The joy of story-telling

In adulthood, I appear to have subscribed to my parents’ ethos of retreating to ye olde worlde past times when on holiday. No TV and limited internet access means that books, cards and the company of good friends is all the entertainment you need.

One of our number was given a gift by our Texan chef of Peter Ackroyd’s London Under – a book that’s been on my wishlist in anticipation of its imminent paperback release. There are just two things you need to know about it:
(i) It’s by one of modernity’s best biographers and story-tellers. [See his biographies of, amongst others, Dickens, T.S. Eliot & Blake and his many volumes relating in some way to London.]
(ii) It’s about what has taken place beneath the streets of London – which obviously includes the tube…

So many of us were intrigued by the book that we ended up listening to it being read aloud – beginning an evening of sharing it and Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman (more – much more – on this in another post). Over the next few days, in rainstorms and quiet pre-dinner lulls, more was shared. Unsurprisingly, I was entranced. Even the chapter about the foul Fleet River (in which people drowned in their own excrement) was fascinating – partly thanks to my realisation that it ran along the street on which I live. There’s also something captivating about listening to descriptions of familiar places that you can visualise, while sat in the French countryside hundreds of miles away from the dirt of London. But most intriguing of all were the stories of The Underground and its construction. It cheered the soul of this TfL geek immensely.

I highly recommend it – well, both the book and story-telling generally. The book’s a corker and a must for all London fans and TfL geeks, the lost art of reading aloud to others deserves to be rekindled. It’s a lovely way to pass the time, and enables everyone to be on the same page simultaneously. I’d brought the aforementioned How to be a Woman with me, as had another friend – but we were always on different chapters. It lent itself to sharing aloud, mostly because when read to oneself, spontaneous giggling alerted others to its amusing content – it became a form of light relief after some of the darker elements of Ackroyd’s work.

To whet your appetite for the book, here’s a taster from one of those pre-dinner lulls. I know the audience looks bored rigid, but trust me, that’s actually entrancement on their faces – it’s just masked by sheer exhaustion from the end of a long day on site. They really are captivated by the dulcet tones of a reformed Brummie. Honest.

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