Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Body Stories’ Category

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 ~ Recycling

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

Flag-of-Wales-thumbnail[1]OK, I admit it. Over the last few weeks, I’ve become a devoted football fan. Obviously that’s because I’m Welsh and the Wales football team did so brilliantly in the Euros. It wasn’t easy seeing them get knocked out against Portugal in their semi-final this Wednesday. Yet, especially in this post-Brexit world, it’s an inspiration that the team believes so much in the strength of playing as a team, they pay such high regard to their fans and the support they get from them, they speak with such warmth of their country and they have been so good-humoured during their time away in France.

Besides, Gareth Bale is drop-dead gorgeous, both to look at and in his manner. I’m not sure I’ll keep following football as avidly now as I have been, but I’m sure I’ll be following him and the wonderful Welsh team.

It’s surely all this football stuff that caused a familiar phrase to pop up in my mind this week and with it the story from which it comes. The phrase is ‘extendable legs’. And the story it comes from is one I told in this blog on 21st July, 2012. To read a full version of it, you can look back at that blog posting. Simply fill in the words Chinese Brothers in the Storyworks Blog References slot on the top left side of the blog. Then press Search and up it will come.

The story itself is one children love to remember. An example occurred earlier this summer when I said to the two children in a family we know that I had a special story to tell them. Because the 10-year old sister is potty about mermaids, this was going to be a mermaid story. But somehow or other the promise of a story immediately made the 7-year old brother remember  The Five Chinese Brothers which I’d told to them it must be three years ago. Volunteering that they still had the colourful Chinese pin-cushion I’d taken them as a present to go with the story, he started recalling the magic powers that are at its centre.

The Five Chinese Brothers: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Big Ears

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

Sea tray and handThe Rajah with Enormous Ears is, deservedly, an extremely well-known story. One thing that intrigues me about it is the different versions that exist in other cultures. Did it travel to those places from India? Or did other peoples in other lands come up with the same idea?

In ancient Greece:

Perhaps the oldest version of the Enormous Ears theme occurs as part of the story of King Midas from ancient Greece. Here, Midas is punished with a pair of ass’s ears when he disagrees with the verdict in a famous musical contest. For a long time, he manages to conceal these big ears under a Phrygian cap. But his barber who is the only person aware of the secret cannot bear keeping it to himself. So the barber digs a hole in the river bank and whispers the secret into the hole. ‘King Midas has ass’s ears.’ Then the barber fills up the hole not knowing that, soon, a reed will sprout from the hole and whisper the king’s secret to all who pass by. When Midas learns that his disgrace has become public, he condemns the barber to death, drinks bull’s blood and dies a miserable death.

In Wales: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The truth of the matter

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

The question comes up quite often and I feel privileged whenever it does. Usually it gets asked by someone in a Year 5 or 6 class who is therefore one of the older-age children in a Primary school. Almost always,  a silence has fallen before it’s asked and invariably it’s asked in a quiet, thoughtful way. The question is: ‘Is that story true?’ On one unforgettable occasion, I’d just finished telling a most unbelievable Japanese story about a lazy liar who deserves a comeuppance.  

A Japanese story: The Magic Nose-Fan

P1010704One day, lolling under a bush, Kotaro is offered a magic nose-fan by a tengu who is a kind of mischievous Japanese troll-type figure usually recognisable by his very long nose. Our anti-hero accepts the nose-fan in return for the dice he’s been idly tossing about and it’s this same magic nose-fan that leads to the story’s final denouement in which Kotaro is left dangling off a far-distant planet, his little legs no doubt kicking around in the air.

What happens in between is that our anti-hero discovers that, when one side of the nose-fan is turned towards a nose, the fan will make the nose get longer. When its other side is turned nose-wards, it makes the nose get smaller again. With judicious use, it can return the nose to its normal size.

And how does our anti-hero make use of the tengu’s gift? Why, when he sees the local princess taking the air in the royal gardens, he wanders casually by and uses his fan to make her nose get long. Panic and pandemonium ensue. What is to be done? Doctors are called. Creams are deployed. Nothing works until our lazy no-good-boyo presents himself at the palace and, in a darkened room, returns the princess’ nose to its regular size. In return he gets to marry the princess as his reward and that enables him to lead an even lazier life than before.

But here comes the comeuppance. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Best story ever (for young ones)

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

DSCN5231For any storyteller, it’s a heartening moment when you learn that a story you’ve told has succeeded in engaging a child. It’s even better when the story has become part of a kind of chain. You told it to a group of adults and it’s one of them that passed it on to the child concerned.

This week I had one such moment when I received the following message from Hilary Minns at Warwick University. Hilary has for many years been running a module on Stories and Storytelling for people pursuing Early Childhood studies. The story she refers to is one I’ve told there a number of times.

Hilary’s message:

A little story: one of my students has a group of seven children with special learning needs. Among them is a 6 year old autistic boy who, she says, dislikes stories intensely and who wriggles and squirms around at storytime. But she told him Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle, complete with actions, and he was transfixed. He then asked her to make the characters into Mr Wiggle and Mr Waggle and said they had to change houses. At break time she observed this boy retelling the story to a friend!

  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Natural justice

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

P1060289This coming Monday, I’ll be at St Stephens Primary School in Shepherds Bush. They’ve asked me back over several years as part of their Arts Week and I’m looking forward to it. The children there really appreciate stories and among the ones I’m thinking of telling are some I’ve told to classes there in the past. (Children everywhere seem to love picking up on stories they’ve heard from you before).

One of the new tales I’m planning to tell is one I’ve hardly ever told before. Which age-group I’ll tell it with will depend on atmosphere and how things go at the time. First, let me give you an idea of the story. Then I’ll outline some of my thoughts on how and why I might tell it. 

The characters of the story:

1. An old woman (very poor and very kind)
2. The Little Red Rooster (he belongs to the old woman) (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Hands, legs and sock

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Tapies footI’ve said it before: storytellers enjoy making links and I personally seem to be doing it more than ever. Sometimes the link emerges through thinking what photos to use for this blog. This week, as you can see from the photos chosen, it’s bits of the body that created an association.  

Antoni Tàpies was a Catalan painter. I’d scarcely even registered his name before last weekend when we went to Barcelona for a few days off to celebrate my birthday. On our last day when we went to the Fundacio Antoni Tàpies, a museum devoted to Tàpies work, I found a lot of his paintings hard to be drawn to. But where he focused on simple stuff – wood, windows, doors, eyes, feet, an old sock, a shoe-print in sand, the sand itself – I felt considerably more at home. Tàpies took inspiration in ordinary things and found them of spiritual value. He felt they are evidence of our common humanity connecting  us to the earth and to our selves.

After we got back to London, we looked back at our photos as you do (we’d been allowed to take photos in the Tàpies gallery as long as we didn’t use flash)  and I found myself linking some of the work we’d seen with a story I’d heard some years ago at a storytelling evening at the South Bank Centre. The event was associated with a huge exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art at the Hayward Gallery and the storytellers were two Australian Aboriginal women

Legs, feet, fingers, thumbs: here’s the story that came back to my mind. It’s one I’ve always enjoyed passing on. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Light of an Eye

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

P1070330My photos this week are of a carved head. But it’s painting that’s on my mind as I write. For when I’ve  posted this, I’ll be going to look at a painting.  A message about it arrived this week from the owner of an art gallery in Fishguard, the town where I spent the first fourteen years of my life. He is in the process of selling a number of works by Elizabeth Cramp, a very fine Fishguard artist who achieved a good deal of success while she lived. As he told me in his email this week,  the works of hers that he is now selling include a painting of my Aunty Mali.

Aunty Mali was a considerable influence in my life. A friend of my parents rather than an actual relation, she was a personality, a music teacher, a choral conductor,  a traveller and, wherever she travelled, an informal ambassadress of Wales and Welsh culture. She was also a redoubtable storyteller with innumerable stories to tell. After her death, Aunty Mali became the subject of my storytelling piece, Travels With My Welsh Aunt. It was my tribute to her. When I performed it in Fishguard, the same art-gallery owner, Myles Pepper, who’s now selling Elizabeth Cramp’s  paintings was the organiser of the occasion.

So when I get to Myles’s gallery,  I’ll see ‘a very fine watercolour painting’  which I didn’t even know existed. What will its impact be? Aunty Mali has been dead nearly twenty years. I have many, many photographs of her as well as boxes full of her papers. But a painting? Will it feel too powerful, as if she’s come back to life? Or might it be a disappointment by not being the Aunty Mali I knew?

The prospect is daunting. What will I see? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Mouth No. 3

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Last week I promised details of how to vote for the shortlisted candidates (including me!) for the new BASE awards. But there’s no sign yet of the new BASE website with the details. Hopefully it’ll be up by next week, so I’ll come back to the subject then.

Meantime back to Mouth – and Mouth is, of course, central to oral tradition. The phrase By Word of Mouth even won me a bottle of champagne when I came up with it as the possible title for the TV series on storytelling that I proposed and devised for Channel 4 at the end of the 1980s. The series at that point was almost completed. All we lacked was a title. The production company offered the champagne. I remember racking my brains in the bath. As soon as I thought of  By Word of Mouth,  it sounded obviously right.

Don’t children often say it: ‘Tell me a story out of your mouth’? They love the directness of telling and this week’s two stories quite literally add a twist to the telling. They take you back to the fun that you get as a child when some lovely silly adult makes hilarious expressions at you. Combine the facial expressions with a good story and the story gets asked for again and again. This week I’ve got two stories to choose from.

And by the way, I hope you love my photo illustration as much as I do. If you don’t know who its subjects are, go to the bottom of my Blog for details. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Mouth No. 2

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

A few days ago I got the news that I’ve been shortlisted for that Lifetime Achievement Award. More on that subject – including how to vote – next week.

Last week, to introduce Mouth, I offered some sayings and quotes on the subject. This week’s offering is a story in which a butterfly comes out of an open mouth, then goes on a journey and returns. The butterfly, of course, is frequently seen as a symbol of Soul. Yet in several comparable stories of which I’m aware, it’s not a butterfly that comes out of the mouth but some other strange creature that is almost a little manikin.

The variants:

One of the variants is an African tale. It talks of a very sick man who is lying, fevered and thirsty, on the bed in his room. As he falls asleep desperately craving some water, his mouth falls open and a tiny little creature comes out. The creature hops across to the jug of water that stands beside the sleeper’s bed and there takes its fill of the water before hopping back to the sleeper and re-entering his mouth. At that point, the sleeper wakes up feeling much better and greatly refreshed.

Another variant comes from Wales and here it’s haymakers who are taking a mid-day break from their labours, sitting in the hedge at the side of the field, when one of them falls fast asleep. When one of his companions observes a monkey-like creature coming out of the sleeper’s mouth, he calls his companions’ attention and they watch as the strange little being crosses the field to the river that flows along beside the field and takes its fill of the water before returning to the sleeping hay-maker and disappearing back into his mouth.

Why I especially like the Welsh story:

I find the Welsh story very appealing in the sense that it reminds me of two separate occasions in my childhood when I saw hay being cut by hand with scythes, once in the couple of fields that my grandfather owned, once on the smallholding that belonged to my uncle. On each occasion, I remember the haymakers coming together from neighbouring farms to lend their help and at mid-day being brought their mid-day food. On the second occasion, I vividly recall, I travelled home perched on top of the hay-wain, my nostrils filled with the warm smell of the hay. My great-aunt had given me some odds and ends of beautiful ribbon to play with and I clutched them in my hands, feeling their texture, all the way back to my grandparents’ house. It was one of the happiest days of my life.

Why I tell the butterfly version:

But it’s the butterfly version I tell. And why? Because of it’s strange, mystic atmosphere. Because I love the visualisation. Because it works on a double level and it’s very much a story about dreams. The butterfly version as I give it below originates from Ireland. Here I’ve adapted it slightly from the version given by Kevin Crossley-Holland in his excellent collection, British Folk Tales, where it appears in the section entitled Enchantment, which I think is very apt. (more…)