Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

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Storytelling Starters: A Piece of Advice

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

An American friend once told me about a literary seminar at which she’d been present.  The subject of discussion was a very long poem that had been written by one of the students in the group. The eminent writer leading the group – John Berryman as I recall – asked the student to read out the whole of this poem. Then, at the end, having listened intently, he quoted one small phrase from the poem and said, ‘Now that was good!’

Well, you could take that several ways. Quoting an actual phrase from the poem, however small, showed that the eminent writer had really listened. At the same time, the fact that he praised just one tiny part could be taken to mean that he’d really not rated much of the rest of it.  Yet hearing his praise of that one phrase  would surely have concentrated the minds of all who were present. What was especially good about that particular bit.

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Storytelling Starters ~ On the bright side

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

In prospect, a hospital appointment for physiotherapy felt like more than I needed. What a surprise was in store! The session proved an energising mix of exercises, some with simple equipment, some without, and all of it supervised by a very nice young chap who made it all feel straightforward and do-able.

Another treatment session the previous week had felt equally unwanted in prospect. Another journey on the bus, another half-day used up on a hospital visit … but that, too, had proved an absolute pleasure because it turned out to be a foot reflexology session with a really lovely woman who even sent me away with something you might call a smell-stick to help induce a peaceful sleep each night.

How lucky I feel that we have an NHS that has dreamt up such a range of services which it offers for free. How different it would be if I had to walk miles through the heat along dusty roads to a health centre or hospital where there might not even be a doctor, let alone exercise equipment or a smell-stick. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Going home

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

You visit your friends next door or go to your local shops. You go to the cinema or to collect the children from school. And then what do you do? You go home. It’s easy, it’s familiar, it’s something you do all the time.

Going home:

Then again, some activities you do on a regular basis can also feel like going home – activities such as visiting your local library, sitting down at your piano or sewing machine or updating the diary you keep. Regular activities give such a feeling of comfort and purpose. They too feel like going home.

But going home may not always be easy. It can entail something demanding such as driving to the other side of the country. Or getting on a boat or plane and travelling to another part of the world. For going home can also mean returning to the place where you grew up and that place may no longer be near or comfortable.

And lots of us need to do it, namely go back on a regular or irregular basis to the place of our origin. In busy, multicultural London, I often wonder what diverse and far-flung countries were the starting-points, the homes, of people I see round me in the streets. I wonder about their feelings and experience when they do return home, what scents they smell, what landscapes they see, what foods they eat.

Alas, it’s not necessarily an available option. A recent issue of Golwg, the Welsh weekly magazine I take, contained a moving portrayal of a young refugee who now lives in Wales (and is learning both Welsh and English). In it, he talked about how he cannot go home. He is Syrian. His home is no longer a safe place to be. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Sky, clouds, tears and water

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

Yesterday morning after a restorative week away, Paul and I drove back to London from Pembrokeshire. The clouds in the sky were so incredibly beautiful, they could not have held my attention more had they been painted by the greatest of artists.  We could see staircases and streams, maps of whole continents and the pathways of gentle breezes. Goodness knows why the two stories that follow came back to my mind while watching these clouds. I hadn’t specifically thought about either for a very long time. One is specifically about a boy who loved clouds. The other is about the kind of power I associate with consummate artistry.

Story No. 1:

There was once a boy who loved the clouds. He loved looking up and seeing the extraordinary patterns the clouds sometimes make. He loved to observe the way the clouds move, sometimes drifting very slowly, sometimes scudding across the sky. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling Revisited

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

This week, my hair began falling out in bundles. An early consequence of the chemo. Not nice! Seeing the devastation, turbans was the thought that promptly came to my mind. First, I got out what I thought was a suitable scarf, twisted it around my balding bonk, saw that it looked a terrible mess that might fall apart any minute. What to do?

How to do it?

Google provided the answer. Up came numerous videos of lovely young women taking barely a minute to create stylish turbans out of beautiful scarves. I tried again and now it became quick and easy for me too.

No more hairdresser visits:

So if and when we meet from now on, you’ll surely see me in a turban. Perhaps it will have to be my style for whatever is left of my life. Granted it’s a little bit time-consuming and cuts out the role of the hairdresser in my life. And since I’ve been going to the same hairdresser for almost half a century, that’s not nothing. But at least it deals with the hair-loss problem. Besides, turbans are different from hats. In my still small experience, they come out interestingly different each time. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Good wishes

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

The daffodils are over, the lovely bunch of tulips we were brought has withered, the roses in our garden are only just coming out. So here, instead, is a lovely camellia to wish you a happy Easter.

Easter brings so many things to mind. Holidays, chocolate, Easter bunnies, resurrection: may I wish you good experience of whatever takes your love, your interest or your fancy.

All I can add is that the sun is shining most liberally over us in Brixton. I hope it’s still shining over Pembrokeshire tomorrow. For if we can get ourselves going (and following my first chemo treatment for my current cancer this last Tuesday, getting going feels a bit hard), that’s where we’ll be headed.

How I look forward to the hedgerows, the beaches and the salt air! But wherever you will be tomorrow, my very best wishes for good things that you love and, as always, my thanks and appreciation that you’re reading this blog.

 

Storytelling Starters ~ The Blessings of Memory

Saturday, March 23rd, 2019

I can’t remember now what prompted the idea. But a few days ago, Paul and I got the idea that we might both write about our fathers. He’d write about his, I’d write about mine and, since we were each very fond of the other’s, each of us would write a bit about that one too.

Of course this determination has set me off down memory lane, remembering all kinds of little incidents involving my father, the many stories he himself would tell and also his characteristic ways. These were very comparable to those described of the typical Irish storyteller in Frank Delaney’s lovely novel, Ireland. In other words, my father would always to be found sitting in his usual chair, waving his pipe around as he apparently casually asked you a question which he obviously intended to answer himself.

One of the stories my father loved to tell – and it often comes back to my mind – was one that happened during the Second World War. He was being invalided out of Italy and was very bored on the tanker on which he was being transported. As he would tell it, he was desperate to find a book to read – any book. By his account, he searched the whole of the ship, including the captain’s cabin. Nothing. Then one day, idling around on the deck, he noticed an iron ring sticking up out of the planks. Wondering why it was there, he bent down and pulled it.  Under the trapdoor which came up was a small hideaway space and in that space there were two books. One was a book by Erich Maria Remarque. The other was Great Expectations. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Blessing of Friends

Saturday, March 16th, 2019

Ten days out of hospital and still rather confined to base,  I’m reflecting on the blessing of having friends. Here’s a list of some of the things I feel:

Friends bring company and, almost invariably as part of that company, there’s laughter and gossip.

Friends bring cake and when you’re constantly feeling a bit peckish like me over the last ten days, different sorts of cake are very, very nice. 

Friends bring variety and variety is certainly the spice of life when you’re not able to get out and about. Being indoors and not terribly mobile can get incredibly boring. Friends alter the feel of things at once.

Friends bring remembrances of times past… ‘When we all went to that play …’ or ‘Do you remember when you had that party ?’

Friends bring news – news of what they themselves have been doing or places they’re about to be going to visit. In this way they make the world feel wider again. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Occupying the mind

Saturday, March 9th, 2019

On Monday about 5 p.m., I got back from St Thomas’s Hospital after my hysterectomy op.  Since then, I’ve spent quite a lot of time asleep. But as the need for sleep has lessened, I’ve also spent a lot of time going back into my past, especially into childhood.  I think of it as a kind of ‘jumping off’ – including into my childhood years and all the different ways my friends and I used to spend our time.

Playing jacks, for instance. The front porch of our terraced house, No 16  Vergam Terrace, Fishguard, was ideal for this. Whether with friends or on my own, endless hours of throwing and catching the jacks never seemed to hurt our hands.

Salesmanship:

Then again, the short gap between the front window ledge of our house and the railings on the pavement wall provided an excellent opportunity for salesmanship. A board could be leaned between the railings and the front window ledge and on this board could be arranged all kinds of choice items gleaned from the house to tempt passers-by into buying. The selling was not for self gain but in aid of some charity, usually Dr Barnardo’s. When the moneys collected were sent off, the cash having been exchanged for a postal order, I’d receive a little certificate from the charity which I’d take down to Mr Thomas the Chemist’s Shop at the end of our street where Mr Thomas would sellotape it onto the front door.

Other games:

Another vital function of the front window sill was to give place to sit for the serious business of Collecting Car Numbers (something that, the way my friends and I used to do it, would be a lot harder today).  First, you’d write out all the numbers up to 999 in a notebook. Then you’d sit on the front window sill, pencil in hand, and wait to spot the number plate of any passing car. Needless to say, there weren’t that many passing cars and, in those long-gone days, number plates were much simpler. Spot the number – we didn’t care about letters – and it would be crossed off your list. Slow business!

Other childhood games were played in the side street round the corner from Mr Thomas the Chemist’s shop. Gather a group together and you’d likely be playing Mr Wolf in which one person took the part of Mr Wolf and, from his or her position on one side of the street, would call to all the rest of us a colour. If you were wearing something of that colour, you had to start across the street and beware of Mr Wolf jumping out to catch you. If you got all the way across without being caught, you could be Mr Wolf.

But if there wasn’t a group of us kids to be gathered, the side wall of Mr Thomas’s Chemist’s Shop offered the opportunity for endless batting of balls against the wall.

Halcyon days:

Oh those halcyon days! There was very little traffic, we all felt safe in our own company and if we were wanted back home, we could easily be fetched. But because we were an adventurous lot, we’d also go off to other places – up to Lota Park to play on the swings, the slide and the roundabout, or down to the quarry to look for frog spawn or, in our cycling days, riding along the long empty road to Windy Hall.

I’m so grateful for that time. It suited my spirit for, as I recognise it now, I’ve always needed to go ‘jumping off’. This last week, sitting or lying in bed, the ‘jumping off’ has had to be of the mental sort but it’ s been no less enjoyable for that.

See you next week, by which time I hope to be back on my feet.

PS: The two photos are of me looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth and, of course, at rather younger ages than the childhood years of outside games and adventures. The little child in the bottom photo is my brother, seven years younger than me.

Give me the strength!

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

When in doubt, think of Aunty Mali. That’s what I’m telling myself today. I’m feeling less than myself. But Aunty Mali was a strong and determined woman, meticulous in her ways of doing things. You could have called her a fusspot. My foster-sons, then aged eight and nine, used simply to say she was ‘extra’.

Aunty Mali aimed for excellence in all things, whether it was in her method of storing a pair of leather gloves (blow into the glove after taking it off, then stretch out each finger and lay it flat) or in the way a person should walk onto a stage (neither in a show-off way nor with overdone modesty).

She came into my family’s life when we moved into Vergam Terrace in Fishguard, number 16. She lived in number one in the big, imposing house that had since become the first in the terrace. Her house was full of magic and mystery with a great number  chests of drawers that were full of things that I, as a child, was desperate to look at and handle, including delicate pieces of lace, each wrapped in its own piece of tissue paper with a note as to where and when it had been acquired.

Aunty Mali had taken us over when we moved into her street. Unmarried herself, she must soon have seen us as a family  she could adopt.  I used to go over the road to stay the night or the weekend with her. She took me away on many trips in her Morris Minor, introducing me to all kinds of people I remember to this day.

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