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Two things happened this week, or rather one thing that led to something else. The first was my iPod (other MP3 devices are available) appeared to break; the second was, in consequence, I was temporarily thrown back onto other media for sources of amusement.

First the iPod. The actual reasons why I though it had broken are pretty minor: the clicker wasn’t responding, I reset the machine using iTunes, and thereafter every time I plugged it in, my computer crashed – crashed even unto The Blue Screen of Death (remember that??). Nothing I could do, no amount of manual resetting or reinstalling or begging or swearing at the thing seemed to do any good. I investigated solutions verified and spurious from the Interweb to all the thousand and one ills that Pod is heir to, without success. Finally, driven to the utmost of my endurance, I schlepped up to the nearest Apple store where, after an impressively short wait, they plugged it in, had a look, poked and said:

“It’s your cable, mate.”

As a solution, it was rather like being told “the cyanide was never in the cocktail – it was on the very glass itself!” Of course! On reflection, I should perhaps have worked it out earlier. The connecting cable – probably as old as the device itself, nearly 6 years – was being held together by generous swathes of electrical tape. I had literally (what a joy it is to use that overused word in its correct context) – literally got my wires crossed. Perhaps there is after all a natural limit to thrift. The ex-cable has now ceased to be and joined the choir invisible, no doubt to be used for strangling parrots. I digress.

Anyway, one brand spanking new cable later (as opposed to one brand new spanking cable, which is a different purchase altogether), I was merrily syncing away, my sanity restored, looking forward to the imminent resurrection of all my stuff. (Thanks, Apple people – your stores may be scarily unstructured, but you do know your stuff.)

* * *

Now, onto the point about ‘other sources’. My house is woefully un-joined-up, media-wise. I have a TV, a main stereo, a iPod dock, a clock radio and a computer-with-speakers – but none of them talk to each other, and none of them are in the same room as each other. Consequently, if I was in (say) the kitchen, I’d have to use the dining room stereo – which can now no longer play CDs. Well, I was in the kitchen, in no mood for a CD, while on the radio, it was first the news (depressing) and then the Radio 4 comedy deathslot around 6.30pm. My last remaining option was to exhume a cassette tape. Since I have gradually weeded and weeded and weeded my vast collection of these down to one box (now in the attic), the very last last option available was to dig out my old Story Teller tapes.

By some miracle, these are still playable. I say miracle, because (a) they are on ferric tape which is (b) nearly as old as I am. Wikipedia informs me that the tapes were first issued, with accompanying fortnightly magazines, from December 1982 into 1983. Which means I would have been just 2 years old when they came out – also, they are older than my brother. There’s a useful website devoted to the Story Teller series, if anyone’s interested.

Case closed

Case closed

Case open.

Case open.

Anyway, I put the first one on and was immediately transported away to summer days spent listening to stories, flipping over the pages of the gaudily-illustrated magazines. Of course, now I can appreciated not only what is being read but who is reading them: e.g. Sheila Hancock reading ‘Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat’; Bernard Cribbins reading ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, which latter contained the wonderful rag-trade line from one crooked tailor, “Feel the quality, my lord!” (AT which I of course yelled back “Never mind the quality, FEEL THE WIDTH!”) Better than Proust and his little cakes, each story carried me back to a little portion of my childhood. I mean now to re-listen to them all. The readers are a Who’s Who of acting talent from the time: Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Diana Rigg, Ian Lavender, Lionel Jeffries, Joss Ackland, Joanna Lumley, etc. – even dear old Roy Hudd! and, a particularly favourite voice of mine, Dermot Crowley.

And I realised something else: here, to this point (1982-3), I can trace my twin passions for audio (and, by inference, performance and drama), and literature. I’ve always cheerfully admitted that, as a stage actor, I’m more interested in and more confident with my vocal range and vocal delivery. I am a glutton and epicure of radio drama, radio comedy, radio readings; but before I had my own radio, I had Story Teller.

I must have listened to them over and over again because, gradually, I realised that I was even remembering the inflections of the readers’ voices, mentally anticipated them coming up… and the stories that were chosen were a very inventive mix of old and new, familiar and foreign. Certainly it gave me a grounding in, and appetite for, basic Western children’s literature that would lead on to reading texts. Well played, parents.

* * *

The difference between the two different format mentioned above is obvious, of course: a cassette tape with an hour’s worth of spoken word material, against (in roughly the same size and shape) an iPod with 120GB worth of material jammed in. And I suppose I ought, in the interests of longevity, to get around to digitising the cassette material – this too too solid tape will some day melt. But there is something undeniably pleasant about the sheer analogue-ness of it all, that must have thrilled me aged 3 as much as it does 30 years on: a boy, a tape, a player and a magazine to follow. Ping!

I have the tapes only; in an accidental division-of-spoils, the magazines are still with my parents. I shall attempt to retrieve them the next time I visit, and reunite them with their stable-mates.

If I ever have children, or nephews/nieces, I shall certainly lend them out (fortnightly, of course, to maintain the air of anticipation; that was part of the fun). I’m immensely joyed to have my iPod come back from the brink (that’s hyperbole; there never was anything wrong with the device itself) – particularly as, the Apple guy told me, when it passes being 6 years old, it’ll be a ‘vintage’ model by this Christmas.

But I’m glad to still have at least some of my old tapes to hand. Just in case.

Does anyone else remember Story Teller?

Cassette 1 - Gobbolino the Witch's Cat, The Emperor's New Clothes, and Aldo in Arcadia

Part 1 – Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and Aldo in Arcadia