Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Riddles, rhymes, sayings’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Pointers

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Ever noticed how a particular theme can crop up as if from nowhere and make itself felt over a period of your life? How does that theme begin? Where does it come from? What makes it continue? Is there something in our individual minds that is seeking out the kind of meaning the theme can make? Perhaps these are good questions for storytellers to consider.

New friends:

Over the last ten days, Paul and I have been visited by two very lovely, very different young women that we feel we’ve somehow inherited from their parents. One is one of the twin daughters of two Kenyan friends I made when I was 18 years old and in Kenya to do Voluntary Service Overseas. By now, both of the parents have died. But somehow – and it feels quite wonderful that this is so – the friendship is being renewed and continued by the children of those two friends, and not only on visits that one or other of them has needed to make to the UK but also by email and Facebook. Sadness and regret at the loss of the parents is thus transformed into something new. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ From acorn to oak tree

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

Yesterday morning, I did a story session for 12 children and their teachers from two North Lambeth schools. The event was organised by ADD (Action Aid for Disability) which is a charity I support. The children had been chosen for their artistic ability. What they did in the session yesterday was designed to  contribute to a book.

How things grow! It reminds me of a favourite riddle of mine. The question asks: What’s the definition of an acorn? And the answer? An oak tree in a nutshell.

The story begins:

I remember that the first personal contribution I made to the work of ADD came after a visit I made to their offices when I was shown an inspirational video in which a man called Peter Ogik (I’ve mentioned him before in this blog) talked about his life. Peter was born with albinism. Growing up in Uganda, his life had been very hard. In Uganda, people with albinism are harassed, cursed and sometimes killed. But Peter’s father had always inspired him to be brave. He’d always told him  he was ‘special’. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Lucky/Unlucky

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

A  Jewish American friend of mine has often told me that his father was the only undertaker in Chicago who never made any money. He lived on the West side (the poor bit) and was always too kind to his clients.

This same friend has also told me: ‘Life consists of three stages. You’re born, you suffer and you die.’ Then he adds with a shrug of his shoulders:  ‘I’m in the second stage myself.’

I thought about this very good friend this morning as I was lying in bed putting off getting up. He emerged in my memory – oh,  the way mind makes links! – just after a little story came into my mind. It was created by a young boy in a class I once worked with. This is the story more or less as he wrote it: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ What’s the answer?

Saturday, April 7th, 2018

For some unknown reason, a half-remembered phrase is haunting my mind. The part I think I’m remembering consists of the following words: a promise to the future. But are those words part of a riddle? And, if so, what is the answer? What is the promise to the future?  A letter is the possible answer that is drifting into my mind.

But can a letter be a promise to the future? In many circumstances, I suppose it can. A letter to a friend or a relative may be a vouchsafe of future contact. And I suppose that, even if the letter ends a relationship, it can be a promise to the future as in: I’m never going to talk to you again, that’s it for ever.

Well, maybe one of you much-valued blog-readers will enlighten me as to the riddle, if riddle it is. Meantime, let me confess the reason the bothersome question came into my mind in the first place. The answer lies in the unusual fact that I’m writing this blog three whole days before it gets published on Saturday. So it really does feel like a promise to the future. For who knows what may have happened between now and then? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ On the journey

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Here we’ve been going flat out all week, me in what feels like constant contact with the very fine Marketing Manager at Jessica Kingsley (everyone there has been exceptional) and with husband Paul helping throughout by casting an editorial eye over stuff I’m writing in pursuance of sales for Storytelling and Story-Reading in Early Years. An article with an edited extract from the book for such-and-such-magazine… A blog for an Early Years organisation… Emails to editors of Early Years journals… Messages to anyone and everyone I can think of who might be able to help spread the word… One step at a time, I have to tell myself.

Meantime: School Librarian

Meantime I’ve also been doing the necessary reading to be able to write my seasonal batch of reviews for School Librarian. 1987 is when I started reviewing for School Librarian. It’s a labour of love in every sense of the term. But I enjoy it and it means I get to read some very interesting books I might not otherwise come across. Hence the next item in this week’s journey.

Plus: a good book for storytellers

Georgiana Keable: I’d forgotten the name until her book arrived for review. Then I vaguely remembered hearing about her long ago. In the early days of the Storytelling Revival, she was a member of the West London Storytelling Unit along with Ben Haggarty. Subsequently she was  one of the tellers in The Company of Storytellers. I never met her and never heard her. What I do recall hearing at some point was that she’d gone off to live somewhere abroad. As I now learn from her book, Norway is where she went. In Norway, she became a kind of storytelling queen of the forest, an ambassador for trees and wildlife introducing children to nature’s riches.

Her book is called The Natural Storyteller. It contains 48 stories. Some are stories from real life experience. Most are folktales from a wide variety of countries and one of these is her retelling of The King with Dirty Feet, the lovely Indian story that Sally Pomme Clayton sent me for my collection of stories, Time for Telling. The Natural Storyteller (subtitle Wildlife Tales for Telling) is aimed at older children and throughout it treats them as Apprentice Storytellers, giving helpful ideas on how to absorb stories and maybe make new ones from them.

The Natural Storyteller comes from Hawthorne Press. I recommend it. Here, briefly retold in my own words, is one of the stories in it that struck me most strongly and that I will surely tell.

An inspiring story: The Blind Little Sister

In a village in West Africa, there were two sisters. One was blind. The other was married to a hunter and whenever this hunter went out hunting, the blind sister said she’d love to go with him. The hunter always refused. ‘What use is a hunter with no eyes? Besides you’re a girl.’ But the married sister always said that her blind sister was the wisest person: ‘She sees with her ears.’

So it turned out. One day, the hunter relented. In the jungle, the blind girl suddenly stopped. ‘Shhhh, there is a lion! But the lion will not bother us, it’s eaten its fill and it’s fast asleep.’ The blind sister proved to be right. The hunter couldn’t see it at first but soon they came across a mighty lion fast asleep beneath a tree.

Further on, the same kind of thing happened. The girl said, ‘Shhhhh! An elephant. It’s washing itself. It won’t bother us.’ As with the lion, the hunter asked, ‘How did you know about it?’ As before, she said the same thing: ‘It’s simple. I see with my ears.’

Before leaving the jungle that day, the hunter suggested that he and the blind sister should both set a trap. Next day they could return and see what they’d caught.

Next day on their return, the hunter saw his trap had caught a little grey bird. The blind sister’s trap had caught a bird whose feathers shone with scarlet and gold. Thinking she’d never know the difference, the hunter took the scarlet and gold bird as his own and handed the grey bird to the girl.

But on the way home, the hunter posed a question to the girl. ‘If it’s true as my wife says that you are so wise, tell me why there is so much war and violence in this world.’

The blind girl replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who take things that are not theirs.’

The hunter felt very ashamed. At once, he took the little grey bird from his blind sister-in-law’s hands and gave her the bird with red and gold feathers that had been caught in her trap. He said, ‘I’m sorry.’

Then as they walked home in silence, the hunter asked another question. ‘If you are so wise, and people are selfish, how is it there is still so much love and kindness in the world?’

The girl smiled and replied: ‘Because the world is full of people like you who learn by their mistakes.’

One way a story can make its mark:

Sometimes a story comes at the right time – like a keyhole to put your key into. As I was reading Georgiana Keable’s book, I received an invitation to an event soon to take place at the offices of ADD, a charity which I support. ADD represents ‘Action Aid for Disability’. The organisation works by identifying and supporting people, themselves disabled in one way or another, who can become Disability Activists in the countries where ADD operates. Last year I wrote a story for them based on the life of one such activist, an Ugandan man with albinism who, from all I have learned about him, is a powerful advocate for people with disability and an extraordinary man of great wisdom and kindness. His albinism has meant that he is almost blind. He’s going to be at the gathering. I can’t wait to meet him.

A riddle to end:

Like a good story, a good riddle is cheering and makes you think. A friend put this one to me one evening this week.

Question: Why do anarchists prefer herbal tea?

Answer: Because proper tea (property) is theft.

PS: Tracks across the sand, a path through a forest, a beautiful keyhole in a door: I hope my choice of photos makes some sense. Anyway, the choosing of them is always fun.

Storytelling Starters ~ Miss Ellany (otherwise known as Miscellany)

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

Miss Ellany (otherwise known as Miscellany) is where my mind is right now. Maybe it’s in consequence of getting to the end of my radiotherapy sessions (just one more to go on Monday). At present, this feels like being let out of school – and it just occurs to me that, of course, next week is half-term. Besides, on Monday it is my birthday.

So it’s time for some fun. For starters, Miss Ellany offers you two of my favourite jokes.

Joke 1:

One day, the elephant met a little mouse on his way through the jungle. The elephant looked down at the mouse and asked the mouse this question: ‘Why am I so big and strong and you’re so small and weak?’ The mouse replied without hesitation: ‘I’ve been poorly.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Finding a Line

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Finding a line is what I do. But what does focusing on the line leave out? Last week’s story here in this blog was about two girls who were transformed by the King of the Deep into seagulls, eternally destined thereafter to fly between land and sea.

The two birds began to make a little line in my mind. By Thursday, delving into nursery rhymes for a piece I am writing, I found myself considering that clever little verse, so fascinating to children when it’s done with hand actions:

Pete and Repete sat on a wall.
Pete flew off.
Who was left?
Repete.

There are numerous variants of this rhyme. But whatever one is used, one thing is certain. With children, it has to be repeated again and again.  And again. So, my child’s heart still present within me, it was lovely for me yesterday morning when Paul called me to the bedroom window in our house here in Wales. Crows were flying into and over the big old tree in our neighbour’s back yard. Always they arrived in pairs, settling in the tree, then perhaps moving position, then apparently in the shared whim of a moment sailing out into the windy grey air. Paul commented on how they must be enjoying their aerodynamics – or was it aerobatics? (more…)

Storytelling Starters – Where Words Can Take You

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

Walking across Green Park a few days ago, a friend and I were bemoaning how dusk comes too early at this time of the year. Then we cheered up by reminding ourselves that, by now, the days are already drawing out.

CockerelA journey of words:

Cam ceiliog is the phrase that was always used by the mother of my Welsh friend, Beryl. No sooner had the shortest day gone by than she’d be reminding us how, from now on, the days would be drawing out. Cam ceiliog is Welsh for the cockerel’s step, the general inference being that, while the days get longer only bit by bit, we can all be certain that the steps do happen.

On our walk through Green Park, the Welsh phrase caused some discussion. Could there be any connection with the Scottish word, capercaillie which so brilliantly summons up the idea of stepping? Next day – for the friend in question was the renowned translator, Margaret Jull Costa – I got an email from her elucidating this question. Any connection between ceiliog and capercaillie? ‘No,’ she said, detailing the relevant etymologies, ‘no connection at all.’

However, word-expert and word-forager as my friend is, I received another email from her a day or two later. This one referred to the fact that, on our walk,  I’d happened to say that ceiliog, the Welsh word for cockerel, reminded me of Kellogg’s, the company that makes Cornflakes and so many other breakfast cereals.

Ah now! Margaret had pursued this link and was now writing to tell me it wasn’t just me that had seen a connection between that Welsh word for cockerel and Kellogg’s. Someone else had done exactly the same quite a few years ago: none other than the world-famous harpist, Nansi Richards, who died back in 1979. Evidently, during a harp-playing tour in the United States, Nansi Richards had at one point visited the home of Will Kellogg who, at the time, had been looking for a marketing emblem for his company.

And what had he finally chosen? Why, a cockerel. And why did he choose it? Well, according to the story, because Nansi Richards had told him how his surname, Kellogg, reminded her of the Welsh word, ceiliog. So that’s how the cockerel became the Kelloggs emblem and although Wikipedia says the story may be apocryphal, I like it – and even more so  because that same Wikipedia entry led me to another intriguing association. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Health and Hope

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

P1080475 

Dear friends, this is to wish you a Happy Christmas and a healthy and hopeful New Year. The photo above was taken this week on Whitesands Beach in North Pembrokeshire. The two children in it are standing on a rock which I’ve been seeing since my own childhood. Last year, a storm had scoured out so much sand from the beach that we saw how huge the rock is when you can see all of it.  We saw the very bottom of it. By now, it is just that smallish hump of stone again. I like to think that Dewi Sant, the Patron Saint of Wales, must have seen this rock too. When I think about him, I like to remember that, at the end of his life, he told his friends to remember to do the little things. What he meant, I think, was to remember the kindnesses we can all do. This feels like an important message to us all amid the upheavals and horrors of our world today. I pass it on with my best wishes and love. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The power of perfume

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

P1080432This week on an afternoon walk, I passed the two bushes in my photos. The first is lavender, the second I’m not sure of. But from each, a beautiful perfume came out. Each made me think. ‘If only I could somehow encode that perfume and send it out on my blog this week.’ Might that ever be possible? Perhaps – but I’m sure it wouldn’t be as good as the real thing.

Then I started to wonder. ‘Do I know any stories where perfume is important?’ The question made a good accompaniment to my walk as it started to rain.

Perfume from India:

First I thought about the story of Ganesh, the Hindu god. When his mother Parvati made him, her husband Shiva was away and she was lying in her bath, scraping off the soaps and creams she’d  applied to her body. From the little ball she rolled them into, she began to mould a little boy. The little boy quickly became alive and immediately began to grow. By the time his father returned, the boy was guarding the door of the bath-house. Of course, his father did not know who he was and, angry at seeing an intruder claiming to be Parvati’s protector, he summarily cut off the boy’s head.

And the rest – how the boy then gained his elephant head and became the much-honoured Ganesh –  is, according to your taste, a matter of religion, myth or story. There’s nothing specifically about perfume in it. But I reckon that, as Ganesh is the god that helps people with their problems, he is undoubtedly perfumed with kindness. (more…)