When I was a boy

All those photos of me as a child have got me thinking about other elements of my childhood. I used to listen to the children’s programme on National Radio and there were many stories told that I will never forget. There was a single one that always stood out over the rest. It is actually a modernisation of a classical myth about Atlanta, but it was told as “Diana and the Golden Apples”. The story went something like this:

Diana and Malanyon were childhood sweethearts, they did everything together. Diana was as good as any boy at throwing and running and she had that boyish look that was yet still beautiful. Malanyon was the only boy who could outrun Diana in a race. The years passed and Malanyon had to go off to war. Diana waited year after year for him to return, but there was no word and no sign of him. Eventually she was convinced by the village folk that she must give up hope that he will return and marry another. She agreed to this on one condition. She would marry any man that could beat her in a race – and if they did not, they would be put to death. Many men came from all over the land (Diana had become a singular beauty) and they each corageously raced Diana. All of these men were put to death. No-one could beat her.
Eventually the men stopped coming to race Diana and all talk of marriage ceased. One quiet day a single soldier arrived in town, he asked around and it was soon known that he wanted to race Diana. She was curious about who it was that wanted to risk everything for her hand in marriage and when she set eyes on the unknown soldier she could see that beneath the lines of grim experience lay her childhood friend Malanyon. Her heart sank when she saw his limp. He had been injured at war.
The race was set, but just before it began an old woman crept up to Malanyon and handed him a secret package. It was three golden apples. She gave him some instructions.
The race began. Malanyon crept ahead but soon Diana was gaining on him. Just as she met him, he dropped one golden apple. Diana swerved to catch it and as she did, Malanyon surged ahead. Once again Diana gained on him. The race was half over and again Malanyon dropped a golden apple. Again Diana swerved and picked up the apple. She slowed and Malanyon again took the lead. The finish was in sight, Malanyon’s damaged leg was slowing him and Diana was gaining even more quickly. They were almost at the finish and a third apple was dropped by Malanyon and as Diana dipped to pick up this, heaviest, apple Malanyon crossed the finish line. Diana had lost the race, but she had won the hand of Malanyon in marriage.

I’ve often thought about this story and wondered why it has had such a strong effect on me. I think I am like this. I make people race me, and if I win, I move on. The message for me to learn from this childhood story is that it is good to seek people who are stronger than you in your life, but if in the end I want someone close to me, I may have to help them get there.

More paradox, but a rather delicious one, don’t you think?

3 thoughts on “When I was a boy

  1. Matthew says:

    Certainly a femme fatale.

    I don’t quite understand the physics of this story. Malanyon has to carry the apples at least as long as Diana, right? He carries the heaviest one almost to the end. How does he come to be leading? It’s necessary or Diana wouldn’t see what he was dropping, but how does he get such a good start? Is Diana merely looking for a way to let him win? If so, why not simply run slowly? She must have been doing that anyway.

    Am I being too literal?

  2. Christopher Waugh says:

    This is so true. I remember agonising over that as a kid. I often wonder if that’s part of the reason the stroy haunts me. That it somehow contains some eternal logic that eludes me – and if only I could find the answer.

    I think if I wanted to be stubborn I could say that the point is that Diana is looking for a way to try her hardest and let him win at the same time. But even with the possibility that she would have lost significant time swerving and picking up the apples I’m still pushing it.

    She wants him to win. She’s prepared to help him do so… but perhaps to just ‘run slowly’ was too patronising?

    Maybe she didn’t want to admit to herself that he was always going to be faster, even with an injury, so she went through an elaborate self-deception involving overly complex swerves and dives to avoid the truth (Maybe THAT’S the part of the story that resonates so closely with me!)

    The story was on a record I had as a kid and was read by Max Cryer. Another cogent question is how close is my recollected story to the real one? I think I’ll have to go and find it and have a listen.

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