By Tim Porteus

“WRITE something uplifting or funny,” my wife Kate told me this morning. She’s right, of course. We need such stories just now.

My response was: “Yes, we all need to make our own version of Stone Soup.”

My youngest daughter overheard me. “Yuck, I don’t want that, I want porridge for breakfast like usual,” she said.

I reassured her and reminded her of the story. It’s an old tale I’ve shared in these pages before. It has many versions and I base the story in a land when there is a famine and people have very little food on which to survive, and so understandably people keep what little they have for their own use.

But then a wise traveller fills his pot with water and begins to boil it over a fire. Then he adds a stone. People get curious and ask: “What are you making?” The traveller replies: “Stone soup.”

“Stone soup? Never heard of that.”

“Oh, it’s delicious and very filling.”

“Could I try some?”

“Of course, but it would taste better if you had something to add to it,” says the traveller.

And so as the story unfolds, each person adds a little to the pot, which means in the end the soup really is delicious and filling, and there is enough for all, because everyone has shared the little they have.

But before they eat, the traveller does one last thing – takes out the stone!

My daughter remembered the story and was reassured stone soup wasn’t on the breakfast menu. But I think the story’s meaning has deeper significance than just the sharing of food. It’s also about the sharing of ourselves, and how adding a little bit of who we are can transform the pot of community.

In the midst of all the fear and panic around us just now, this is what is happening. People are helping out, checking on neighbours and thinking how their own behaviour can affect others who are more vulnerable.

And in all this, our mental wellbeing is as important as our physical health. I’m reminded of something my mother’s partner once told me. His name was Harry. He was originally from Holland and in his childhood he lived through the horrific Dutch famine of 1944-5.

He said: “We survived on rotten potato soup, tulip bulbs and a joke a day. Sometimes the jokes were as rotten as the potatoes; but just as important!”

We need to smile, laugh and feel connected, especially in difficult times. We can all begin our own metaphorical stone soup and invite others to contribute and share.

For example, many of my fellow storytellers are arranging online storytelling sessions. I will be telling stories online for the schools I currently work with and I’m happy to do likewise for any other organisation or group – once my six-year-old has taught me how the technology works!

There are local musicians playing online gigs, people sharing recipes, visiting older family members outside their windows, writing letters and telephoning people for a chat; the list goes on. One idea can lead to another, and soon a new community pot is made!

Every contribution, no matter how seemingly small, can make a big difference to that pot. And in so doing, it will challenge that sense of despair and powerlessness that so many of us feel right now.

So the question should be: What’s your thing? How can you safely share it? What’s your amusing or uplifting story or your talent? Think about it and let’s share, for others, as well as ourselves.

And so in the spirit of this, here is my wee contribution for this week; it’s a funny wee tale passed onto me, so I claim no credit or originality for it. It was told to me by an Irish friend, but I’ve adapted it slightly.

There was this van driver called George who got a job delivering monkeys to the zoo. Unfortunately, his van broke down and while waiting for the mechanic the monkeys began to get restless.

Then another van driver called Archie pulled up and asked if he could help.

“I’m late for my delivery. If I give you £100, will you take these monkeys to the zoo?” asked George.

“Sure,” said Archie.

So Archie took the monkeys away in his van.

George waited for the mechanic and finally his van was repaired. He then set off for the zoo to make sure the monkeys were delivered successfully.

But to his surprise, he saw Archie walking along the street with the monkeys!

George called out to him: “What are you doing? I gave you £100 to take the monkeys to the zoo!”

Archie called back: “I did, but we got a group discount, I have some money left, so now I’m taking them to the cinema!”