Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Animal stories’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ On reflection

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Looking anew at a story in the light of new information can cause a bit of reflection. This happened to me this week. I’d been looking through my files of stories and had come across one I like a lot that I’ve sometimes told to younger children. It’s about a tiger and a mouse and you very likely know it already.

The Tiger and the Mouse:

So this tiger is marching through the forest when he almost trips over a little mouse.

‘Ha,’ says the tiger. ‘You got in my way. I’m going to eat you up.’

‘Oh, don’t do that,’ the little mouse replies. ‘You never know, one day I might be able to help you.’

‘You? Help me?’ blares the tiger. ‘You’re very small and weak. I’m very big and strong. How could you ever help me?’

(more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Magic eyes

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

P1000058Cast up onto the pebbles this week on one of my Pembrokeshire beaches were lots and lots of dead crabs – big ones, small ones, ferocious-looking ones, ones that made me go Oooh. I took quite a few photos with my new camera, bought because the zoom on the old one had broken, and the sight of the crabs through the camera lens reminded me of a story I’ve always loved telling to Primary-age children. I first came across it many years ago in Twenty Tellable Tales by the excellent American storyteller, Margaret Read MacDonald. In this collection, the stories are set out almost like poems making it easy to see those chant-like parts that are often repeated and where an audience can join in.

It’s the removable eyes in this story that got me. Children also love them, especially when you make spectacle eyes with your hands, moving them out in front of you and then back again as you do crab’s magic chant. Such eyes, Margaret Read MacDonald points out in her notes on the story, are usually associated with Native American Indian culture. However, it’s from South America that this tale appears to have come. Here it is more or less as I tell it except that this is in shortened form. The elaborations and exaggerations I leave to you.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Mind as Hold-all

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

21993900-oriental-umbrella-isolated[1]Links have been a major theme in this blog over recent weeks. And by links I mean the kinds of associations that make themselves felt between stories  and things that crop up in real life. But as I settled to think about this week’s posting, I began feeling very aware that, so much of the time, we have to simultaneously hold in our minds all kinds of things which have no apparent connection. Maybe a small link pops up between some of them, maybe no link at all. Yet with or without threads to connect them, we still have to keep these diverse things in mind. Namely, mind as hold-all.

A 100th birthday:

This week, for instance, my mind was full of my friend Ella who, this Wednesday, reached the grand age of 100. On her actual birthday, she hosted a party for about 60 friends and I know we all felt full of admiration as she stayed standing to receive her guests and when it came time to cut her cake, walked across to it without any help of a stick. Ella’s memory and pleasure in life are intact. What Paul and I had made to give her was a Dear Ella book, a small recognition of the many memories of times past and present which she has shared with us. 

Umbrellas:

But meantime I’d  also had to get serious about umbrellas. This was because, this coming Monday I’ll be doing a storytelling day in a London school where their  Arts Week is going to centre on the painting by Renoir known as The Umbrellas. My only regret about the booking is that, since I’ll be there at the very start of the week, I won’t learn what the children will have made of the theme by the end of it. But never mind. What stories to tell has made an interesting challenge. (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 ~ Red

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

P1080350Red has been in my thoughts all week. It’s one of the colours of Autumn and, in the UK, Autumn is certainly here. There are lots of red berries in our local park  (a sign, some say, of a hard winter to come). And in our garden, the Sumach tree has turned the most stunning red it’s ever been.

So  red has been in my thoughts all week which is why the stories my blog offers this week are, first, a gorgeous little Irish story that was collected by Thomas Crofton Croker and, second, a tiny part from the  very first page of the very first story in the great medieval cycle of Welsh tales known as the Mabinogion. The fact that red figures in both is no surprise. Red is a colour traditionally associated with the supernatural in both Welsh and Irish literature.

Red socks: a tale from Ireland

Tom was on his way home from the fields when he saw a leprechaun in a hedge. As he watched, he saw the tiny creature reach down a drink of beer from a pitcher and then return to putting a heel-piece on a tiny shoe just the right size for his foot. (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 ~ Poems can be stories too

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

My husband has been singing Scottish folk-songs. Two friends from New Zealand have just been on holiday to Scotland’s West Coast and loved it. Their trip included Oban, which is where one of my grandfathers came from. And yesterday talking with my Scottish storyteller friend, Jean Edmiston (she sent a lovely comment on last week’s blog), we talked a lot about the sense of place and how powerful it is when you’re storytelling.

A poem from Arisaig:

P1010525It must have been all those Scottish connections that made me remember a poem I once came across. It was hanging on the wall of a pub or café (I can’t remember which) in Arisaig one time we were up on that same West Coast. I wrote it down and afterwards I told the story of it and read it out to classes of children on a number of storytelling occasions. Once with an especially responsive class of ten-year-olds, we somehow got the idea of doing the poem with sound effects. I remember auditioning volunteers for all the many different sounds in the poem – the gulls, the whimper, the grey dog running. Then we performed it, me reading the words, them doing the sounds. They were wonderful. It still brings a thrill to my spine to recall it.

So this week, I’m quoting the poem in full because it’s one of the most haunting poems I’ve ever come across and so evocative of a sense of place. Also it affirms the truth that stories come in many forms, including in poems. But first let me expain the background to it’s story. According to a note that accompanied the poem where it hung on that wall in Arisaig,  it so happened that at the time of the Highland Clearances at Rhu Arisaig – and the Highland Clearances were where crofters were cleared off the land by land-owners – one of the families that were evacuated by boat accidentally left behind a favourite collie. Afterwards,  it was often said locally that, at dusk on certain evenings,  the ‘grey ghost’ searches the shore. 

The Grey Dog of Rhu Arisaig – by Roy Ferguson (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ In praise of the personal tale

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

P1080273A tale that I told my brother this Monday was of an occasion a few summers ago when Paul and I were climbing back up from Pwll Strodyr to the lane. With us were our friend Eddie, who’d been down at the beach for his regular swim, and also his dogs and his cat, all of whom used regularly to accompany him there. 

On this occasion as often, the field was full of cows. Before we reached the part of the field where the cows were grazing, Eddie stopped and told us to stop as well. ‘Now watch this,’ he said. What we then saw was amazing. As Eddie explained how his cat hated cows, his two dogs ran ahead through the herd, creating an open pathway between them. As soon as the open path appeared, the cat, who’d meantime been sitting on its haunches in front of us, suddenly took off.  Whoosh! Like a bolt of lightning, she ran straight through the channel the dogs had created to the safety of the gate.

Wow! We were full of admiration and I remain full of admiration whenever I remember the incident. And whenever I recount it to someone else, they are always impressed. On Wednesday, same thing when I told it to my brother. So of course it’s one of the stories I love telling and I know Eddie doesn’t mind because Eddie loves telling stories too. In fact, he is a treasure house of tales and, not surprisingly, his grandchildren love him for it.

The result of all this was that yesterday I set my mind to thinking more generally about what can make personal stories work.

What makes personal stories worth telling: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Yesteryear’s tales

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

ParrotOur Christmas card this year features our neighbourhood parrot. We’d never met him until the recent day when he was having an airing out on the street. Maybe it’s because of the brilliant redness of his feathers – for red is the colour of holly berries and also of Father Christmas’s robe – that we thought about him for our e-card. To go with the card and its greetings, here’s a parrot story I loved first hearing when I was a child and have always loved remembering since.

A very steep hill:

From the town of Fishguard where I was born, a very steep hill leads down to the beach which stretches across to the harbour in the small twin town of Goodwick. At one time, according to my Aunty Mali, the road to Goodwick went straight down over that very steep hill. So whether you walked or were driving a pony and trap, that is the way you had to go. And at the bottom of the hill, you’d pass by the little cottage which was owned by an old woman who kept a parrot that was a very good mimic. Often on days of good weather, she’d hang the parrot-cage outside her front door so the parrot could have an airing.

Well, up in Fishguard there was a man with a horse and cart who used to organise to take groups of people down to Goodwick on little jaunts to the beach. When it came time to go down the hill on any of these occasions, he’d pause his horse at the top of the hill so he could insert small wooden wedges to act as brakes on the wheels of the cart.

A very mischievous parrot:

On one particular occasion, the man had safely steered his horse down the hill from Fishguard with the cart full of laughing women who were on their way for an afternoon on the beach. At the bottom of the hill, he paused as usual to remove the wooden wedges from where he’d jammed them against the wheels. This time, the wedges had become extremely hot from the friction of the journey and while the man was working away to remove them from the wheels, the parrot started piping up. It had obviously recognised the horse and the noise it came out with was its excellent imitation of the clicking sound the horse’s owner always produced – an equivalent of Giddy-up – when he wanted to get the horse moving.

‘Giddy-up, giddy-up,’ clicked the parrot. And the horse obeyed at once, setting off at a rate of knots. Within seconds, the cart was swaying giddily from side to side, the women inside were screaming and sparks were flying out from the wheels of the cart. The horse’s owner had to run like mad to catch up with his horse and bring it to a halt before the cart went up in flames.

Naughty parrot! I loved hearing this story about him and also about what the parrot would say whenever a courting couple passed by, namely ‘Kiss ‘er, Kiss’er!’

A very warm wish:

Oh, the simple pleasures of yesteryear. I suppose these are the kinds of daft, lovely stories that often get remembered over Christmas dinners up and down the land when the older and younger generations get together. Maybe you’ll remember some yourself.

But whether you remember old stories or not, I do hope your Christmas will be happy and peaceful. Next week, after the Christmas days are over, I’ll probably be too well-fed and maybe too somnolent to write very much in this blog. Maybe there’ll just be a lovely Welsh view, who knows?

Happy Christmas! Nadolig Llawen!

 

Storytelling Starters ~ A unique story

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

P1070361In the Africa section of my boxes of stories, I have a file of stories from Benjamin Kipkorir, my Kenyan friend. They’re animal stories in the main, many about clever Rabbit, and they’re the stories Ben and his friends used to tell as children. In the evenings,  gathered round the fire with their elders, they’d rival each other to tell them and – as Ben put it – to tell them well. Ben gave them to me years ago after I’d got involved with storytelling. 

On Thursday morning this week, Paul and I got a message from one of Ben’s twin daughters telling us he’d died the day before, peacefully and surrounded by his family at his home in Nairobi. In the succeeding hours, in the midst of my sadness, I felt another story – the extraordinary story of Ben’s own life and how I’d come to know him – all coming together inside me like a massive part of me that has been there, persisting and enriching, for a very long time.

Short story of a very long friendship

Ben was a member of the Marakwet  people. He grew up a poor boy, walking a long distance to school. When he got into High School, he began to do extremely well. After Makerere University and later Cambridge, where he came to do his PhD, he became a University history teacher. Later, he was appointed Chairman of Kenya Commercial Bank and made a great difference to Kenya’s economy by extending the Bank’s presence to cover the whole country. Then he was made Kenya’s Ambassador to the United States.

I first met Ben when I was 18 and in Kenya doing Voluntary Service Overseas. I met him because one of the unmarried mothers at the convent where I worked arranged for me to meet her friend Lea, the wonderful woman Ben later married who sadly died some years ago. The friendship strengthened when Ben came to Cambridge (I was by then at Girton College) and when Lea came to join him for their wedding. It has survived and grown ever since. It’s very hard to know it has gone – except it hasn’t. Ben’s dear family is still there and my relationship with him and Lea will always live on inside me surrounded by all the awareness of Africa the friendship gave me. 

‘When an old person dies,’ says the African proverb, ‘ a whole library goes up in flames.’ Ben was only in his 70s. But what a huge library his story was. And here’s one of his childhood’s animal tales. (more…)