My dog has started not coming back.
When he was young, that was nothing noteable. He never came back , not, that is, until he had followed every olfactory lead, remonstrated with every squirrel, chased every deer. He never. Came. Back.
Except when he was not supposed to. Once I got a panicked call from Phil, still wandering in wide circles in the forest, calling the dog’s name.
The dog’s disappeared, he told me, the overt concern palpable in his voice. Can’t find him anywhere.
We both knew that a ferocious main road separated the forest from our house. The consequences of Macaulay, taking his homeward journey into his own hands were not worth entertaining.
But as I held the phone, there was a whimper and a scratch at the door. I answered it, and there he was, a bit shook up, with a nasty skin-deep wound on one side, but otherwise, fine.
A trip to the vets later, we were celebrating his new status as the first dog with more than one life. Or maybe he bartered one from Kit Kat.
But as he has grown and matured, he has become the archetypal mutt who trots alongside one, disappearing for maybe two Deep Forest Exploring minutes before he’s back smelling even worse than before.
Lately, though, his hearing has once more become selective.
He is seduced by the forest at this time of year. Those balmy woodland acres are like Mrs Robinson, an experienced siren with so much to offer the young hound-about-town. His senses of hearing and smell take over and when I call, with my comedy Koom-Bai holler, it’s just so much white noise to him.
He’s not the only one to hear selectively. I was watching the BBC news the other day when it ran a feature about a new drama series.
With a mediumweight cast and a sizeable budget, it centred on the real-life story of a young academic who became the victim of a stalker.
On the BBC couch sat the man who had been at the centre of the real-life drama: the academic himself. The Beeb fronted the article with a key scene from the drama. It was the scene when the stalker had first called him.
“What did you think of it?” they asked him. “When you first watched it, did it give you goosebumps to see it happening all over again?”
And he replied that it didn’t: because it was absolutely nothing like the way the event happened in the first place.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Beeb.
I felt for the scriptwriter, sitting next to him, listening to his polite disowning of everything she had written. Because, while you can check every major fact, all storytelling must come from a teller, and every teller has their own perception.
As a journalist, my job is to inform. It is vital I check every tiny fact to ensure accuracy. I can’t afford selective hearing.
But as a storyteller I often view stories as in a glass dimly, across time. My tales are coloured by those I have learned to love and those I never could get to like. I pick and choose, arrange artfully, present to the best advantage. I am selective.
I retold a Phil story a while ago on this very blog. And whilst he acknowledged that it was vastly entertaining, he said it wasn’t how it happened AT ALL.
How do those Lerner and Loewe lyrics go? We met at nine,We met at eight. I was on time: No, you were late. Ah, yes, I remember it well.
We slave away to ensure that each fact is accurate. But each of us has a completely unique way of selecting and interpreting the facts. They pass through the prism that is you or me, and become refracted.
The irony is, it is that very prism which makes it such a great tell.
Think back to a time you were sitting on someone’s sofa, or in a pub, or in the coffee lounge at work, and someone told you a story which made you cry laughing.
The bare facts, they’re funny enough. But everything is in the delivery, isn’t it?
I went to a wedding in Bantry Bay, Ireland once. Three quarters of the way through the evening, I came across both bride and groom in helpless fits of giggles. Apparently, the bride had headed for the toilet with a bridesmaid some minutes before.
As they chatted and laughed, they became aware of a rhythmic tapping forming an ostinato to their conversation. They stopped talking. The tapping stopped too.
They resumed their chat, only to hear the clicking under the words, just as before.
They stopped. And this time, they waited silently. Softly, softly catches the monkey.
After a short while another cubicle door swung open, and out walked a nun.
“Oh, that’s so much better!” she declared exuberantly to the two curious onlookers. “A bit of practice makes the feet fly, now, doesn’t it?”
And she walked out.
It was that time at every wedding when the dancing is in full swing. And the competition was fierce. Couples were duelling with foxtrots, dazzling with the passo doble.
The good sister had come into the toilet, and locked herself into the cubicle, to practice her tap dancing. This done, she went out to give it her all, out on that most excellent of dance floors.
Together, the bride, the groom, myself and several onlookers doubled up, utterly helpless with laughter. We couldn’t breathe. I’m sure the wine helped: but the bride’s perfect delivery of the simple tale of the nun who wanted to dance: that was the real seller.
And the delight of storytelling is this: that each of us is a unique prism. I can’t tell the story the same way that bride did.
I can think of many I have known who have captivated me with their storytelling.
And I hope there will be many, many more.