Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ How the world goes on

How the world rocks – and so often not in good ways. This week, I’d meant to write more about Storytelling Spreaders. And I will come back to that, I promise. But for now my intentions have been changed by an email I and many others have received from an old friend in St David’s. Christopher Taylor has had a bookshop there for many years. It’s on the little sloping street known as  The Pebbles on the way down to the Cathedral from the centre of the city (for, despite its smallness of size, St David’s has a Cathedral and as a result is officially recognised as a city). But even as I write, this bookshop is being cleared out and closed. Its lease has been ended by the owner of the property. What a tragedy for St David’s and for visitors to the Cathedral. For with the closure of the bookshop  goes something very valued as a source of literature on the history and importance of St David’s as well as a source for learning about what’s going on in the Cathedral and the area in terms of current  events. Also, very importantly, the bookshop has been a place for talk for local people and visitors, somewhere to find out things about the area in an informal way.

Hearing about the closure of the bookshop has brought me a big sense of personal shock. For as somewhere that stocks books about St David’s and the area, it has always stocked my father’s books – and, where appropriate, mine too. And then again, Christopher himself has been someone I’ve known and respected all my adult life. He’s not only been Mayor of the city but, tireless in his care for the area, he’s kept himself informed about what is going on and is always keen to share that information. A long time ago when I was coming to the end of my years at school, he became a huge inspiration to me when I heard that he was about to be going on VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). Indeed he was one of the earliest VSOs and it was hearing about VSO in this way that made me decide to try and get a place on VSO myself.

VSO at that time, back in the 1960s, was a scheme for school leavers. I applied, got in and learned that my placement would be at a home for unmarried mothers on the outskirts of Nairobi. So naïve was I then that I remember asking VSO if they would be providing me with a passport. Oh no, I learned, I’d need to get that myself!

So, all thanks to Christopher Taylor really, I got to go to Kenya to live and work at Edelvale, a home for orphaned children, street children who’d been found homeless on the streets of Nairobi and also young women who had fallen pregnant while still at school and who were brought to Edelvale to be cared for until after their children were born.  Thankfully, I passed my driving test a week before I left St David’s to go to London and thence to Kenya: the seven Roman Catholic nuns who lived and worked at Edelvale really needed someone who could drive. For one of my regular tasks became driving into Pwmwani on the outskirts of Nairobi to fetch the bread and the post. I remember the first time I was asked to do this – ‘Mary, would you ever go to get the bread and the post?’ – I replied, ‘Oh yes, Sister, any time you want!’ I was quite simply unaware that to the Irish sister who was asking, ‘ever go’ meant ‘now’.

I was in Edelvale for three months short of a year. Those months proved to be a hugely influential time in my life. And, looking back at them now, I can see how much of my inspiration in applying to VSO I owe to Christopher Taylor. At that time, he lived in a house just a couple of fields away from where I lived with my family in St David’s. I could see it from my bedroom window. Learning today that he now has to give up his bookshop (where, by the way, he’s always been kind enough to stock the books I’ve brought out), I want to thank him for always being a good friend and to wish him all the best for the future.

PS: Top photo is, of course, St David’s Cathedral, a place of great and simple beauty. Bottom photo is Whitesands Bay. It’s just a couple of miles from St David’s, its sands are wonderful to walk along and I’ve loved it since my very young years when my family used to spend holiday weeks in a gypsy caravan parked beside the beach. At that time, there’d be almost no-one else there. In that respect, how different it is today!

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4 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ How the world goes on”

  1. Karen Tovell Says:

    Very sad indeed, Mary. My Brother owned and ran a wonderful bookshop for over thirty years. I always think that reputable dictionaries should include these three words: “independent book shop” as one definition of FREEDOM.

  2. Karen Tovell Says:

    …… Ha ha, two words even: “independent bookshop”!!!

  3. Pam Says:

    Hello Mary, there’s a word that describes what you’re feeling about the demise of your beloved bookshop and all the memories surrounding it. The word is ‘solastalgia’, which is like homesickness in place and in the present (as opposed to nostalgia which is about the past). I feel it with you from the other side of the world, not for the bookshop and St David’s I don’t know, but How the World Goes On…..

  4. Fiona Says:

    Dear Pam
    We have the exact word for that feeling in Welsh, as Mary will probably tell you. It is Hiraeth, an untranslatable word (at least into English) which sort of means a melancholic longing that is hard to assuage.
    Is solastalgia a made-up word?

    This is very sad news for those of us who love independent bookshops, even without knowing this shop or the bookseller of whom Mary writes so fondly. In Llangollen we have a tiny bookshop- really only large enough for Sian the owner and one browser at a time. I don’t know whether they will be able to carry on. At leas she owns the building, which means she is not in the unfortunate position that Mary’s friend has found himself in. I hope Courtyard Books will be able to keep going in this strange new world.

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