17 March 2016

Stories

Norman MacCaig
Many moons ago, when I was an undergraduate at The University of Stirling in Bonny Scotland, one of my tutors was a relatively well known poet called Norman MacCaig. Born in 1910, he had a way with words and was unlike the typical career academics who staffed the Department of English Studies. His complexion was that of a lifelong whisky drinker and he had a faraway look in his eyes - as if longing for another place, another time.

One semester, along with a dozen other students, I had to visit his office every Thursday morning for a tutorial in which we would discuss the previous week's reading tasks. Norman MacCaig was of course the chairperson - leading, provoking, querying and generally pushing the debate along. However, he was not averse to sidetracks and once related a long and  funny story from his youth which had the entire tutorial group in stitches. It was a story with pauses, poetic turns of phrase, highs and lows and descriptive colour.

The following week we were all back at his office for the next tutorial in which once again he sidetracked and told us a long and funny story from his youth. But the thing was this - it was exactly the same story he had told the week before - complete with the same pauses, the same poetic turns of phrase and the same descriptive colour. Naturally, our response was muted on this occasion. We wondered how many times he had trundled the old story out. It was like a learnt monologue that had been honed and polished over the years. It made him seem even sadder.

But if the truth be known,  we all have stock stories that we roll out from time to time and perhaps we are all in danger of repeating Norman MacCaig's faux pas. Not every tale we tell as we journey through our lives is a once only account, never to be heard again and in the next blogpost I will relate one of my stock stories.

By the way, Norman MacCaig died in 1996. Here's one of his poems:-


15 comments:

  1. It is absolutely true that we all have tales from the past that grow with each telling. The reason I have a search on my blog is so I can check to make sure I'm not repeating myself too much!

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    1. Three cheers for the search bar on blogger! I use it all the time, if only to check whether I've read something of a specific author before, or when I've been to a specific place.

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  2. I am afraid that parrots have a habit of repeating themselves "Pieces of Eight! SQUAWK! Pieces of Eight! SQUAWK!"
    "Shaddap you annoying bird!"
    "Pieces of Eight!"
    THwwwwAAAK! (Sound of slipper flying through the air)
    CLUNK! (Sound of parrot falling off perch).

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  3. I love the Norman McCaig poem - I had forgotten it but have just been and re-read it - I shall read it at our next Poetry afternoon - I love his poetry.

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    1. I hope you will read it in a lilting Edinburgh accent Mrs Weaver - just like Norman himself. Have a double whisky first.

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  4. Perhaps that was his party piece?
    Not a poet I've heard of, he'd be considered too "modern" when I was at school, but an interesting poem.

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    1. If poetry was like football he would be in The Championship - not in The Premier League with Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.

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  5. Your prose has definitely described the physical person and the personality of the person who could, and did, write that poem.

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    1. It's nice to know the people behind Literature. To have a sense of where the words came from.

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  6. I've been known to tell stories to students. I probably repeated a few. some of these old characters were still able to teach some good stuff.

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    1. All of us repeat tales but I think it is rare to use the exact words you used before.

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  7. Repeating something happens to me occasionally, too; I forget whether I've been talking about a specific thing happening in my life to my Mum, my sister, RJ, other friends, colleagues... and sometimes my sister will say "You've told me already" but someone else will be very surprised that I never told them when they hear about it from another source. Multiple relationships, multiple storytelling threads... one can get easily confused, and I imagine it will not become easier with getting older!

    On my one and (so far) only US holiday (Florida), I was stung by an unsuspecting stingray who had covered himself with a thin layer of sand in the shallow water near the beach where we were spending the day. The poor thing didn't do anything wrong - it was I who was intruding on him (or her - I didn't check).
    In retelling the story, my sister and I have a running joke that the stingray got bigger every time, up to the point where it was the size of a manta and followed me all the way across the beach to the car and rattled the car door, trying to get in.
    I think you have just given me a good story to tell at my upcoming birthday party :-D

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    1. Don't forget that the stingray's barb had a length of 35 cm and on its underside two grooves containing its lethal venom glands. Also don't forget the muscular blonde lifeguard who dived into the water to rescue you, bravely fighting the stingray off before carrying you back up to the beach where cheering sunbathers applauded as Hank (the lifeguard) whispered in your ear, "How about dinner later honey?"

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  8. Oh...we all have the habit of repeating stories...and then suffer the embarrassment later when recalling we've told the story to the same person/s before.

    Oh...we all have the habit of repeating stories...and then suffer the embarrassment later when recalling we've told the story to the same person/s before.

    I might have told you this before.... ;)

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    1. Ha! Ha! That is very clever Lee!

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