Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ A ball of thread

Dear blog reader, I hope that what happened to me this morning doesn’t often happen to you.  I came to some kind of consciousness far too early, mind in an absolute spin. Still half asleep, I watched the spin going round, like watching clothes in the washing machine or feeling my mind had turned into a tangle.

A family funeral:

One item in the mix was the funeral in Plymouth on Thursday of an older cousin of Paul’s. During the service a fine account of his life was given by one of his sons. It included a vivid account of a glorious goal his father had scored in a football game in his young days. His other son picked up on that love of sport. Matching the story of the glorious goal, he told about how, on the whim of a moment while on a holiday on the Isle of Man, his father not only entered an 800 metre race that was about to be run but, shoeless and with rolled up trousers, actually won it to the roaring acclaim of the crowd.

Young Palestinians:

Another item in the mix were impressions  from an event I attended last night to mark the publication of a book, Young Palestinians Speak by a friend of mine, Annemarie Young and her husband, Anthony Robinson. Over three recent years, they’d talked with young people in several different parts of Palestine about what those young people felt about their situation. And the young people were burning to tell. The loss of the ability to move about freely. Their sense of being deprived. Their fear of attack. Their feelings about the humiliations imposed on them.

But last night’s event had other elements that also made my mind whirl. For instance, it was chaired by Michael Rosen – and, half-asleep in bed this morning, this led me to think about Michael’s father Harold Rosen, a pillar of the storytelling world I’d entered back in the 1980s, and also of Betty, Harold’s second wife, who has also been a huge influence on me and whom I haven’t visited for far too long.

Nor was that all.  Also speaking were the writers Beverley Naidoo and Elizabeth Laird. So also churning round in my brain this morning were thoughts about the excellent collection of Ethiopian folktales which is one of the books Elizabeth Laird has published. Plus there were the experiences these writers contributed about talking with street children, migrants and refugees in different countries of this world.

Refugees and disability: 

Then, poking their elbows into my early morning mind-spin came other recent experiences I’ve already reported in this blog – for instance, the Cardiff symposium where I learned about the importance to refugees of their story, getting it straight, remembering it right, standing by it when challenged. Also the event put on by the charity, ADD, where I was able to meet Peter Ogik, the man with albinism whose story had affected me so greatly, and also to hear the other four Disability Activists who spoke so powerfully at that event.


As if this wasn’t enough, also stepping into my whirling thoughts came an elderly woman who’d been speaking on the TV screen the other side of the room in the Guest House in Plymouth where Paul and I were having our breakfast yesterday morning. I only heard parts of what she was saying but what I heard was about what it’s like to suffer from dementia, which she does. The way she devises a plan and then forgets it, how for instance she may ring to book a taxi and then, if it doesn’t arrive at the exact time for which she booked it, she realises she’s forgotten whether she did actually ring to book it and she calls up the taxi firm to ask if she did.

Theseus and the Minotaur:

What saved me in my confusion this morning, searching for a thread through all these stories, was suddenly remembering the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. It was one of my childhood favourites. Remember?

The young Theseus was sent to Crete from Athens as part of the tribute of youths and maidens to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, the great bull in the labyrinth of Knossos. In Crete, the young Theseus met Ariadne, beautiful daughter of King Minos, and as they fell in love, he promised to marry her if she would help him to kill the Minotaur and escape. The help she gave him was a ball of thread. So as he went into the dark, searching out the Minotaur, he kept firm hold of the ball of thread, unravelling it as he went until, after fighting and killing the Minotaur, he was able to follow the thread back towards the outside world till he came again into light.

Finding the thread:

It was such a relief to remember this story. It calmed me down. Searching to make sense of my spinning heap of stories, I’d been looking for a thread, a single theme. And now this story helped me see it. Never mind for now that the story of Theseus had an awful aftermath when, after being united in love, Theseus abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos, sailing away to further adventures while leaving her alone and weeping.

No, my clue from the story of Theseus and Ariadne was the single word ‘thread’. My thread, I realised, was seeing once again the importance of story. No real surprise there. Yet seeing again the value of story  – being able to tell it and have it heard and recognised – helps consolidate my inner knowledge of it and my confidence to declare it. Thank goodness the fact of its importance has been clearly revealed in all the horrific labyrinth of the last weeks in which the dreadful stories of the Windrush generation have finally begun to get a proper hearing and the vile behaviour of the Home Office Minotaur has had to be confronted and forced to begin to change.

The confirming coincidence:

So Ariadne’s ball of thread calmed me down this morning. Then, as if to confirm its help and make me smile, an odd coincidence occurred when I came to my desk to write this blog. As I looked along my storytelling-related books for somewhere I could quickly check some details of the Theseus story, I saw, right there, a book by Anthony Stevens called Ariadne’s Clue – A Guide to the Symbols of Humankind. And it was on  its very first page that I learned that the word ‘clue’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word clew whose meaning is ‘ball of thread’. Well, I never!

PS: The tangled heap, Harold Rosen, Peter Ogik and a lifebuoy: hopefully these help to make some sense of my story today.

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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ A ball of thread”

  1. Julie Sperring Says:

    I love this post, Mary – I will keep the ball of thread in mind (somehow, amongst the clutter) and see where it leads!

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Love getting comments from you Julie – all the way from New Zealand, feels incredible. So glad we share that ball of thread. Helps to keep me going! Much love, Mary

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