Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘Body Stories’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Head gear

Saturday, August 24th, 2019

On Thursday or Friday every week but sometimes not till Saturday morning, the question arrives in my head. What to write in this week’s blog? Often the answer seems to be there already as if I’d already been considering the question. Sometimes I haven’t got a clue. Like this week. Yesterday I didn’t have a clue. I just had to trust that something would come to mind.

Why bother?

A friend asked the other day: ‘Why do you bother?’ My only answer can be ‘because I like doing it.’ My sense of the weekly obligation requires me to think over whatever may be in my mind. Recent events.  Topics that, however briefly, have grabbed my interest.  Stuff I’ve been reading. Things that have been said to me directly or things I’ve overheard.

From all these various tributaries to what must pass as my river of thought, something has to  materialise to provide the spur to a blog. But in a way that’s just like storytelling. I’m sure all storytellers would say the same. Countless times on your way to do a session or sessions, you’ll have known pretty much what stories you’re likely to tell. You’ll have thought about them in preparation, identifying themes and finding links. But there’s also the more immediate links that, in the event, prove invaluable. These may come from what happens on the way to the venue or from recent encounters or from things people have said. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Bringing Hope

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

You know what it’s like. You’re vaguely expecting something to happen. Then suddenly it arrives and you’re surprised and delighted. In my case, it occurred yesterday morning when onto my doormat fell something a little  larger and heavier than the usual letter – not that many actual letters arrive any more. What comes are bills, oh yes the bills! And also of course endless advertisements for this or that.

What the post brought:

But this was the most delightful little book. It’s entitled Bringing Hope, the story in it was written by myself and, yes, I was expecting it to arrive sometime around now. But when I saw it, what proved an absolute delight was the illustrations, all bursting with colour and texture and all produced by pupils of two schools in South London, Reay and Wyvil Primary Schools. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Connections

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

And the foot bone’s connected to the leg bone…. And the leg bone’s connected to the hip bone…. And the hip bone’s connected to the back bone….

And so on. We used to chant that song of connection as kids on the school bus coming back from events away. Another similar one comes to mind: the one about the old woman who lived on her own who would sit a-spinning of a night bemoaning about how lonely she felt….

Then in came a pair of great big feet – And set themselves down in front of the fire…. And still she sat and still she span, And still she wished for company…. Then in came a pair of thin, thin legs … etc etc etc.

Also what comes to mind is that wonderful story from Aboriginal Australia about the hand that goes for a walk and when she gets to a hill longs for a leg up. So one leg comes and then another etc etc etc (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 ~ 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…)