Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘All ages’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Cats or birds

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

Birds were tweeting to me today. After being somewhat sidelined in my last few blogs, it seemed they were finally wanting to take precedence. However, cats got in first, I suppose, because of a visit I had to make to our dentist a few days ago. The dentist’s surgery happens to be just round the corner from the flat where we used to live in Pimlico although when we first started going there, it was down in Victoria. Its current location proves richly stirring of memory each time I have to visit (and I’m currently in the middle of a string of sessions). This is because the street where the surgery is now located was where the lady lived that gave us our first cat. We called her – the cat not the lady – Hannah-Jane. She was very much beloved and she became the first in the much-honoured line of cats that have been ours. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ From one thing to another

Saturday, April 10th, 2021

A day or two ago, I was wondering what theme to choose for the blog  this week when my mind turned to the unlikely possibility of boxes. Perhaps this was prompted in my mind by a story in the Guardian the other day about a young man who, unable to afford the airfare to get back to the UK from somewhere far afield, as I recall it was Australia, decided to get himself sent as cargo. So he commissioned his friends to make him a life-size crate, then equipped it with a pillow, a bottle of water, a book and some food. His verdict on his experience of the journey was that he didn’t recommend it.

The young man’s box reminded me of that wonderful colonial-era story of the young Englishman killed by a tiger when on duty in India. His family in England asked that his body be sent home for burial. So when a very large parcel eventually arrived, the family assumed it was the young man’s body. When they opened the parcel, however, they instead found the body of a tiger. Dismayed, they sent a sorrowful message pointing out that what they wanted was the body of their son. Back from India came the reply: ‘Tiger in box. Sahib in tiger.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Birdsong and bark

Saturday, March 20th, 2021

My mother loved birds. One day many years ago when I was still a schoolgirl, she saw a hoopoe in our garden. So excited was she by the sight of it – for a hoopoe is a very distinctive bird and a rare visitor in this country – that she immediately telephoned Mr Griffiths, the Chemistry teacher over at school who was renowned as a bird-watcher. Evidently, upon receiving her telephone call, Griff Chem as he was generally known rushed across to our house at once and together he and my mother admired the hoopoe through our kitchen window.

As for me, I know shamefully little about birds in general. But I can say that, for quite a few days now, I’ve been enraptured by the song of the blackbird who has taken up residence somewhere in the gardens at the back of our house. What gorgeous sounds he makes and how long the song continues! Each time I hear it I know that the world of nature is full of wonders and that this blackbird’s song is surely one of them. Maybe it’s a common-or-garden bird (for indeed it’s just out there in the garden). But its song feels like just as much of a blessing as that of the nightingale that Paul and I used regularly to hear from our bedroom during a holiday we once had on the isle of Iona. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Parakeets and pigeons

Saturday, March 6th, 2021

We’ve got both. Lots of both. Lots of parakeets and lots of pigeons. The parakeets fly to the bird feeder in the middle of what passes for our lawn. There they crowd and cling and gorge themselves. The pigeons mostly cluster on the ground below, munching up the tit-bits of food that fall and generally talking to each other. For it really does sound like a kind of talking. A much-loved friend of ours, Adam Curle, alas long since passed away, used to do a wonderful imitation. Never mind that he was a very eminent Quaker and Professor of Peace Studies, he was never pompous, never too eminent to be a good laugh.

We got to know Adam and his wife Anne because their daughter, Deborah, had become our lodger. How we initially met has faded into the mists of my increasingly misty memory. But it’s a wonderful feature of that  misty memory that the mist can also part upon many unforgettably bright scenes from the past, including Adam doing his unfailingly convincing imitation of a pigeon talking. ‘Who do poo-poo? We do poo-poo. D’you do poo-poo?’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A day with a view

Saturday, February 27th, 2021

‘Your language is dead.’ The voice rang out from immediately above where Paul and I were seated at a late night Prom concert in the Royal Albert Hall. It did so in response to the singer and Radio 6 presenter Cerys Matthews introducing the next piece she was about to sing by its Welsh name. Wisely, she made no response to the rudeness but simply continued with her performance. Born of patent ignorance, I see the rudeness as a form of racism and I’ve never forgotten it.

I expect it will come into my mind again at some point this next Monday. For Monday will be March 1st and March 1st is St David’s Day, the day for the celebration of Wales’s patron saint. On the day, were it not for Lockdown, there would undoubtedly be celebrations of St David all over Wales (and elsewhere too) in services and performances in schools and community venues. On the day also, despite Lockdown, many children and adults will undoubtedly wear either a daffodil or a leek. In the school I went to – which as it happens was in St David’s – the girls wore daffodils and the boys wore leeks, chewing them almost to nothing in the course of the day and glorying in the resultingly oniony smell on their breath. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Keeping busy

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

‘Raining here,’ said a Pembrokeshire friend on the phone two mornings ago. ‘Lovely sunshine in London,’ I replied and the day went on just so. Early on, there were two foxes in the garden. Then, as the light began to fade in the early evening, our local blackbird was there, singing its heart out. Such was the strength of its singing, it brought to my mind that very well-known line from my much-loved poem by Dylan Thomas: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

But the bird wasn’t raging. It was singing so sweetly, it almost brought tears to my eyes. Tears wouldn’t have helped at that stage, however. I was sitting at the table in the Conservatory-end of our kitchen working at our current jigsaw puzzle. As I learned from an article in the Guardian that very day or soon before, doing jigsaws has proved a favoured occupation during Lockdown. Certainly it has for Paul and me and of course, what doing jigsaws requires is focused eyesight and concentration – and patience. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Something for all

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

A capital letter makes a lot of difference. It can make someone feel official, authentic – as if whatever they do is much more than playing about. So consider how it can categorise a person too. Is someone who writes things inevitably a Writer? What about someone who just writes? You don’t have to use the capital letter. Perhaps the writer is someone the world in general can regard as a writer. But what about someone who writes, perhaps even writes a lot, who isn’t publicly recognised as such?

I started thinking about this knotty question because of a friend of mine in Pembrokeshire. (Liz, this is you.) She writes. She writes stories, sends them off to magazines and sometimes gets them published. She also writes stories which she reads to her grandchildren. They love her stories and often ask her for another. Is this friend of mine to be regarded as a writer? Officially, I suppose not. She doesn’t fill her time with it. It’s something she does along with all the other things she does. Yet I think the world needs to think again about her and people like her. For in a way, the world has probably become too categorising, separating what’s done professionally from what’s simply but genuinely done as part of life. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Powerful stuff

Saturday, October 3rd, 2020

Mr Laurie Machel was a very elderly man who lived in an old-fashioned block of flats on the South Lambeth Road. The flats are still there and when I go past them in the car nowadays, he often pops into my mind. As I recall, I’d been put in touch with him by Age Concern and I visited him numerous times. He was a practical man. Indeed, one reason he’s often come back to my mind of late – for it’s years ago that I knew him – has been as a result of my recent hip operation. The operation has meant that I’m using crutches to get about. So I’ve had to be thinking about handy ways to transport objects  I need from one place to another in the house. Mr Laurie Machel used to do it by tying the things he needed directly onto his zimmer frame or putting them into cloth bags which he’d hang on the bars. Alas, a pair of crutches is not nearly so viable as an object transporter.

One extraordinary thing about Mr Laurie Machel was that as a very young man before the First World War, he’d had to travel to Japan.  This journey had come about because, having left school at the earliest possible moment to work in a garage in Stockwell, he’d one day had the experience of meeting a Japanese prince who turned up at his garage to try and find someone to come to Japan to look after his racing car collection. Mr Machel got the job. The prince’s cars never got to go anywhere: there was nowhere for them to go. But nonetheless the prince wanted them kept in tip-top condition.

Mr Machel told me that being in Japan at that time long ago was like being in a kindergarten. Japan had not yet joined the modern world. Everything was tiny, small and neat. And as things turned out, Mr Machel was not able to spend much time there. The world was on the verge of World War One and as war came closer, he had to travel back to England. How he’d got to Japan in the first place had involved travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which was quite an experience in itself.  Now, if I remember rightly, his return to England was on board a tanker.

Other than because of his clever way of transporting items around his flat, I have no idea why Mr Machel came back to my mind this week. Nor do I know why, also this week, my memory has been frequented by a young black man who was one of the people in a storytelling workshop I was asked to give in Cape Town during a storytelling trip I once made to South Africa. The trip had been organised by Alan Kenyon, a marvellous teacher-trainer in the sciences field who had a passion for stories and storytelling. Sadly, Alan has now passed away. I’d first got to know him when, on a long sabbatical visit to London, he’d attended a number of the storytelling workshops I used to run at the Drill Hall with storyteller friend Karen Tovell.  (And, oddly, just this week I had another cause to remember those workshops when I received an out-of-the-blue email from another person who used to attend them many years ago.)

The events that Alan Kenyon organised for me to run in Cape Town were fantastic affairs, wonderfully multi-racial at a time when, with Nelson Mandela newly at the country’s helm, such things had become both possible and valued. The young black man I’ve mentioned above happened to become the other person in a pair with me during one of the storytelling exercises in one of the workshops that Alan organised. The exercise was to do with stories of change. I’d asked people to recall to each other in pairs any story of notable change that had occurred in their lives. The change recalled by the young man who found himself working with me was the very first occasion when he’d gone away from the village where he’d grown up. His story was very moving. As he finished it, , he looked directly at me and said, ‘This is the first time I have looked a white woman in the eyes.’

Powerful stuff. But then storytelling can be just that. Powerful stuff.

PS: Sunflowers have nothing at all to do with the subjects in my blog this week. But sunflowers are marvellous things and the ones in my photos are particularly marvellous to me because they grew in our garden.

Storytelling Starters ~ Dream and Imagination

Saturday, September 26th, 2020

Long ago, the top room of our house became known as the Dream Room. Lodger after lodger who lived there – and our lodgers were mostly good friends in need of a place to live for a while –  reported on the extraordinary dreams they had there. Perhaps it was something to do with the shape of the room, the sloping ceilings and the little casement window looking out over the garden.

Or perhaps it was the sense of being high up, far away from the business of the house down below. Or perhaps it was a sense of security in which you could float away into the colours of dreams without worrying whether you’d ever get back.

It has been one of the pleasures of living in this tall terrace house that when you’re at the top of it, you are far away from the life at the bottom, the cooking and eating and sweeping and talking. I probably haven’t ever spent enough time up there to really relish the sense of security it gives. But I’m pleased  to have been able to extend the space to others. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Any old bones?

Saturday, September 12th, 2020

The rag-and-bone man regularly came round the streets of Fishguard where I grew up. We kids would be playing Jacks on the front doorstep or What’s the Time, Mister Wolf? round on Victoria Avenue and we’d hear the rumble of his cart, look up and see his tired-looking horse and hear his echoing cry as he went on up the street. ‘Any old rags?’

The rag-and-bone man was a small, thin man as if he was nothing but bones himself. I suppose he did collect bones as well as rags. But I have no memory of that. However, I do have a special memory of bones from later, probably my young twenties, when Paul and I were in Corfu, staying in a house we’d rented out in the sticks. (more…)