Michael O'Leary: Hagstone Story Teller

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Stories and the "Local Touch".

People often have no pride in their own area, particularly if their own area is looked down on. When children have low self-esteem for a variety of reasons, this added factor certainly doesn't help.

On the hill behind Mike is Chanctonbury Ring, reputed to be the last dwelling place of the Fairies in England. http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/west-sussex/featured-sites/chanctonbury-ring.html

Therefore I like finding the stories that help give interest to an area, however unromantic that place may seem. (This was the origin of my HAGSTONE logo, which is from my own area of Northam, in inner city Southampton.)

In Southampton I often tell the stories of BEVOIS AND ASCUPART. These are ancient legends that have been forgotten by most people, but have given their names to areas and streets of Southampton, such as Bevois Town, Bevois Valley and Ascupart Street. Traces of these legends are also to be found in the Portsmouth area and right along the south coast to Arundel.

Similarly, Crawley in Sussex may not exactly be considered the most picturesque of places, yet there are stories from nearby Saint Leonard's Forest of Sussex dragons, slug-like serpents that left a trail of slime and used to terrorise the area - children just - yeeuck - love those stories.

Then there's Swindon! I'd suggest that Swindon doesn't top the list of the most beautiful sites of England. But all around there is wonderful Wiltshire countryside that is absolutely stuffed with legends and folk stories.

So, whether it's Swindon or Slough, whether it's Basingstoke, Brighton, Bournemouth or Bognor, whether it's Portsmouth or the estates around Portsdown Hill; there's always a story to help give the area some interest and to help generate a bit of local pride.

When I'm further afield I find that the links between these stories and the stories from other areas generate lots of interest. When telling stories in Northern Ireland I found that children linked my Hampshire stories of the apple tree man in the middle of the orchard with their stories of the fairy tree in the middle of the field. Even as far away as Himachal Pradesh in India I found that one of my stories about a mysterious musician who can be heard underground in the Blackwater Valley near Farnborough linked with stories about a musician who plays the shehnai (shown on the left [image from here] similar to a bagpipe chanter, or Breton bombarde) and who walks beneath the Himalayas. In turn this links to stories of the MacCrimmon pipers on the Isle of Skye.

These links and connections always generate great interest: they help to give pride to the local. However they also, and this is important, emphasise the deep connections between us all, between all our cultures.

Why not read about Mike's involvement in the creation of a "community bench" for Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership. They wanted a bench for visitors to Gerry’s Copse, one of their wildlife sites in the Farnborough section of the Blackwater Valley. Inspired by the work of a company called Greenspace Designs, BVCP came up with a community bench project. Read more here. The webpage is archived as an Adobe PDF file here.

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