I took my first extended outing in the English countryside this past weekend in Norfolk. A friend invited me to stay in his converted stables cottage, with two other storytellers. We joined a line-up of seven people telling stories on the theme of Time.
What a great few days! The cottage is on the grounds of a fabulous manor house called Elsing Hall, in the medieval village of Elsing… population 250. Here’s the mini Downton Abbey that was looming beside our cottage (surrounded by a moat!):
As if a weekend in this lovely setting wasn’t enough, we had the joy of telling stories to locals who were more than welcoming and receptive. The venue was a fabulous organic farm shop and restaurant, housed in an 18th century converted barn, called Back to the Garden in Holt.
I was a bit nervous since so far I was only used to city audiences (London, Edinburgh Fest crowd, and my home town of San Francisco). But I soon realized that people are essentially the same regardless of geography, and they respond to the same archetypal themes running through most personal stories. Fear, humor, loss, transformation… these are all themes appearing in the course of any person’s life regardless of where they live.
I was particularly moved by one storyteller’s experiences in his business running tours in Norfolk. Glynn Burrows of Norfolk Tours said that his job, when he thought about it in preparation for telling his story, was really time travel. A historian by nature, he takes visitors to specific places they request to see in search of their ancestors and family history. Most of his clients come from overseas, many from America and Australia.
In telling us about different clients and how he took them to their requested destinations, he expressed how special it was for him to be present in their moments of recognition about their ancestors. These moments were often very emotional. Like the time he took an American WWII bomber pilot to his former barracks in Norfolk, and to see the Memphis Belle take off from a local air field. And the time a woman from Alabama made the unusual request of going to Ipswich docks so she could wave to a distant ancestor who sailed to America from those docks in the 1600’s. She wanted to wish him well as he sailed off to the New World.
Many of us (including Glynn) had tears in our eyes when he described these visitors’ experiences when standing at the sights to which they were linked through time by their ancestors.
Read filmmaker and director Emma Lindley’s account of the weekend, with insight into her own storytelling experience, here: True Stories.
Story ideas: What memories does the theme of time bring up for you? Have you ever run into or met someone just at the right time in your life? Have you done any “time travel” of your own? Often people ask “Where were you when…” a big event occurred – what is that event in your life?