Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Following links

A story that quite often returns to my mind is the West African story of three brothers who, each in turn, ask their father for the portion of money he has saved for them because they now want to leave home to go their own way. One by one, the three set off. All travel far afield, each creating his own journey, until the day they independently decide to return home. Strange isn’t it that, travelling home, they happen to meet at a crossroads?

Naturally when the three brothers meet, they embrace and sit down and talk. Naturally, too, in the course of their talk, they become keen to show each other the extraordinary objects that each has acquired on his travels.

What the first brother brings out of his bag is a fine old telescope. But as each of the brothers takes a look through the telescope, they all see their father lying desperately ill and near to death. What are they to do?

At this point, the second brother quickly brings out the beautiful old prayer mat he has bought. At once, the three brothers kneel on this mat to pray for their father and, as they do, the prayer mat rises into the air and transports them back to their home.

As the three brothers arrive back home, they witness their father taking what looks like his last breath. At this point, without delay, the third brother takes from his bag the object he’d acquired – a feathered stick of the kind used in his people’s most special ceremonies. At once, he draws this precious stick over his father’s body and almost at once, his father is seen to be breathing again. Very soon, he sits up and, of course, is overjoyed to see his three sons, all safe and well and back home. For their part, his three sons are overjoyed that their father has come back from the portals of death. How lucky all of them are!

What is coincidence all about?

I suppose it’s when we see some sense in coincidence, some sense of purpose or meaning, that the  coincidence – or, in the West African story, a series of them – surprises us and makes us think. Certainly coincidence often brings a sense of deeper meaning, or at least of surprise or amusement, to the ordinary things of our life. Over the last three weeks, one coincidence that occurred years ago in my own life has been returning to my mind and giving me pleasure.

A connection:

Here’s the story. Wondering if there was anything good on tv a few weeks ago, Paul and I read about a new drama coming up on BBC2. The drama was entitled Death and Nightingales. Based on a novel by Eugene McCabe, it was set in Ireland and one of the two lead actors taking part in it was Matthew Rhys.

Well, that’s when my mind went back to a storytelling workshop I was once privileged to give for a group of  students at RADA. I suppose that at some early point in the workshop I must have mentioned Fishguard, the place where I grew up, because, during the break, one of the brilliant young actors taking part in the workshop came up to me and asked me about my connection with Fishguard. He was asking, he said, because that’s where his mother was from. When he told me her name, I knew it at once: his mother had been at school with me. I’d also known her father, Matthew Rhys’s grandfather, as Mr Williams the Chemist.

So Paul and I watched Death and Nightingales. I can’t say I loved it: it’s a very grim story. But I do think it gave fresh insight into the deep family complications brought about by what have become known as the Irish Troubles. Also I thought the two main actors – Matthew Rhys and Ann Skelly were brilliant as the widowed and deeply troubled father whose behaviour has led to his being so hated by the beautiful young woman he’d long ago taken on as his daughter. And of course I took that extra bit of pleasure in watching Matthew Rhys from remembering how, over the years since I’d met him at RADA, I’d begun to see his name cropping up  – making a filmed journey to Patagonia or appearing in a film about Dylan Thomas – and becoming increasingly well-known.

Another connection:

Then, quite apart from Matthew Rhys, Death and Nightingales produced another surprising sense of connection for Paul and myself. This one concerned an Irish songwriter of the late 19th and early 20th century called Percy French. Percy French was a renowned showman who was generally considered in his time and country to be the greatest songwriter ever. In the second episode of Death and Nightingales, he is coming to perform in the town nearest the home of the story’s two main characters. The widowed father wants to take his girl as a birthday present for her. She refuses to go. When he comes home very drunk, he further fuels the young woman’s hatred of him that leads to the bitterness of the end.

Watching that second episode of Death and Nightingales, Paul and I felt tremendously surprised and pleased. Not only did we recognise  Percy French’s name. Paul was actually singing two of his songs in the concert in aid of Crisis that he and his friend Steve Copeland did last weekend.  (I contributed two readings, one of them, as it happens, from Dylan Thomas.) In his introduction, Paul joked that Percy French was a name we’d thought no-one at the concert would recognise – unless, as he added, you’d been watching Death and Nightingales.


First, it’s great to be able to report that, adding donations on the night of the concert to all the other contributions which have come in before and since from friends who couldn’t attend but have sent money anyway, the concert last Sunday will have produced for Crisis just over £1,500. Not bad!

Second, thinking about it now, I feel that what coincidence gives is the sense that some things in life add up to bring about a sense of connection. Not that I think that coincidence is necessarily meaningful of itself. But I do think it makes you aware that life gives you the possibility of making connections and in doing so deepens your sense of the value of noticing these as they occur.

PS: The top picture is the one of a hoard of old coins from last week: it seems to fit with the opening of the three brothers story. The second picture is Matthew Rhys. The third is Percy French.

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