Jack’s Wednesday guest blog on Thursday –
One of my favorite bloggers is Andrew Tickell (Lallans Peat Worrier), who’s normal subject is the oddity of Scotland and the rest of the UK having completely separate and different legal systems. His posts are always interesting and frequently hilariously funny.
But a few days ago he wrote a guest column for The National – a Scottish daily newspaper, that was completely different. It was a tribute to his Great Grandfather who had been a family doctor on the West coast of Scotland and who had been diligent in making sure that little trace of his great humanity and service to his community would be recognized after his death (even insisting on being buried in an unmarked grave).
I was very moved by Andrew’s tribute and also by his plea for family stories to be guarded and passed on.
When Wendy and I first met she was working as a community storyteller in Kingsport TN with folk living in a housing project using the power of stories to help them deal with a range of personal issues. After we married she continued with this use of storytelling, both in Scotland and England, and with groups as diverse as single mothers, school-kids, relatives of terminally ill children, refugees and asylum-seekers.
During that time I became more familiar with storytelling as a specific tool and also as a popular entertainment. That’s where I begin to have difficulties, though – –
My first experience of story as a ‘cousin’ of songs and music was in a domestic setting. The home of the famous ‘Stewarts of Blair’ was the place and the family were famous as tradition-bearers and much recorded by folklorists. Despite their popularity at festivals and concerts they were always at their best in small intimate settings. Much later I would accompany Wendy to storytelling festivals, in Ireland, England, Scotland and the US. The biggest, of course, is the famous one in Jonesborough TN, with lots of marquees and thousands of attendees.
What I take from this?
I definitely do believe that family stories should be preserved and passed on. I also believe that there’s a real skill in telling stories and that they can serve a powerful educational purpose. As entertainment on a big stage? Maybe not so much.
Jack’s guest post today –
Regular readers may recall that I tend to favor non-fiction and particularly histories of one kind or another. So our recent visit to colonial Williamsburg suited me down to the ground. As a ‘New American’ myself it was fascinating to be immersed in the life of those other newcomers of the mid 1700s.
The first thing to catch my attention were all the union flags dotted around, but it took me a little while to work out why they seemed a bit strange. There was no red saltire! Just the white one signifying Scotland. Then it dawned on me – the red saltire is for Ireland and it was a colony as well then, so wasn’t part of Great Britain/The United Kingdom.
Williamsburg is a small compact town containing some eighty original houses and many other reconstructed ones, all laid out between the Governor’s Palace at one end and the Capitol at the other. in between is a mixture of domestic homes, taverns and shops where re-enactors play out the everyday life of the 1760s through the 1780s. I was continually reminded that there was no ‘United States’ at the start – just a collection of individual colonies that started as English and then became British (the last Governor was a Scot).
Something I was very aware of as we explored the town over a couple of days was how different this part of Virginia would have been compared to where we live here in Big Stone Gap. Williamsburg would have been the epitome of sophisticated living with fine furnishings and modern amenities for the day, whereas SW Virginia would have been the outer reaches of the frontier (hhmmm – let me just think about that again – – -)
At various times each day there were specific little scenes played out by specially knowledgeable actors taking the part of prominent citizens of the time. The members of the audience at these events were invited to ask questions and play a part as the tableaux unfolded. My favorite one involved a young man playing the part of the Marquis de Lafayette. He was himself half French and half American and his knowledge of the history of the time was very impressive. As soon as he heard my accent he showed his understanding of the complicated relationship betwixt Scotland, England and France as a backdrop to the American War of Independence. Remembering that we had to stay in the correct time-frame, I asked him if he thought the American Revolution would have a ‘knock-on effect’ in France and his reply was very interesting. He said he favored a constitutional monarchy! But he feared that, unless Louis paid attention to what was happening, there could be a real and bloody revolution – – –
Other events were equally enlightening, but my highlight was still the Marquis.