell stories so much. And no one would look up from their mobiles anyway even if you did. Anyway, the next day, I decided to go for a walk in the hills. The landlord told me to start at the triangle of chickens. And there really was a triangle of muddy land in the middle of a housing estate full of chickens. I was standing there, wondering which way to go when this old guy turned up.”

“Did he own the chickens?”

“No, his nephew did. And he got talking somehow about Lewis Lewis who’d led a working class protest against the lowering of wages, who started a riot in Merthyr. He got caught and was sentenced to death and was held overnight in the Lamb. His sentence was commuted to exile to Australia where he became a wealthy and respected citizen. Thing is, he didn’t tell me that this all happened nearly two hundred years ago; and he mixed it in with stories from last week as if they were part of Lewis Lewis’s tale, and in a way they were because in his mind it’s all just the place he lives in.”

I go to the bar to get more drinks. I think about Nige’s story about stories. When I go back, I say, “Story-telling has become partitioned off in the modern world. People called writers hide away in their rooms and write A Story. Then they present it to strangers all over the place. Go back to their room and write another one.”

Nige looks at me oddly. “Ain’t that what you do, Tel?”

“Yes but I’m not sure it’s natural. It’s like when we were younger, everyone was a bike mechanic, but now you take your bike to The Bike Mechanic.”

“Not sure it’s the same thing. Surely, if you write a brilliant, mind-expanding story, it’s better to share it will millions rather than just Dai and Bryn in the dusty old Lamb. Not to mention you’d make more dosh that way.”

I laugh at his naivety. “That’s the stupid thing. Most published stories only get shared with a handful of people anyway. Probably less than in Penderyn, and you don’t even know who they are.”

“More broadcast but less traction,” he says. “Any idiot can broadcast any stupid story about his stupid cat what doesn’t like Whiskas but will kill for Felix and potentially it’s going to millions around the planet. But even if it does somehow reach tons of other idiots, it ain’t got no traction. It’ll be forgotten in no time.”

“Whereas they’re still telling the story of Lewis Lewis two hundred years on in Penderyn.”

“And you can’t hide in the Lamb,” he says. “You can’t sit in the corner and send your story electronically to the other side of the world without anyone seeing you. You have to tell it direct to other people’s faces; which means if it ain’t any good, you find out straight away.”

“Before TV and the internet,” I say, “you had to go out and find the stories, too. Go to the pub and wait for them to turn up; or visit the library and develop the knack of finding great books. Not just sit in your room and open up whatever the internet trough puts in front of you.”

“You used to have to woo a woman, too,” he says. “But now you . . . actually, I don’t know what you do now. Like them on Facebook?”

Stories are as old as the human race. But the human race has changed. It’s become impatient, with less ability to concentrate. Whether this is because of chemicals in our homes or the speeding up of social media, or both, I don’t know.

“I think stories have to go back inside for a while,” I find myself saying. “Before, people led more concentrated lives, so their stories had more substance, more inner depth. Now, we’re more like battery chickens; all the same, replicas of one set of chicken genes owned by a faceless mega-wealthy corporation.”

Nige stands, his glass already empty. “Another?” he says.

“You do realise lager’s full of chemicals that play havoc with your ability to perceive the world accurately.”

“As a matter of fact, Tel,” he says, “I’m counting on it.”

 

 

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