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I want to tell you a story

Something very special happened to me a couple of weeks ago, which has not happened to me for many years.
Someone read a bedtime story to me.
Alright, it was not just to me (it was to a couple of thousand plus people) and I was sitting in a chair in Westminster Central Hall in London, but it was the joy of a well read bedtime story was what I was experiencing.
The story was “Fortunately, the Milk…” and it was being read by the author Neil Gaiman with the assistance of various folks including comedian Mitch Benn – and somewhat to the delighted amazement of the audience – Lenny Henry (playing a Space Police Dinosaur).
It was one of the most entertaining evenings I’ve had for ages. Funny, silly and just the right mixture of telling a thrilling story and being in a friendly environment, by which I mean the space where you kind of understand that everyone is in on the joke and that no one was there to do anything else other than to have good time.
When someone reads to you live in this way it is surprisingly arresting and I think you stop being critical and just listen. Or you do interact but it is in a positive way. At a dramatic part of the reading a small child responded to an evil alien blob’s laugh by shouting back, delighting Gaiman and the audience because that child, like most of us, was just lost in the story.
I honestly do not think film or TV or even theatre can quite have the same effect (that’s not a criticism of those media – I am just saying this is different).
I have been told that I am quite good at telling bedtime stories. I have limited experience as sadly I have no kid of my own to practice on, but when I have been invited to relieve tired parents from it in the past I have been soundly scolded afterwards. Unwittingly, it seems, I had raised the bar for those poor parents a little high and that story is never quite the same again. My apologies…
I can understand the scolding as I have the advantage of stepping in once or twice throwing everything in and then backing out to the peace and quiet of home, leaving the parents to deal with the fallout. Reading a story out loud properly takes quite a bit of effort. There are voices to do, silly or sinister or both; you have to change the mood often and rapidly while checking to see that your audience is not actually terrified so much they won’t go to sleep.
It is tiring stuff. But it is really a giving thing so it should be.
It reminds me a little of massage. Years ago I did a couple of years of massage class and what struck me was just how tired everyone was after the practice. You have to give out a lot in massage to do it properly. It is not something that can be done well in a half hearted manner. You are transferring energy to the recipient (and incidentally I’m not getting esoteric here, I talking the physics of energy transfer through the friction and heat of hard working hands). That takes it out of you.
So like massage, reading to someone is going to be tiring, but it is often rewarding and relaxing for the recipient, and a job well done brings at least satisfaction – and nothing is more satisfying than the signals that mean you have bewitched the reader with your telling.
It is not for everyone. Some of us do not like the sound of our voices or find reading harder than others or just a bit shy. For those of us who like the sounds of our voices too much (ahem) maybe we should look for more opportunities to use those voices to tell fun stories rather than spout ill informed opinions.
Subsequently, inspired by the reading I tracked down a couple of Gaiman’s older stories (“The Wolves in the Walls” and “The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish”) and had a go reading them to the lovely Wife. I enjoyed doing so. She enjoyed my readings (although with some nervousness over the wolves). I heartily recommend it as an activity.
Think about a short story you really like and try it out on someone you really like, and if they are comfortable, have them return the favour. Maybe you could have a short story party – it is a good an excuse as any for a get together and you might hear something very special.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.


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