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Tiny Clanger

from The Clangers

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By Tessa

A photo of Tessa Sheridan in the Narnia room of the exhibition

How do we find ourselves through the stories we tell and are told?

‘This world of ours, this cloudy planet warmed by the sun, is a cosy place to live… But if in our imaginations we turn away from the earth and think about other less fortunate stars, we realise that life there might be very different, very bleak…’

This is Oliver Postgate’s thoughtful introduction to an early episode of The Clangers, made when pre-school children were thought to want to think. His warm Sunday voice held me spellbound:

‘The solitary fisher, setting off to catch what she can in the vast empty spaces of the universe, may feel very much alone…’

His Clangers were an extended family of knitted and snouted extra-terrestrials living on a rocky planet warmed only by soup. But in this episode one of them, the smallest, has set off alone into the cosmos in search of treasure:

‘And there is Tiny Clanger, fishing from the music boat…’

Above her head a cheese wheel spins, powered by musical notes that somehow allow the little craft to levitate and glide through space. Tiny Clanger holds a string that operates the rudder. Piloting solo, she coasts past tinfoil stars as Vernon Elliot’s delicate, speculative music plays – a consolation on what is bound to be a long old journey.

And where am I? Kneeling in front of my grandmother’s bulbous television, close enough to feel the fuzz of static under my hand as I stroke the screen.

Back then I was a child obsessed with boats. I was born on a sailing barge into a windy outdoor world. Sky; mud; tar: I thought that was it, that was life. Yet a few years later that world had sunk without trace. Various kinds of hell had broken loose. Doors slammed. Silence echoed.

Desolation. This familiar feeling had been conjured up for me now out of nothing more sophisticated than tin foil and sugar paper.

As Tiny’s boat drifted past my nose, my mind was fixated on this intrepid little creature’s solitary quest to find treasure in the void – her determination, in other words, to make something out of nothing.

Tiny Clanger’s story struck fear and wonder in me. It was my story too.

Retold like this, it became bearable – an adventure even. Anyone who’s been told a story knows it does more than hold up a mirror to reality. A great storyteller repays our attention, our courage, by making us feel more real: invested in our reality and better equipped to face it.

Am I talking about hope? Probably.

Tiny Clanger showed me that, however desolate space was, was not without resources: there was a craft to be built, a rudder to hold on to. And there would be music to keep me afloat.

‘There’s something coming… She’s caught it!’ promised Oliver Postgate’s cracked smile of a voice. And I hung onto those words, spoken as if by a god.

The 26 writing group has worked with The Story Museum as part of its 26 Characters exhibition. The group have produced a collection of poems, and couldn’t resist being part of the gallery of favourite characters.

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