Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Remembering’ Category

A fond childhood memory revisited

Saturday, December 26th, 2020

As the needle hovered above the disc on the record player, I felt almost fearful with expectation. When the needle was lowered and out came the first words of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, I felt as if what I was hearing had been created especially for me. It felt as if every word had been written with intention and love to convey what it is to be Welsh and to be in Wales at Christmas time.

The ritual listening to A Child’s Christmas in Wales took place each and every Christmas when I was a child of an appropriate age to listen to it.  The lead-up was always the same. Upon leaving the house where my family lived at No. 16 Vergam Terrace in Fishguard, I’d turn left and cross the road to the first house on the other side, No 1. At the front door, I’d reach up, lift the heavy brass knocker, knock three times and wait for the sounds of Aunty Mali coming to the door, pushing the draft excluder out of the way with her foot, opening the door and greeting me with her resonant ‘Hello!’

Inside the house, the fire would be roaring in the living-room grate. Already set out on the table would be cups, saucers and plates and, in a prominent position, the big, square gramophone with, beside it, a small pile of LPs in their brown paper sleeves. I knew what I was going to hear. I was going to hear the resonant voice of the famous Welsh actor Emlyn Williams, reading Dylan Thomas’s wonderful evocation of being a child in Wales at Christmas time. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Memory of place

Saturday, December 19th, 2020

A week today it will be Boxing Day. Because I don’t like boxing as a sport, I always used to feel a bit disconcerted about what Boxing Day was all about. Then I began to realise that it had nothing to do with the smashing of fists, person against person. What it meant – am I right? – was giving people bits of money in what might be called their begging box.

This year on Boxing Day I’ll be feeling deprived. Normally I’d be in Pembrokeshire and, unless the weather was absolutely ghastly, I’d surely be walking on Whitesands Beach at some point during the day. But this year, Covid restrictions have got in the way, preventing us from driving down to West Wales and staying there a week or two as we usually do. So until the restrictions relax, I’m missing my beach and the little headland where my father used to tell me how the raging monster, the Twrch Trwyth,   came rampaging onto land after its journey across the sea from Ireland. Or where, in contrast, he would also tell me how it was the place of peace from which St Patrick set out on his journey across the sea to convert the Irish people to Christianity.

Especially when the tide is out, Whitesands is a huge expanse of sand. It’s one of the places where I used regularly to go to swim when I was a teenager. In younger years, my family had stayed there for caravan holidays. Even now, it’s the place to which I return in my mind when I need to be calm. Yet, although in that sense it is essentially, for me, a place of solace and peace, it is also now in practical fact abuzz with visitors on most days at most times of the year. Surfers in wet-suits abound. Likewise people of all ages consuming ice-cream cones. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Hip-hop

Saturday, September 5th, 2020

In my life, there’s been the Hippy-Hippy-Shake: a dance we did all the time in our teens. Then there were  hipster jeans and there were hippies who sat round smoking pot. But today the mere thought of hips brings back to mind the hip operation I’m to have a week on Monday. Am I apprehensive? Yes – even though everyone who’s had one tells me it’ll be fine and afterwards I’ll be running around like a new young thing.

Right now though, as I think about this blog, it’s not just the hip op that comes into my mind. Probably that’s because the apprehensive condition of my mind has started it running onto anything and everything that could include hips.  So for instance in comes that well-known folk song that I  well remember from when Common Ground (Helen East, Kevin Graal and Rick Wilson) used to sing it in storytelling sessions. In it the lonely old woman is sitting alone at her spinning wheel as into the room, body part by body part, come all the body bits that make up the Strange Visitor. First comes the great big feet, then the pair of thin thin legs followed by the great big muscly body which in my imagination now includes great big hips. And as all the body parts accumulate, the old woman asks the strange visitor why. Why have you come here? FOR YOU is the threatening answer. But of course this particular old woman is not to be overwhelmed. Up she gets and grabs a stick and beats the strange visitor out of the room even while, as at the start of the song, she goes on wishing for company. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Time travel

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

This morning I finished reading Virginia Woolf’s extraordinary novel, Orlando. This was my second reading of it. The first was years ago, goodness knows how many. In various different ways, it’s a book about malleability. Orlando begins as a boy and then becomes a girl and it seems that he lives in many different eras from the Elizabethan onwards. At the end of the book, he is driving a car down Park Lane. Or is ‘he’ a ‘she’ by then? In a very real way, it doesn’t matter. The book encourages us to know that, since we as human beings possess this extraordinary thing called imagination, we can travel both in time and space. And, what’s more, through reading and living, meeting people from different cultures and experiencing the world through different media such as radio and TV and the internet, we also travel within ourselves. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Tiger-Mouse Tales etc.

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

Quite a lot of years ago, I wrote a set of children’s stories. I called them The Tiger-Mouse Tales. Each of three main characters had its own story. The tiger-mouse was an enchanting creature that could turn itself into a tiger when it wanted or needed to do so or, equally, turn back to a mouse. The blue flamingo was a beautiful bird, tall, quiet and very serene. The sea-ling was an academic busy-body of a bird, very talkative and with plenty to say. He looked like he wore a black gown as my headmaster father used to do in school.

These three creatures, the tiger-mouse, the blue flamingo and the sea-ling, had literally appeared to me in a dream. It was because I was so fascinated by them that I wrote that set of stories about them, printed them out and gave copies to various children I knew. But I never did anything else with them.

This week, the stories have returned to my mind. They did so because, the other day, my cousin on my mother’s side of the family asked me about the grandfather we have in common. Neither of us had consciously ever met him. But I was delighted to tell her what I knew of him from my mother for he always sounded to me like a delightful man. He was Scottish, he grew up in Oban on the West coast of Scotland and, like his father before him, he became a journalist renowned for the speed and clarity of his shorthand. The long latter part of his working life was spent working on the Pembrokeshire newspaper, the Western Telegraph. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Power of Place

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

From time to time over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking, writing and singing about Llansteffan, the estuary village on the coast of Carmarthenshire. This morning, as Llansteffan popped into  my mind yet again, a new thought came with it. What about thinking back on your life not in terms of what you were doing there or who else was present, but simply by place?

If you did this, you’d be focusing less on yourself, more on the places where you’d spent time. What did those places look like? What was the atmosphere? The weather? Focusing less on yourself, you’d be concentrating more on the places themselves. Landscape, atmosphere, weather, any other people that are there and their ways of talking: you could almost try leaving yourself out of the picture altogether. This way, you might find greater richness in your memories than you’d expected. Come to think of it, it might work in a similar way to the piece of advice given to me once by my sister-in-law. She is a superb photographer. And her advice? Always look round the edges of the scene in your viewfinder when you’re about to take a photo. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Wales and Whales

Saturday, September 14th, 2019

It was a storytelling project in Outer London. The theme was local legends. A girl in one of the groups put up her hand and asked if we knew about the elephants under the line of local hills.

Suggestive shapes:

Often it’s the shape of hills that gives rise to legends about them. Above a small place called Wolfscastle in the middle of Pembrokeshire are two high rocks that, as children, we knew as The Lion and the Lamb. By today, these rocks have eroded so that I wouldn’t be able to say which looks more like a wolf, which more like a lamb. Even as a child I wasn’t sure. But I could imagine very clearly that one was attacking the other. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Remembering

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

 ‘Tennyson is crossing the desert!’ A few days ago, that was the strapline on one of the emails in my Inbox. It was followed a day or so later by ‘Tennyson has crossed the desert!’

Such a headline does make you think. For me, it brought to mind a grand-looking poetic figure, bearded and with hair reaching down to his collar: what could he be doing walking the desert? And on his own? Perhaps dreaming up new poems along the lines of The Lady of Shalott or Enoch Arden?

Tennyson, the cuckoo

Well, no! The Tennyson that had succeeded in crossing the desert was not the Victorian poet-laureate but a cuckoo, one of this year’s tranche of cuckoos named and sponsored under the auspices of the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), its movements tracked as it flies alone across the vast distances that bring it into Central Africa and then back again to the UK where, of course, we think of it as ‘our cuckoo’ even though it’s in the UK for only a few weeks. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Forgetting

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Forgetting is the other side of remembering. It has its value. Not remembering unpleasant things can be very health-giving, something which eventually allows unhappy events, emotions or people to slip away.  Sometimes the forgetting happens of itself. Sometimes the techniques for forgetting have to be learned.

The pain of forgetting:

But it’s that involuntary forgetting that can be so annoying. Perhaps it’s the same in many different circumstances or professions. You need to remember. You simply can’t bring whatever it is to mind. You set about trying to find the book or paper or person that may be able to supply the missing piece of information. And when you can’t find it? It’s a pain. Especially, say I, when you’re a storyteller. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Seeing the audience, seeing yourself

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

We all know the syndrome. The start of a new year makes you eager to sort things out, throw things away, clean your cupboards and your shelves, pursue new objectives and resurrect plans you’d half forgotten about.

For me, this new year has done all those things. It has also brought the satisfaction of seeing that  Nursery World, the magazine that specifically deals with working and living with early years children, has now brought out the big piece on storytelling with early years children that it commissioned me to write towards the end of last year.

Seeing the photos:

Writing my Nursery World piece made me aware all over again how important it is for us storytellers to keep our flame burning by helping new generations of potential tellers to know what storytelling can do.  The new pleasure has been seeing the wonderful photos that were taken to go with the piece. Anna Gordon, the freelance photographer extraordinaire who was commissioned to take the photos, has generously agreed to my using two of them to illustrate this blog today. My thanks to her and to Nursery World and to the centre where the photos were taken. Actually seeing the photos – and in the top one here I’m holding up what I know as my rainbow cloth – makes me very aware of how the children are responding. In fact, seeing the photos made me think a lot about audiences and how important it is to the storyteller to think about the different ways in which they respond. (more…)