Monday, 10 June 2013

story travels: the UK, old friends and new

A couple of my good friends now live in London, and as I was going to be in their part of the world, I decided to detour on my way to Scotland to call in and spend time with them. One of them and his wife were not going to be around when I was there, unfortunately, but I still got to spend a delightfully sunny day with Anna, her daughter, and later her husband. It truly is one of the more superb bits of being human, the friends with whom we travel, the special ones who we don't see so often, but when we do, it's as if no time has passed at all.

From London I took the train (actually, four trains and a bus) to St Andrews, where I was exploring my hunch that the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts in the School of Divinity would be a good place for my PhD project when it comes time to do it. I was right.
From the medieval buildings, to its place in reformation history (not such a lovely place, as the site of the execution of a Catholic priest or bishop by Protestants ... there's another story in there for my series 'In the name of'), the sea, the churches, the village life, the people - this is somewhere I could happily live for a season.

this is where Phd students work 

Cathedral wall, bluff: sat over there looking out to sea for a little while

this is the site of that execution ... 


hidden loch, Banton
By the time I arrived in Banton, a small village 15 mins out of Stirling, I was exhausted, having had no down time since Prague, and done a lot of travelling in a few days. So rather than spending a day in Glasgow, I spent a day in Banton, walking to a hidden loch nearby the home of my hosts, sitting in the sunshine, processing the conference in my mind. I must say, this day was quite restorative.

I was then willing to embark on one last day of exploring, in Edinburgh, where I was checking out the Scottish Storytelling Centre, which is housed with John Knox House and the Netherbow theatre on the Royal Mile, halfway between parliament and the castle.
I got a bit disoriented, and wandered around a little lost for about an hour, before finally heading in the right direction and finding my destination. I sat in a cafe across the road eating lunch, watching people go by, journalling, and drooling over this centre dedicated to the telling of stories and the nurturing of storytellers.
After lunch, I met with Daniel, who told me some of the story of the centre - with its origins in the dream of one man, who continues to lead the centre as chairman of the board, and the support of the Church of Scotland initially, to now surviving independently and partnering with and participating in all sorts of arts festivals in Edinburgh, and Scotland. They offer accreditation and support for storytellers (and I was invited to receive this support, too, if I end up living in Scotland), hold events in their theatre and all over the country, offer workshops, run a cafe, have resources available (it was all I could do to refrain from buying lots of them!). There's a nook outside for storytelling in good weather; and interactive story wall with all sorts of stories from Scotland (including Sherlock Holmes, the Arthurian legends and more); art installations ... I want one ;o)

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
Actually, I'm not sure what a storytelling centre would look like in Australia - it's such a big land, that anything central and national is difficult. Could you have a storytelling caravan, or a series of them, staffed with wandering storytellers roaming the country telling stories and enabling ordinary everyday Australians to tell their story? Would a storytelling centre in each of the capital cities work? I'm pretty sure they'd need to be intentionally and visibly multicultural from the start, open to facilitating the storytelling of different faith and cultural traditions, not privileging the stories of any one over others. Something to dream about ...

From there I wandered up the Royal Mile, heading for the castle, but never arriving (well only at the gate). I got side-tracked. As I entered the Cathedral, I was ten minutes after the start of a free choral concert, and it was just what I needed, some singing in a sacred space, it seems, for I sat and stayed. Choral pieces were interspersed with recorder pieces (little inner squeal, these are favourites for me) and a brass ensemble (another favourite). I sat, I listened, I breathed. What better way to appreciate a cathedral than with music reverberating through its spaces?
Listening to music, St Giles Cathedral

In the gift shop I finally found a magnet and a book with the Agnew name on them - one of the smaller clans, not every shop has us on their shelves. Topped the afternoon off.
Too late for the castle, I wandered around a little aimlessly before it was time enough for dinner, then I went back to the theatre for a storytelling performance that was just the right way to finish off my two weeks. A story about a journey. The storytellers were engaging, honest, vulnerable, entertaining. The story was well crafted, and involved the audience in its telling. The theatre is really well designed for intimate storytelling performances. Daniel introduced this storyteller from Australia to the performers afterwards, and I felt like I was with friends, not just fellow storytelling colleagues.

It certainly feels as though Scotland is calling, wanting to be the site of more of my story than just these few days.

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