Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Contrast and Connection

Contrast and connection are this week’s themes. On Wednesday when my husband Paul returned from his trip to Australia to go to his godson’s wedding, the huge contrast in temperature – 29 degrees down to 2 – was just one aspect of what we talked about. Looking at his photos – sunny beaches, a kangaroo with baby in pouch, the vegetation – I felt highly aware of the massive contrasts he’d experienced in culture, landscape and general style of life.

One detail that particularly struck me was his description of the feel on his hand of the delicate claws of a kangaroo mother.

The power of touch

Then, Wednesday evening, I had my own extraordinary experience of touch. In a workshop at the Interfaith Centre in Queens Park, the participants were asked to spend ten minutes talking in pairs (five minutes each) about how we are involved in narrative work. A crucial factor about the results for us all was that, as requested, we’d each spoken to each other with eyes closed, hands touching. It made us all highly aware of the essence of the other.

Connection! That Wednesday evening experience was part of the second Forum event arranged by St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Since conflict resolution is the very specialised field of work of a number of those who were present, I sometimes felt conscious of the comparative ordinariness of my 30-years of work as a professional storyteller working in schools and with groups of adults. Yet the very next day, back at Kensington Palace for Session 4 of my parents course in how to tell stories, I felt once again conscious of the extraordinariness of it – how, because of the people, it is full of meaning and value. And also, always, a sense of potential.

Points of connection

Here are some of the things I experienced on Thursday.

1. During a synchronised retelling of one of the stories I’ve taught to the group (Mrs Wiggle and Mrs Waggle), I became extremely aware of the big, beautiful eyes of a tiny toddler who had been brought along by his mother. My voice, my face, the story, the atmosphere? Whatever it was that engaged him so much, the little toddler was gripped. He sat looking up at me with such attention, it felt entirely obvious that he knew what was going on, and that in some way it was entirely for him. Connection!

2. With another bigger boy – a four-year old also there with his mother – I saw at once from the way he joined in, though often looking at her not at me, that the story was already familiar to him. So I knew his mother must have told it to him. I was delighted. It’s one of the aims of the course – to get parents telling stories to their own and other children. Connection!

3. During a break in the session, one of the Arabic-speaking mothers showed me a lovely jewellery box she’d brought in from home. She also showed me part of the story her 8-year old daughter had created and written about it. I got the sense that this story was something very new for the girl: her teacher in school had evidently been very impressed by what she’d done. For my part, I was impressed by the mother. Last week, we’d used the magic of objects as an inspiration for making new stories. She’d clearly passed on the magic and in so doing had engendered another example of the potency for change that can arise through story. Connection!

4. Contrast! Because I’d wanted my group to see some of the extraordinary objects in Kensington Palace in the context of their surroundings, this week’s session included what proved to be a wonderfully engaging and well-researched tour with Chiara of three of the rooms in the palace. Chiara has been working in the palace over the last little while and during her talk I was struck by the extent that differences engage us so much as human beings. In this case, differences included the contrast between different periods of history (18th century to now), different positions in the world (monarch to ordinary citizen), and hugely different status (the egregiously wealthy to ordinary man and woman in the street). For my group, too, there was the huge extra dimension of difference that can occur when people come from such disparate cultures. Yet Chiara’s presentation – good storytelling! – got everyone engaged and asking questions. Connection!

5. Added extra! During her tour, Chiara had shown us the doors where – back in the 18th century – you would have been refused entrance to the inner sanctum of the Cupola room if you’d been a guest who’d not been well enough dressed. As she spoke, I was instantly reminded of one of those tales of Nasruddin, that blessed wise fool of Middle Eastern story. You know the story?

Nasruddin was invited to a grand feast at the palace of the prince who lived nearby. On the night, he brushed his hair, combed his beard and dusted down his clothes. The guards at the palace refused him entrance – he was not well enough dressed.

Nasruddin went home, changed his jacket and returned to the palace. The guards again denied him entrance. He still did not look sufficiently smart.

At home once more, Nasruddin changed into his best suit of clothes. This time he was admitted.

At the party when the first course was served, he picked up the food from his plate and smeared it onto his clothes. The same thing happened when the next courses arrived until eventually he was summoned in front of the prince. What was he doing? How could he behave so badly, dishonouring his prince in this way?

‘Well,’ said Nasruddin, ‘it wasn’t me that was wanted at this party, it was my clothes. So I am not feeding myself. I am feeding my clothes.’

Back in our room, when someone mentioned that bit about not being well enough dressed, I told the group that Nasruddin story. How delighted and impressed I was when, scarcely half an hour later, it made a marvellous reappearance during a brief retelling by one of the groups of the story they’d created last week and are now in the process of refining. It gave me a huge injection of pleasure – a confirmation of the way stories can travel and pick up new wisdoms on their way.

For in their story as retold this week, the sickly prince had transformed from an adult into a young boy (a wise adaptation, since the story is meant for an audience of children). The wise old man who brings a magic mirror to the aid of the prince is at first refused entrance to the palace: his clothes are too poor for him to be allowed to go in and be seen by the monarch. Only when the king in his desperation for the life of his son hears about what the old man has brought with him is he allowed in with his mirror – which is, of course, what brings cure to the prince and joy to the king.

Clothes, money: they are not the end-all or the be-all.

Long live story and how it helps us to understand difference and let us know what is truly important.


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2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Contrast and Connection”

  1. Liz Richards Says:

    Hi Mary.
    Thought this weeks stories were amazing and very thought provoking, After reading your work it always inspires me and gives a feeling of being so happy that I can read some of the work to my many grandchildren.
    Love Liz

  2. admin Says:

    Hi Liz
    As always, so good to hear from you. I love the thought of how much your grandchildren are getting from you. You really are amazing.
    Love, Mary

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