No need to panic, this is not a blog entry about knitting, crocheting, needlepoint or any other haberdashery themed content…
The yarns I am referring to are good stories. Ripping yarns…funny ones, ones that take the listener or reader by surprise. They raise a giggle or make a hair stand on end. They cheer us up or make us stop to think. They can inspire tears or hold a crowd enrapt. Yarns… they can be powerful things.
It may sound like a hoary old cliché but the Irish have always had a penchant for tall tales. Growing up, as I did, in Belfast in the 80’s being a good story teller or having access to the company of one was something both everyday and vital. In my younger years visiting relatives could either be an absolute clock tick bore, like a wet Sunday afternoon stretching before you in an eternity of polite chit chat and under-baked scones.
But it could also mean hours of fun, watching your parents cry with laughter or go quiet at a recalled memory as their siblings, your aunt or uncle, had mastered the art of a good yarn. It just depended on which set of relatives we happened to be with that day (my father’s side didn’t really make the grade here). I remember particularly enjoying visits to see my Uncle Gerry. He had a glass cupboard in the “good room “at the front of his small two-up, three-down terraced house that contained his toy car collection. My eyes were like saucers at it!
But it was his ability to reminisce and reduce my parents to paroxysms of laughter that enchanted me even more. I’ll never forget the hapless misadventures of a distant cousin, a man so stupid he tried to check the fuel level in his early motor car by lighting a match and peering down into the petrol tank. He was obviously not that fond of his eyebrows or hairline. Gerry was masterful in the telling of this and other misdeeds.
And so it was an absolute joy, when I came to research and write “Standstill”, that I discovered this love of a good yarn was well and truly a part of the social culture of the Metropolitan Police, members of which were both generous and accommodating when I picked their brains to make sure my coppers sounded like coppers. The Old Bill use their time in the pub to story swop and let off the stress and steam of their difficult jobs. They relax by recounting events not just of that day but others that have stuck with them due to their black humour, madness or just sheer “you couldn’t make it up” value.
Their love for a good yarn made it easier for me to slip into their company and make off with their anecdotes and slang terms like a common thief without even so much as a reading of my rights. It was daylight robbery!
And I suppose, now I’m the grown man recounting funny or thrilling stories to my nieces and nephews, I have taken on a traditional mantle. And hopefully in my writing… in all my books going forward I will be able to entertain and enthral just as much as Uncle Gerry did me all those years ago…