Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ A Sense of Occasion

Yesterday evening, my old friend, storyteller Debbie Guneratne, was performing with dancers and singers at a Malaysian Night in Trafalgar Square. A few days before, on the phone, she was apprehensive – entirely understably you might say. Trafalgar Square? On a Friday night? But her apprehensions also made me chuckle.

Malaysian dancersA personal tale:

‘Don’t worry too much,’ I responded. ‘Trafalgar Square can be surprisingly kind. Once long ago, when we had our first car, I broke down in Trafalgar Square in the middle of a Saturday morning. I was on my own. What a nightmare!’

Except it turned out to be almost a pleasure, not a nightmare at all. Two young policemen turned up as if out of nowhere, pushed the car onto a safe, quiet spot at the south of the central island of the square and helped me call the AA. (It was long before mobile phones.)

Phew! Often when I’ve gone through Trafalgar Square since then, I think of the way in which a horrid situation that turns out OK can transform into a happy memory. Another Trafalgar Square event which also often returns to mind seems somehow related.

A historical tale:

Malaysian dancers 2It took place following the completion of the high column on which the figure of Nelson stands in the middle of Trafalgar Square, looking down Whitehall. But before the statue of him was raised into its commanding position on the plinth at the top – and I find this scarcely believable – a dinner party was held on that same high plinth. It wasn’t just a picnic. All the paraphernalia of a proper dinner party was taken up – table , chairs, tablecloth, cutlery, napkins, glasses and, of course, the food. Those who quite literally rose up there to eat were the men who’d been involved in the design and making of the monument itself.

Now that’s quite a story, isn’t it? And of course one reason it’s fascinating is because it’s true. It’s a matter of historical record and – well, I’m a storyteller, aren’t I? – I’m inclined to recount it to any child or adult that happens to be with me, whether in a car, a bus or on foot, when going through Trafalgar Square. I personally have a horror of heights but I adore the tale. It embodies such a great sense of ceremony,  a lovely pleasure and boldness about marking a significant event. Plus it conveys a sense of fun. Which is, to me, an essential ingredient in storytelling let alone life.

P.S.  Malaysian Night was splendid. In the hour or so we were there, we saw an extraordinarily beautiful group of traditional Malaysian dancers, heard gamelan music and a chic Malaysian pop singer, experienced what was identified as Chinese Malaysian dancing, then an extremely lively breakdance kind of modern Indian Malaysian dancing. And Debbie was superb – absolutely clear-voiced, calm and communicative in her tellings of the stories behind some of these performances. On every side of the stage were stalls selling Malaysian food (delicious) and by the time we left, the whole square was absolutely full of people enjoying themselves. How amazed Nelson must have felt, looking down on this wonderful celebration of another very diverse and ancient culture.


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