Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Jigsaw living

July 10th, 2021

Jigsaws can be fun. I like them. Paul likes them. Every now and again we have a spate of jigsaw-doing. These last few days we’ve been occupied with a new 1,000-piece one. At various points, one or other or both of us will sit there for an hour or two. Sometimes, we just wander by and try filling in a piece or two. I wonder who first created the idea of the jigsaw. I must try finding out.

Of course, I’ve also now started thinking about the jigsaw as a metaphor, an image for the way we humans go about things and the peculiar miscellany of tasks we sometimes find ourselves tackling. At various points, perhaps, we’re planning to go on a little trip. So we try jigsawing together into one weekend or one week or a fortnight all the various thoughts we had prior to setting out about the places we’d like to visit, the kinds of things we’d like to do. Lying on a beach, going out for a nice meal, visiting that relative or old friend who lives in the area, reading that good book we’ve already begun, taking some excellent photos, having a long walk or several – oh, the candidates are almost endless. How on earth can we put together the mental jigsaw picture that will incorporate them all?

And of course, the weekend trip away is just one challenge. What about every day? I know that during the last few days, I’ve had numerous plans in mind. Pick up the plastic bags full of previously-loved clothes (horrid phrase) that are currently lurking in the sitting room and take them down to the charity shop as previously determined. Get out the small step ladder and feather duster and whisk away the cobwebs that have formed high up in the conservatory ceiling. Be in touch with the numerous kind people who’ve recently asked me to let them know the plans for my forthcoming chemotherapy treatment. Oh the list is virtually endless. And in its way the list is also a bit of a puzzle because, to be manageable on any one occasion, it has to alternate strenuous tasks with easier ones, simple tidying with heavy lifting etc. etc.

Oh the jigsaws of many kinds that we’re all engaged in a lot of the time! They are puzzles in the sense that, for me at any rate, they have to balance the hard work with the cups of coffee, the yukky stuff with the lighter tasks. And meantime, if possible, I always have to try and avoid becoming distracted. For instance, I know that, lurking in one or two of the parts of the house that need attending to, there are cardboard boxes that will undoubtedly turn out to contain fascinating – and hence distracting – old letters and old photos.

Ah well! When I get overwhelmed by the difficult tasks, I must remember. Laid out on the kitchen table (and currently preventing the eating of meals there) is that delightful Cloudberries jigsaw. Skyline is its name and the picture is a harbour with a multiplicity of towers and spires and sails.  It’s attractive. This morning, however, it won’t get much, or indeed any, attention. There are far too many other things to do. A planned phone conversation with the friend I call my Book Pair to talk about Shadows on the Rock, the Willa Cather book we’ve both been reading. An overdue phone chat with my sister. Changing the sheets on the bed. Checking my emails. Making a shopping list. And, oh yes, actually getting dressed since, right at the moment, I’m still in my dressing gown. Happy days! It’s the jigsaw of life.

PS: My top picture is of Skyline – work in progress. Below is a piece of life-jigsaw, taken about ten years ago and sent to us this week by the good American friend who made it, a video of us singing one of the most loved Welsh folk songs, Ar Lan y Môr (Beside the Sea). Please excuse the warm up bit we haven’t managed to edit out!

Storytelling Starters ~ Detritus

July 3rd, 2021

According to my much-used Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary (turned to far more often than the two-volume Shorter Oxford) detritus is ‘a mass of substance gradually worn off solid bodies: an aggregate of loosened fragments, esp. of rock’. Well, maybe. But I think of it as mess, an aggregate  of stuff that has been left behind. Like after some kind of open-air gathering, or even an indoor party, there’s always a lot of detritus. Paper napkins, straws, uneaten crusts, cup-cake holders … you know the kind of stuff.

But it’s not exactly detritus that is bothering me now. What’s on my mind is, for instance, the two bulging plastic bags I spotted last night underneath a settee in the sitting room. While watching the 7 o’clock news on TV, my eyes lit upon them. What on earth is in those two bags?  Why are they there? It’s not that I’d not noticed them before. My eyes had lit upon them several times. But I hadn’t previously investigated. Now I took a look. Ah yes, a melee of items of no-longer-wanted clothing. Now I remembered. Weren’t these bagged and ready for going to the charity shop? So why, oh why, are they still here? Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Lifting the Sky

June 26th, 2021

Sometimes getting a shock can make you do silly things. But another thing it can do is initiate immediate recollections of how important some people have been in your life.

Quite early yesterday morning,  Paul came downstairs with news he’d just picked up on his mobile phone that a friend of ours in Canada had died. We’d never been able to spend long periods of time with her. But she was a very loving and loveable person. She was the wife of a composer who’d been important to me in my work life.

So suddenly and with such a sense of shock does a vital piece of your life return to you, huge both in memory and feeling. Lori Davies was herself a distinguished nurse.   I came to know her some 20 years ago. She was married to Victor Davies, the renowned Canadian composer who had been commissioned to write music for a story I was telling at that time. The story was a very old Salish myth that, in our joint endeavours, became known as Lifting the Sky. The music Victor composed for the story was first performed in public by the North American Welsh Choir, who had commissioned it, with me telling the story. The performance was the  major part of a storytelling evening I was giving in Shelton, Washington in May  2001. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters – Plenitude

June 19th, 2021

On Thursday morning this week, that word ‘plenitude’ suddenly appeared in my mind. I thought about it. One thing that occurred to me was that there was certainly a plenitude of things I could do.  I could write to all the friends who have sent cards or emails to me to wish me well through this current ‘cancer journey’. And I note that that’s what people are calling it these days: cancer journey. It’s a description that certainly does begin to cover all the toings and froings to the Cancer Centre at the hospital as well as the emotional journey through the ups and downs of what is happening (in my case for the fifth time, each time a different cancer).

Or, I thought, I could make some Welsh cakes. These deliciousnesses are things I’ve enjoyed since childhood and they certainly give me that feeling of plenitude. My mother kept the ones she made in a particular tin in a drawer in the kitchen which would be frequently raided by us children and, I must add, by our father. They’ve continued to feature in my life. Recently, Welsh cakes have gone down well with a neighbour across the road who, much younger than me, is also being treated for cancer right now. Then again, one afternoon earlier this week, Welsh cakes felt like the ideal ‘something’ to take to a gentleman friend who’d invited Paul and me to tea. But quite apart from taking Welsh cakes elsewhere, they’re immensely popular with Paul. And with me too. The making is easy. The eating is forever satisfying. Read the rest of this entry »

Blackbirds and Bees

June 12th, 2021

Being called a Queen Bee was definitely not a compliment when I was a child. It was said in a decidedly sarcastic tone. Busy bee – as in ‘What a busy bee you’ve been!’ – was OK. But Queen Bee was a definite put-down. How things change! By now, any comparison at all with bees would be regarded by me as quite a compliment. For bees are certainly very busy creatures and, as I observed on a walk in Brockwell Park this week, they appear extremely focused on their tasks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Doing Something

June 5th, 2021

Last week I was carefully putting my eggs in the basket called Doing Nothing. By this week these eggs, one by one, are being carefully moved into the basket called Doing Something. I still am not persuaded that Doing Something is invariably better than Doing Nothing. But if the Something is identified as reading to children then I’m all for it. Besides, I’m very glad to see that, as recorded in a piece in the Guardian this week, so is famous footballer and generally good person, Marcus Rashford.

Furthermore, reading to children is usually a habit that gets passed on. Happily, I read in an email I received this week that the three year old son of one of my God-Daughters, is currently absorbed in a book – The Big-wide-mouthed-toad-frog – that I edited and gave his mother 30  years ago when she herself was a child. Thus do good story-books get passed on and loved all over again. Indeed, I recall that some of the story-books I loved the most as a child were ones that, in the process of being passed on, had become far less than pristine in their appearance. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Doing nothing

May 29th, 2021

Ever happen to you? Outside it’s a perfectly decent day. You could be going out to do the food shopping or just to enjoy a nice walk. Or you could stay inside and put on the washing (plenty waiting to get done) or get on with some house-cleaning (once again, plenty). Taking yet another tack, you could get started on Sapphira and the Slave Girl, the next book by Willa Cather that you’ll be discussing with the friend with whom you have your Book Pair (a version of a book group but with only the two of you).

Or you could be making the phone call you’ve promised to make to a friend to report on yesterday’s session with a hospital consultant where you discussed next steps in the plan for dealing with your recently identified cancer (more on that anon, no doubt). Instead you are being perfectly idle. Much earlier on, you went down for breakfast (no lack of appetite here) and since then your lovely husband has brought you the very welcome cup of coffee and excellent biscuit that you’ve since consumed. Otherwise you’ve done nothing useful. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Remembering – Cofio

May 22nd, 2021

One of the magazines I get sent in the post because I’m a subscriber is Golwg, a Welsh magazine which arrives once a fortnight.

Opening the current Golwg  gave me a start of surprise and recognition. For there, fifty years after his death and accompanied by a lovely photo of him, is a piece about one of the most well-known and admired of Welsh poets of the 20th century, Waldo Williams. Thanks to my redoubtable Aunty Mali whom I’ve mentioned in this blog numerous times before, I met Waldo Williams on several occasions. His home was just a few miles from Fishguard where Aunty Mali and my family lived, she at No 1 Vergam Terrace, us at No 16. From time to time when Waldo came to tea with her, it would be my job to bring over to him from the table the platters of sandwiches and cake on offer so he could choose what he’d like.

Waldo Williams was a Quaker and a passionate pacifist. He refused to pay taxes that would be used for military purposes and in 1960 his non-payment of taxes got him sent to prison for six weeks. A second prison sentence followed the next year. Professionally, he was a school teacher working with young children. He published only one book of poems for adults, Dail Pren (Tree Leaves). He published another for children, Cerddi’r Plant (Poems for the Children). He had a lovely smile and a great sense of humour and evidently he was gifted in that very Welsh art of making up verses on the spot.

As important to me as meeting Waldo Williams in person in my young teenage years were the one or two of his poems I came to know well. In Wales we’re keen on poems and in school we’d be encouraged to learn and recite them. One of the ones I loved is one by Waldo Williams:  Cofio, which in English means Remembering. The poem is only six verses long, each verse consisting of only four lines. But short as it is, it’s wonderful. Did I ever learn it well  enough to recite it by heart at a Noson Lawen, the social evenings that regularly happened where we lived? Certainly, I’d read the poem to myself from time to time and I still love it today. The imagery of it, the theme, the rhythm: all are wonderfully resonant. Here’s the first verse of it:

Un funud fach cyn elo’r haul o’r wybren,
Un funud fwyn cyn delo’r hwyr i’w hynt,
I gofio am y pethau anghofiedig
Ar goll yn awr yn llwch yr amser gynt.

One small moment before the sun leaves the firmament,
One dear moment before evening comes to its end,
To remember the unremembered things
Lost now in the dust of times that have gone.

Dear Aunty Mali, she introduced me to any number of fine people and I feel grateful to her for that as well as so much else. In this year of celebrating fifty years since Waldo Williams’ death, I’m proud that she gave me the memory of helping to serve him his tea.

PS: The top photo is Waldo Williams (by Dafydd Williams, Rhuthun) exactly as I remember him; the bottom photo is of the wonderful Ceanothus Pershore Zanzibar now in full bloom in our garden in London.

Storytelling Starters – Back and fore

May 15th, 2021

Maybe it always happens when you go away from home. Even as you reach the place where you were headed, you’re paying attention to new things, features of your new environment that are different from what you experience at home.

One thing I’ve been much aware of this Spring in Mathri, the village where we have our Welsh home, is the multitude of cowslips in the verges and hedges of roads leading into and out of the village. OK, cowslips will never cease to be among my favourite countryside flowers. But each time I see them en masse at this time of the year, I feel excited and privileged all over again. I’m tempted to describe them as very modest creatures, they seem to blend themselves in to the hedgerows and fields. I feel grateful to be here at the right time to see them. The bluebells and garlic have a fine show too in the woodland ways close to the sea.

Another thing I’ve been much aware of since arriving here in Mathri this Spring is the birdsong. There’s what I want to describe as a flight of very tall trees in the churchyard at the top of the village. Walking past them in the early evening a day or two ago, there issued from them such a chorus of sound that it felt like the birds had decided to give the village a special concert. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Just a day trip?

May 8th, 2021

Two particular thoughts came into, and lingered, in my mind during my day yesterday. One is the huge importance of enabling children from big urban areas to visit the countryside and the sea. The other is to see the importance of doing that very same thing yourself.

Yesterday, Paul and I drove north up the coast road from Fishguard to Aberaeron. It is an extraordinary little town on the edge of the sea just south of Aberystwyth. The most striking thing about it is that all the houses are kept beautifully painted in  notable colours.  There are strict civic rules for effecting and maintaining the policy. The result is very pleasing.

But if  you’d thought that in such a seaside place you might walk along the sea shore on sand, the Aberaeron sea front is not so pleasing. That’s due to all the rocks in the sand. Also wooden groynes, the barriers installed to protect the shore, separate the beach into a series of small sections. However, there’s an excellent footpath which starts at Aberaeron’s attractive little harbour and then proceeds along the front. This provides an excellent way of looking out at the sea while also enjoying the experience of passing so many other people enjoying the sea air, including all the delighted children bouncing along.

After being in Aberaeron – and we were there to meet up with my lovely brother who lives just north of Aberaeron in Aberystwyth – I started getting memories from the past experiences which have provided me with evidence of the huge value and importance of the seaside, especially for town children. Some of these memories come from an experience of joining my friend, the wonderful artist and art teacher Catrin Webster, when she’d arranged for children from Birmingham to come to the West Wales coast to spend some days by the sea. Notably, I remember seeing one of the girls in the group throwing open her arms in absolute delight when she caught her first sight of the sea. Another actually ran into the sea in her clothes in her eager pleasure at encountering it. By the end of just one day, you knew that a whole new world had opened up for those Birmingham children.

Just bringing back to mind that particular group of Birmingham children hauls back a posse of other memorable details, some from that same trip, more from other similar ventures that I’ve been part of over the years. From the Birmingham trip, I remember one of the girls in the group pointing excitedly out of the train window as we passed a field of sheep and exclaiming, ‘Look! Animals!’ On another venture, a week in North Wales for city children, I remember one of the boys, he was nine or ten years old, being afraid to walk across a grassy field. Of course he’d seen grass before. No, it was the expanse of the field that intimidated him.

What’s new can terrify. What’s new can thrill. But what’s vitally important in these particular times is that all children should be given experience of the natural world with its particular beauties and, maybe, terrors. How can children grow up to see the importance of the environment and why we have to protect and maintain it if they don’t get personal experience of it? It’s vital.

P.S. My top picture shows Aberaeron harbour at low tide; the second is one of the strikingly painted houses we saw yesterday.