Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ A Traveller’s Tale

This week I’m taking up the challenge I gave myself last week. What follows is my first try-out of the story I said I’d like to prepare and tell. Please let me know if you think it works. And if it does, please tell me how you would end it.

The story:

WowThe story I want to tell you is about a traveller. The amazing thing about this traveller is that he goes on his travels every single year without fail. Every year, he goes an extremely long way and he always ends up in pretty much the same place. You’d think he might try somewhere else or vary the journey sometimes, visit other countries, see other places. But no, every single year he does the same thing.

So this is what he does. He leaves Britain at about the same time – in early summer in June or July. First, he travels down to the Mediterranean – and that’s not surprising because it’s warmer there than here. Then he crosses the Mediterranean sea and arrives in North Africa, which of course is a very popular place for people going on holiday.

After a short while in North Africa, maybe a week or two, having a bit of relaxation and making sure he’s ready for the next part of his journey, he sets out to cross the Sahara desert. Why he feels obliged to do this is a bit of a mystery. It’s not somewhere you’d want to stop. It’s extremely hot, it’s extremely dry and it’s extremely dusty. But it’s his most direct route and it usually takes him only about three or four days. 

Magic momentsAfter crossing the desert, you’d think he’d have had enough for a while. But no, onwards he goes. First, he travels down to a part of West Africa where  again, he can relax and have plenty of the sort of food he likes before the last part of his journey which involves going right down into the heart of Africa to the Congo.

The Congo is not a safe place for humans these days. It has been torn apart by recent warfare; small militias fight on. But our traveller goes there anyway because that part of the world is an important part of his life. And, what’s more, lots of others just like him go there as well and at the very same time. It’s not surprising: the rainforest suits them, there’s enough to eat and it’s the sort of climate they’re used to. 

You’d think this traveller would stay there, wouldn’t you? But no, come what is early Spring to us in Britain, back he comes here, all the way, the same route in reverse. And it’s a fascinating thing that he and all the others who’d left Britain at the same time as him get back here at about the same time too.

When he arrives back in this country, this traveller goes straight back to the exact same area where he was the year before and every year when he gets there, he sets about looking for a new wife. A new wife every year? Yes, he looks for a new wife every year. And when he finds her, if he’s lucky, he sets about making a new family. But the weird thing is that, when his wife is ready to have their young ones, she leaves them in a home that’s not her own and off she goes. She just goes away, leaving them in the charge of whoever. If they’re lucky, the young Happy endingones grow up – not all survive – and, come the beginning of Summer, just like their natural parents, off they go on the same journey that ends up in the Congo that their father and mother will be making at the very same time. 

And it’s an even weirder fact of this story that each one of these long-distance travellers goes on their journey alone. You might well ask how the young ones know which way to go. No-one tells them, no-one shows them.

Brave, eh? For I should tell you, there are lots of dangers on the way. Not everyone makes it. In fact – and it’s a very hard fact, the hardest part of this story – the numbers that make it have been getting fewer and fewer over the last few years. That’s why I decided to tell you this story so you know how amazing a story it is and why it is important.

And who is it about? Did you guess?

The answer:

Well, of course, the answer is the cuckoo. Since last week, I’ve been thinking about how I might tell the story to children and this is my first try-out of it in my mind. I remember once hearing Ben Haggarty tell the story of the birth of Jesus to a class of children without mentioning the names of any of the people in the story. It was effective. I found myself adopting the same idea once to tell the story of Romulus and Remus to a class of Asian children. It worked amazingly well. So I thought it might be an idea to try the same thing with the story of the cuckoo. Hilary, what do you think? And Liz, it was poignant to read in your Comment on last week’s Blog that you too used to hear the song of the cuckoo so often. It was part of my childhood also – and part of my adolescence too. And last year staying in the Italian countryside, I heard it many, many times. Somehow it symbolises summer to me. And as Liz says, there is every reason for us all to be hugely concerned about the potential loss of this creature – and so many other species on our planet too. The loss and the reasons behind it is something to get to grips with just as we must get to grips with the reasons for the wars that are happening and the plight of all the billions of people who live in poverty.


My pics this week are from a set of cards I prepared to give a bit of a framework for helping people to create a story. Karen Tovell and I used to use them in our Drill Hall workshops way back when.


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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ A Traveller’s Tale”

  1. Hilary Minns Says:

    Hello, Mary. Yes, I very much like the idea of not revealing the name of ‘the traveller’, thus adding to the suspense. Teasing out the story of the life of this amazing bird is a bit of a problem, I guess, because in a way there is no ending to the journeyings of this traveller. Since he lives his life in a circle, it’s hard to find a starting point and a finishing point! I think you’re right to focus on the production of the eggs and the young as a climax to the story. I can see this working very well with children. They would enjoy imitating the call of the cuckoo too. And there are lots of opportunities for building in suspense as the cuckoo flies into storms, and over miles of Saharan sand with no water or trees in sight, and perhaps avoiding the trigger-happy guys who shoot anything that moves in most of the Mediterranean area. Will he make it? I shall think on!

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Hilary, as always it’s great to get your comments. The cuckoo’s story is still very much in my mind and I’m continuing to think how it would be to tell it. As you say, there are all kinds of opportunities for development. Funny how these things create new mental energy!

  3. Jean Says:

    WOW indeed Mary – and i remember those cards — I remember the cuckoo as well and going out on walks as a child – who will be the first to hear that magical — cuckoo — echoing thru the trees – don’t think i ever really saw a cuckoo – maybe flying but love your story of their amazing solo journey without any instructions – they just know – i love that idea of a journey that is part of their what — DNA – stay with us brave cuckoo.

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Jean, it’s gorgeous as always to hear from you and, this time, to share memories from Drill Hall workshops and also admiration for the cuckoo. I agree with your sentiment entirely. Stay with us brave cuckoo.

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