Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Arresting time

The Tide Clock in our Welsh house tells us what to expect. It opens up in advance an important aspect of the view we’ll see when we get to the beach, clarifying what will be there in regard to the margin between land and sea. When we were kids, we didn’t need it. Frequent experience created a tide clock in each of our minds. Get out of school, rush home for swimming things, meet on the square to run down the hill to the quayside and already, as we went, we’d know what to expect. We’d know because we’d been there before. Yesterday. And the day before that. So we’d know where the tide would be and, more important, if it would be good for jumping into it off the quay wall.

Time moves on

Now I’m not in our Welsh house all the time. Anyway the house is not in Fishguard where I grew up and nowadays I wouldn’t be jumping in. Jumping in is for young boys and girls in rude young health with an inexhaustible passion for adventure and the excitement of the splash. Nowadays we go to the sea to walk the length of the beach, feel the strength of the breeze or the wind, observe the temper of the waves, demure or obstreperous as the day determines. We notice changes. How much sand has come into the beach, how much been swept away. What shades of colour the rocks reveal, whether the pools can be seen on any occasion of walking and what seaweeds they may hold within them. On the way back, we pick up stones or shells and look out once more at the islands and the way the light falls over the sea, what the horizon portends for tomorrow’s weather.

You get a strong sense of time and rhythm when you grow up with the sea. Yet from the very first, you’re learning another rhythm too. Get up. Out of bed, Breakfast. School bag. Off. Hear the bell. And why, oh why, does this other sense of time become so much more demanding as the years go on? Mobile phone, text messages, email, messages from friends (and I don’t even do FaceBook). There’s work as well to keep up with. A school wants to make a booking for a storytelling session. The deadline for the proofs of the new book must be kept. The diary sits on the desk. A holiday would be nice. But when?

So life goes on. And as it does, you more and more long for those moments of stillness that, contrarily, often occur in the course of the walking. I suppose it’s why stories mean a lot to me. They also give a pause for reflection.

Mink steals time

The story of Mink is a good one. In the lore of the Salish people of the North Western Pacific region of America, Mink was not only the one who brought the sun, stealing it from whoever had it before and didn’t want to share it. Mink was also the one who brought time in a story I included in this blog in November 2011. Time to share it again.

The point about Mink is that he was canny. Also ready to take action. So when the Europeans came to Mink’s part of the world, Mink noticed they had something different from him and his fellow creatures. He’d see one or other of them entering the front room of their house and checking on something above the fireplace. Then he’d notice that whoever it was would quickly get going.

That’s why Mink determined to go and see what was there and, if possible, get hold of it for himself and his friends. He waited till all the people were out of the house. Then he snuck in and found his way to that front room. When he got inside it, he looked above the fireplace and saw that on the mantelpiece was something square. Its frame was wooden and inside the frame was a white circle with numbers arranged around the centre. Two arrow-like hands were fixed at the centre and as Mink stood there, he saw one of them move. Suddenly he knew for certain that this was the thing that made the difference.

So Mink stole it. He took it down from the shelf and ran to show it to his own people. They were very surprised and at first, they couldn’t make head or tail of what it was. What could it mean? They watched it in awe. They noticed those arrow hands turning and when they looked at the back of the box, they saw a little door they could open and behind the door they saw a little key. Then, thinking about what that key might be for, they observed a protruding bit on the front of the box and realised that that was where the key might fit. So then the animals learned that they could turn the key and that’s how they discovered how to keep time going. Besides, as they watched the hands go round, they noticed the regularity with which the hands moved and how they could be said to be marking off different parts of the day.

But that was by no means all they saw. Oh no! They realised that now they had this thing that marked out what we call time, they must do something with it. That’s why they began to divide up their day, allocating different parts of the day to different tasks and different creatures to doing those various tasks. They even began to organise things that might be done when their tasks were complete, things like singing and telling stories. But alas, before long, they found so much to do that they felt really pestered by this thing called Time. That’s when they realised how important it would be to remember the times when they’d had a different sense of time when time itself could seem endless.

PS: The top photo is of Paul walking onto our favourite beach, Whitesands. The second, it needn’t be said, is one of those clocks that symbolise the relentless march of time.

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