Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Story Boat

There was a Man who had an idea.

The Man lived on an island on a long river that ran all the way out to the sea. All along the river there were little islands, each with little villages. And on every island, the people told all sorts of different stories. They told stories about dancing mermaids and cats that sang and the many tales of the fish that told fortunes.

The Man thought it would be a good idea to build a boat and sail round collecting all the stories. And every time he stopped at an island he would share stories from one place, and collect stories from another. Everyone would get to hear new stories, everyone would learn new things.

He was pretty sure it was quite a good idea and so he went to speak to the Wise Men and The Elders about it.
“Why would anyone be interested in that? That’s much too hard to do.” said the Wise Men.
“No one likes stories.” said The Elders.
The Man went home and thought about if for a bit, and then, he decided to do it anyway.

He thought, and he drew, and he talked and he listened and he got lots of people from the village to help build his Story Boat. And they told him the first stories for his collection. Finally, the Story Boat set sail...

Lots of people liked the Story Boat and would come from far away to visit it and ask questions, and some people asked him to come and help them make Story Boats to use on their river. And all the time, The Man was always collecting more stories, and adding new books and rooms and flags and sails to his boat.

The Wise Men and The Elders had forgotten all about The Man’s Story Boat, but then one day when they were out visiting an island on the next river over, they saw a Story Boat someone else had built.
“What a good idea.” they said “I wish we’d thought of something like that. We should get one of those.”
So they went home to plan how to do it.

The Man heard The Wise Men and The Elders were planning to build a Story Boat and he went along to speak to them.
“We already have a Story Boat.” he said “I built it, it sails every day.”
“Not like this Story Boat.” said The Wise Men, “This one will be bigger and probably have a flashing sign and maybe also a cake shop.”
“I know someone who can make signs.” said The Man, “Oh and a girl who runs this amazing cake shop.”
“Ah...well...we already know what kind of signs and cakes we want on the Story Boat.”
“Okay fine.” said The Man, “I could still help you with it. I’ve built a Story Boat before y’see.”
“Yes but have you built one like this?” said the Wise Men.
“Not exactly like that, no. But I understand how all the bits work...I’ve been sailing a Story Boat like this for a few years now. I’m sure I could help.”
“You're not the only one who can build Story Boat's y'know. Besides the one on the next river is a bit different...a bit more...professional.” said the Wise Men, “I think we should be asking them to help us. They really know what they’re doing.”
"Professional. Not sure how that's different from the people I pay to do it..."
"Oh yours is a really nice way of doing it," they said, "there's just a real quality to what they do."
"Right...but...the thing about Story Boats is that you really should get lots of people to help you do it...that’s how you get all the stories...that’s why people go on Story Boats...that’s what they like about them.”
“It’s also going to have special paintings done by the best artists in the country.” said the Elders.
“And railings made by the best ironmongers in the land!” said the Wise Men.
"People will come from miles around to sail on it!" said The Elders and The Wise Men. "This will really put our town on the map."
The Man decided not to bother mentioning all the artists and ironmongers in the village and went back to sailing his own boat.

The Wise Men and The Elders got the people from the other town to help build them their New Story Boat. It had a big flashing sign, and a cake shop and it even had all new stories which had been written especially. It sailed every day for a year and then The Wise Men and The Elders got fed up with it...they didn’t have money to repair the sign when it stopped flashing, or mend the hull when it sprung a leak. And no one from the village really cared because it was never really a Story Boat for them at all.

The Man watched The New Story Boat slowly sink and he sighed.
“I think,” said the Man, “That it’s probably time to build a Story Spaceship.”

Read more Community Fables...

Okay...I'll be the first to admit that was a bit of a "therapy" post. I wrote it during a wee black period last year (2012), and then, against my own blog rules, I left it while I cooled off in case I was having a breakdown and hadn't realised. Looking at it again, I quite like the wee story; the reasons why I wrote it, presumably in some sort of huff, are now lost to the mists of time. And anyway, subtlety is often overrated.

As I think I've mentioned before, I work and volunteer "in the community", and myself and many colleagues I've spoken to working in towns and villages elsewhere, are frequently frustrated by the assumption that to get quality or professionalism, you always require to look and spend outside of the area. A belief assisted in no small part by the Coalition Governments insistence on outsourcing as many things as possible to half a dozen national companies. Maybe not all solutions exist in communities, but many more do than are used. However discovering and working with these solutions takes a bit more time and effort, and generally, we need things done right now - default setting therefore is let's just pay someone to come in and do it for us. After all, real quality always costs right? That's why all these private companies and highly paid banking gamblers are doing such a great job for us all.

We justify this way of working with a rather lovely non-phrase, "capacity building"; we'll bring people in to deliver and at the same time, 'build the capacity' of the community. And the reality is of course that local capacity is very rarely built in any meaningful way, after all, as the old adage more or less says "Teach a man to fish and he'll not need to pay you to come back and help him again, but give a man a fishing rod and you've got yourself a maintenance contract" 

In a connected world, in a digital age, we can see all the wonderful ways that communities are working to make things better for themselves - and when, against all odds, it works well, or is sustained, its generally because those communities are directly involved in doing it for themselves, not because they've bought an off the shelf solution for someone to bring in and do to them. With new guidance from Scottish Government on the ways that agencies should work with communities, theoretically placing us at the heart of most processes, it would be nice to think something real will change and not just the language. But if it's been broken long enough, why bother fixing it? And can it even be fixed? Probably easier not to talk about it, or overthink it...

Anyway, just to be clear, it was just a symbolic story boat, though I do think a real one would be cool.

Yeah. I think for next week I'll probably just do a poem about vampires or ninjas or something...