Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Personal Tales’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Beware the storyteller

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

P1000220This week in Wales, we’ve had visitors, two friends from New Zealand. Showing them the delights of North Pembrokeshire, I’ve felt very conscious of the myriad  stories that come to my mind – stories from growing up here and from many years since, stories from my father who loved retelling the local legends, stories from the Sloop Inn in Porthgain where storytelling at the locals’ table is as important as the ale (-well, just about). 

Memory Walks:

Last week I talked about Memory Walks. What I didn’t say then is that they’re something Paul and I quite often do after a walk we’ve taken. Sometimes we make a written note of our respective memories, sometimes we just say them to each other. Over time, the doing of this is a wonderful way to increase the noticing that makes walks so worthwhile. This week, one thing we’ve especially appreciated is the stunning fulsomeness of the foxgloves, standing upright like sentinels on all the local hedges. Another was seeing Storm, the dog who regularly makes his own way through the woods to our local beach. A few times lately, we haven’t seen him (he’s getting old). This time, we were so happy to see him again, the dog that befriends all and sundry to the extent that he wears a medallion which says something like, ‘I am not lost. Do not take me home with you.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Findings

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Imagine. You’re walking along through woodland and you see a large sheet of corrugated iron with something lumpy sticking out from underneath. You pull the corrugated iron away and suddenly what you’re seeing is a huge plaster model of a man. It looks like it’s been there a very long time, strands of ivy are growing across it, parts of the legs are falling away. Who is this? And why is it here?

Well, the answer to the first question is Sir Francis Drake in the form of a plaster cast of him. The answer to the second is not known. But this last weekend, coming across the bones of the story, I was as much struck by all the unknowns as by what I’d learned of the tale.

Sir Francis Drake:

The finding took place in 1999 on Haldon Hill in South Devon. I haven’t had time to find out who was involved, whether it was one lone walker or two or more, or what action they then took. I do know that, whatever the string of events that then occurred,  the massive plaster model turned out to be what had been used in the casting of the impressive bronze statue of Drake that now stands on Plymouth Hoe and also of the other identical statue of him, which was in fact cast first – the one that stands in Tavistock where Drake was born.

How I came to know these facts is that, during a short stay in Plymouth over the weekend, we’d already walked past Sir Francis looking grandly out to sea in statue-form on the Hoe when we subsequently went on a visit to Buckland Abbey. Buckland Abbey, by then no longer an abbey, had become Drake’s home for fifteen years  from 1580 and in it are a lot of items that belonged to him, including his drum. By now alerted to the man himself and having walked past him on the Hoe, we were especially fascinated to come upon the restored plaster model of him as well as a whole lot of information on Drake’s career. The model is enormously imposing, all the more because of the pale cream colour which makes it look rather spectral. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ An Inspirer

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Harold RosenMonday evening saw a celebration of  Harold Rosen, the inspiring educationist who passed away in 2008. Harold Rosen was unique. His wit was dry, his language succinct. He spoke the truth as he saw it. He did not appease. At an important debate in the Society for Storytelling in its earlier days , the question at issue was whether the Society should exclusively support the traditional tale or whether it should also represent other forms of story such as the personal tale or the written story. Speeches were impassioned – I made one myself. Then Harold stood up. Both as an eminent educationist and as a respected Patron of the SfS, what he was about to say felt extremely important. What he did say was brief. At its centre was the pungent point that the desire to establish boundaries usually arises ‘from those that wish to patrol them’.

End of story. The truth in Harold’s remark was clear as daylight. Thinking about it anew this week, the question it addresses feels extremely apt for our world right now. As Donald Trump plans physical boundaries against Mexican immigration and paper walls against Muslims, the question is going to remain critically important. In this day and age, does America really want to be patrolled? Does it want to be patrolled by Trump and his chaotic team? But Harold Rosen’s thinking forms an equally pertinent and powerful challenge to much current educational and social strategy here in the UK. The value now given to league tables and targets, the stifling emphasis on exam success, the narrowing effect of these viewpoints on what and how children are taught: all these would have been anathema to Harold Rosen. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ How amazing is that!

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

IMG_20170203_142128_resized_20170210_114149557People who’ve been reading A Long Run in Short Shorts have been sending me lovely comments. Many have noticed how I love coincidences. And they’re right. I do. I’ve been thinking a lot about why. One reason, I’m sure, is that they simply bring pleasure. ‘How amazing is that,’ we say and, suddenly, it feels like the universe isn’t completely chaotic or random (which it certainly isn’t as any physicist will point out). More than that, as one friend put it only this morning on the phone, ‘it makes you feel like there’s a little connecting network in life that pulls us together.’

So it’s what they mean to you that matters. For me, the pleasure and surprise they bring leads, I hope, to a deeper awareness of what I value in life. In this connection, what follows are two tales where coincidence is important. One is a West African folktale – I’ve mentioned it before so I’ll make my retelling  brief. The other is an incident that happened to me in Cardiff last week.

The Three Brothers – a West African folktale

One by one, three brothers receive from their father the money he has kept for them. Each in turn goes off to see the world. Each in turn buys something of great interest to him. Then, after a time, they all decide to head back home. Amazing! It seems that entirely by chance, the three of them meet at a crossroads.

Now what happens? Each shows the others that object of great interest which he has bought in the course of his travels. The objects are a telescope, a prayer mat and a ritual whisk of the kind used back home in religious ceremonies. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Short and Sharp

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

P1050194A Long Run in Short Shorts has been getting some very nice things said about it. An old friend from University days made me laugh with her comment:

“You manage the shortness very impressively.”

To encourage you to get hold of the book – and there’s plenty of copies left – here are some comments that arrived from people in the storytelling world:

“I’m savouring each story. It’s rather like unwrapping another chocolate – I’ll just have one more…”
Dr Hilary Minns, lecturer and storyteller, Warwick University

“These written versions of your personal stories have also challenged me to stand by the stories I tell, because of what they mean to me … their values are part of me.”
Meg Philp, professional storyteller, Brisbane, Australia

“Each story has made so many pictures and provoked memories of my own.”
Jean Edmiston, professional storyteller, Scotland

Such comments are enough to warm anyone’s heart – even when, this week, it has been so cold. In keeping with the weather here in London, here are two very short, sharp stories. I think I remember that the first one comes from North America (which, of course, is in all of our conversations right now): (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ What next?

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

P1080494When things are rough, you sit tight. That’s the conventional wisdom. Yet when things are tough, you surely must also keep your eye on possibilities for improvement, the chance for things opening up.

It’s completely clear from the newspapers and TV that, for many of us, it feels like it’s been a horrible year. Syria, Brexit, Trump – whatever your politics, it feels like the world has got itself into the most horrendous mess. Frightening too. Maybe it’s all in the stars, the personal mirroring the public and vice versa, but numerous friends have also been declaring of late that it’s been a tough year in their own lives too.

So at first I felt completely flummoxed when I began thinking about this week’s blog. What could I possibly say? What story might there be? What pictures? Then, most unexpectedly as I floundered around, a little tale popped into my mind. It’s a tale of personal experience, though not my own. I heard it a long time ago and it’s got nothing at all to do with New Year as such. Yet as I thought about it, the story felt to me like just the right thing. For what could be better for this New Year than the idea that something wonderful might occur,  something that could bring a sense of a new dimension of life and hope?

The story: Opening Up (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Enduring Friendships

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

P1080298Two wise sayings ring through my mind as I write this. The first I heard earlier this week. I was  coming out of my local Sainsbury’s shop with a copy of the day’s Guardian newspaper under my arm. The front-page headline was about Donald Trump and when the Security Guard at the shop door saw it, he made a suitably disparaging remark which led to us having a long conversation.  The conversation came to an end with this remark, all the more memorable for the rich Jamaican tones in which it was said:

‘No one is intelligent by size but by heart and by reason.’

The second of my wise sayings was said to me on 24th October exactly ten years ago. And why do I remember the date so well? Because 23rd October is my birthday and this remark was made to me on the following day. You’ll see why from the story below. It’s a personal tale, one of a collection of such tales I’ve been writing. Enduring Friendships is the title I’ve given this one – and with a modicum of intelligence you’ll be able to work out from it exactly how old I’ll be tomorrow. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Spiders etc.

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Spider ornamentOdd how things happen, isn’t it? On Thursday evening, we went to a concert at the Union Chapel in Islington. I hadn’t been there for a million years – and it’s a beautiful place with a fascinating history. Way back then, my visit was to hear the wonderful Welsh singer and harpist, Siân James (with whom I once did a storytelling performance). Now it was to hear the equally wonderful Portuguese fado singer, Claudia Aurora.

One of Claudia’s songs on Thursday was all about insects. She introduced it with a heartfelt (and very funny) account of how she cannot bear SPIDERS and how she’d found a HUGE spider on one of her curtains and was TERRIFIED until her neighbour came to the rescue.

So there I sat as she was speaking, my mind ranging over the subject of spiders – all the cobwebs currently on my windows, for it’s definitely been the spider season, and how, when someone tells me how they hate spiders, I often briefly recount that North American Indian story which is such a brilliant reminder of our human foibles. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A Moral Tale

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

P1080306This week it’s not a poem or a legend or a myth or a folktale. What I have is a very personal tale, and one with a moral to it. 

We went to fetch an elderly friend – I’ll call her Peggy - to come for tea with us in the village of Mathri where we have our Pembrokeshire house. Last time I was here, I’d mooted the idea and it proved a most happy time for all of us. 

Peggy is 99 years old. She is a remarkable woman, the sister of one of my childhood ‘aunties’. But I only started getting to know her on her own account after that sister died a few years ago. One of many things I love and admire about Peggy is her remarkable memory. Another is her many little tales about people and events from both past and present. They’re part of the fabric of her conversation. On Wednesday, for instance, she was talking about Mathri fair. When she was growing up, this was the great event of the year. ‘And the chips,’ she said, ‘that was the big thing about it. Chips in newspaper with salt and vinegar.’

One tiny tale Peggy told in relation to Mathri fair was about the shop at the top of the village. Now falling into rack and ruin, it evidently used to be bursting with all kinds of stuff including men’s caps. Peggy recounted how these caps were hung in a row on pegs and how the men used to go in and try them on. ‘And one man,’ she said, ‘left his old cap on the peg and went out in the new one.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Flotsam and jetsam

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

03A beachcomber is what I’ve become. These days, when back in Pembrokeshire and going to a beach for a walk, I go with a bag and spend some time walking along the tide-line picking up bits of plastic rubbish. It’s amazing how much gets found – large and small lengths of plastic twine, sodden old plastic bags, broken flip-flops, fishing gear. Plastic is poison to sea-creatures. It is good to get rid of it.

Yesterday, collecting along the long length of Newgale beach, it occurred to me that this beachcombing is not unlike something I do as a storyteller. I don’t know if you do the same – namely, collect odd bits of story. They may be overheard pieces of conversation, sometimes perhaps just a single exclamation. Or they may be odd coincidences that happen over the course of a day or a week.

A hot-water bottle from the past: 

For instance, at an event in my native Fishguard at the beginning of this week, I met a young Welsh woman who’d also grown up in the town. As well as making me feel very happy by recounting the effect my storytelling had had on a young pupil of hers some years ago (always nice to hear such a thing), she recalled the person I knew as Aunty Mali although she wasn’t a blood relation. This young woman’s particular memory was of Aunty Mali often turning up at chapel in the winter with a hot water bottle for putting on her knees beneath a small rug she also carried. (more…)