I used to work as a social worker and, as part of my work, I would often have to present reports at panel and in court. It was a problem, as I was terrified of speaking in public and it actually compromised my work as I ended up with all the usual – dry mouth, tongue glued to the roof of my mouth and quivering like a wreck.
I have always had two fears – fear of heights and fear of speaking in public and I decided that, not only did fear of speaking in public serve no evolutionary purpose but that it was interfering in me being able to do my job. The fear of heights at least has some sense to it. I decided to do something about it a few years ago and booked myself a slot at a true stories told live event in Cambridge. Kill or cure. I had chosen to tell a story from my childhood of a day out with my family to Longleat Safari Park when the lions decided that we were potential lunch material but they didn’t actually eat any of us. The story has been in my head and images since the age of 5 so it felt like an easy choice of story. I stood on stage in front of a crowd of people and not a sound would come out of my mouth. Nothing. Zilch. Silence. Then something miraculous happened – the world still kept spinning, Jupiter didn’t plummet from the skies and I didn’t drop down dead with nerves. As soon as I realised this and was able to laugh at myself, the story started to spill forth and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The storyteller that had always sat just below the skin had finally been given a chance to sing.
Good fortune led me to the International School of Storytelling in Sussex where the lions took the stage once more. There was something in this story that brought joy and seemed to resonate with people, as do so many of our stories. Fast forward a couple of years and someone from a storytelling course I had been on at the school suggested that I enter the lions in the Moth storytelling competition. They won and, the lions and I were the first Moth story to be told outside of America in September 2014. An article about the lion story was then printed in the Guardian newspaper bringing forth a flood of people getting in touch about their close encounters with wildlife.
Just when I thought the lions were content to nap, that they had had their time in the limelight, then their roar began to rumble once more. Radio 4 contacted me to ask whether I would go on Saturday Live in May this year to tell the story. To me, Radio 4 represents all that is right with the world. It connects people, gives people a chance to tell their stories, and it shares stories from all over the world and brings laughter straight into the homes of millions. Saturday Live is a particular favourite and I was to go on with Chris Tarrant, Iain Lauchlan from Play School, a programme from my childhood that was enchanting, and Dino Martins, an entomologist.
I pitched up at Broadcasting House in London in the early hours and was introduced to the other guests and producers. The place was absolutely buzzing with laughter and the sheer excitement of being involved with the joy that is radio. Iain Lauchlan had brought Fingermouse with him. Fingermouse! It is essentially a piece of grey cardboard with two little grey cardboard ears but I was completely star struck. Fingermouse was a part of my childhood and shows gloriously the importance of simplicity in allowing children’s imagination to do what it must in order to let the stories flow. I was actually allowed to hold Fingermouse and talk to him and was a bit lost for words. Given that there were actually ‘real’ celebrities in the building it may have seemed a bit peculiar that I was swooning over a bit of grey cardboard but I was really swooning over the magic that I had been gifted as a child. Fingermouse was a portal to another world, a door to a land that didn’t involve school, family, the chaos of the world and if I have ever been in any doubt that storytelling is vital for our wee folk of the world then Fingermouse is a timely reminder.
Another Radio 4 programme that is a personal favourite is Woman’s Hour hosted by Jenni Murray. I ‘eeked’ as I went past the Woman’s Hour desk and declared Jenni Murray to be one of my best friends (although Jenni doesn’t actually know that). As with characters in books and stories, people on the radio become personal friends, people who bring stories into our lives and throw a lifeline of connection when it is most needed. Keen to pander to my very evident enthusiasm for all things Radio 4, the producers actually went and got me Jenni Murray’s chair to sit in and Jenni Murray’s headphones to put on. Complete this with being able to have Fingermouse on my very own finger and I was one happy bunny.
Chris Tarrant told stories of his father in the war. Iain Lauchlan told stories of how he came to work in children’s television. Dino Martins told stories of his childhood in Kenya and of the amazing work that he does in the world. I told the lion story and, once again, people told me how it resonated with them and of how connecting the story is.
I don’t know what it is about the lion story that means that they refuse to lie down. I do know that I am tremendously grateful to have had the chance to be part of Radio 4 and to share the story. When I was asked to go on the show I thought about the other people in the car at the time of the lion episode and realised that there are actually only 3 people left alive, me, my mum and one of my brothers, out of the 9 people that were in the car that day. If we do not share our stories, they cease to exist. By sharing the lion story, in some way the other people in the car also remain alive and that is the same for all of the stories that we share. Our ancestors want their stories to be told too and, we who are able to, must tell their stories. I don’t know who wants me to keep telling the lion story but, for some reason, those lions keep on roaring.
Facebook – Glenys Newton Author
Twitter – @Laymamma
Author of ‘Home Flown – The Laymamma’s Guide to an Empty Nest’
And ‘No Wonder We’re All Mad – Storytelling Our Way to Mental Health’