In Search of Families In Search of Adventure
A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005

Once upon a time....

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From:       Stuart
Subject:   Once upon a time....
  Date:         14th March 2005
     Rotorua, North Island, New Zealand


Keeping the boys entertained as we travel is full of challenge. With space at a premium and parentally imposed weight restrictions they carry just a few toys each in their rucksacks. Matthew's backpack currently holds 20 green plastic soldiers, 3 matchbox cars, a tennis ball, a colouring book, some felt tip pens, Spiderman and Delancy dolls and, of course, Puppy The Wuppy. Cameron's has 14 grey plastic soldiers, 2 cars, a broken CD player, a telephone, Squeaky the duck, a scarf from a long lost Lamby and a Snoopy who is 'not very well'.

Neither of the boys have any books. We started off carrying them but they were never used and anything which doesn't gets used gets dumped. It's a rule of the road. It's not that they don't like books; they love them. When we've stayed with other families, books are often the first thing the boys pick up, pawing the pages and pestering us to read to them over and over again, "Can you read me this one Dada …. please.." or "Mummy, Want story mummy. Want this one. Read it." But on the road they just don't want to read that boring old book over and over again. They want something better… for Mummy or Daddy to make up a story. A new one every night.

It was quite easy to begin with, making up stories about places we'd been, things we'd been doing, people we'd met. But after a while the boys weren't content just to listen, they wanted to shape the story themselves. At first it was just choosing the cast; "Dada, can you tell me a story about Puppy The Wuppy, Lamby, Spiderman and Snoopy," or "Mummy I want one about Lamby and Tuatara." But then they wanted to choose the setting: "Can we have one where Spiderman and Delancy go to the Hot Springs." Before long came some basic plot directions: "One where Squeaky and Lamby go swimming and get lost." And now we get interjections, disagreements and questions about story lines, plot developments or factual inconsistencies: "No, Dad. Delancy doesn't need armbands," "But why does Puppy get lost?" "I think Spiderman can swim you know."

It's amazing how quickly they pick up the idea of story, of beginning's, middle's and end's; of characters, settings and themes; of conflicts, problems and resolutions, of 'once upon a time' 'and suddenly' and 'happy ever after.' It was still a surprise though when the tables were turned one evening and the boys began to tell us stories.

Cameron's attempts are still short but off beat and highly imaginative, like the one about Lamby, the elephant and the Crocodile. "Well…. Lamby goes for a walk with an elephant one bright sunny morning and walks along the road and the crocodile eats them and then Mummy and Daddy come and the crocodile eats them as well. And that's the end of the story."

Matthew's skills are more developed involving a heady mix of experience and fantasy, sometimes with illustrations too.

"Once upon a time, one bright sunny morning, there was a little boy who wanted to be a luge man when he grew big and strong. So he went on the gondola to practice his luge"


"And with his long arms he soon got really strong at luging. And won all his races and one day became the best luge man in the world"

"And he won lots of medals and lived happily ever after. And that's the end of the story."

Stories have tremendous power to help us express what's happening in our lives, to express our hopes and dreams, keep memories alive, and pass on vital lessons. Our story time is a quiet(ish) time together, each turn to tell a tale a chance to hold the stage, talk about the day just gone, preview what's about to come, moralise or descend into a world of wonderful childish nonsense. It's a precious constant in a travelling life lacking in routine and full of new experiences.



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