Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Lying and Bragging

Over the last weeks, a lot of lies have been perpetrated and a lot of bragging has occurred. To a varying extent, perhaps we as the general public accepted it all as part of the process of electioneering. But those of us who are storytellers may have cast on it a more professional eye. After all, some types of storytelling are deliberate glorifications of the art of lying and the best tall tales can make us alternately laugh and groan even as we admire the brilliance of the invention and the art of the wordplay in the telling.

Thinking about lying made me start to wonder whether it’s the particular purpose of the lie that makes the difference. And from some remote part of my memory, this wondering process brought to mind a lie I’ve known about  since childhood. I heard about it from my redoubtable Aunty Mali who has featured in this blog several times before. Clearly she was proud of the lie for she told me about it not just the once but many times over and always with a sense of admiration. The lie had been told by her own mother, evidently a woman of great probity.

The story of a lie:

Aunty Mali’s mother had been born into a small shipbuilding company in West Wales and was brought up by a mother who had actually taken on the running of the business after she was widowed. But as a girl, Aunty Mali’s mother had obviously developed her own ideas about what she in turn would become. She determined to become a nurse and, in order to get herself properly trained,  decided she must go to St Thomas’s Hospital in London. However, to be admitted for training at this august establishment, you had to be 18 years old or more. She wasn’t. So she lied and got in.

The subsequent history of Aunty Mali’s mother testifies to the value of the lie she’d told. And I was always very impressed by the stories I’d hear, some of them very gruesome, about her steadfastness, skill and patience as the nurse who rose to be Matron of the main hospital in Pembrokeshire and all that she did thereafter.

One of the stories was of a local Fishguard man who’d developed an ingrowing toenail which caused him a great deal of pain. ‘Bring him to me,’ commanded Aunty Mali’s mother, by then retired. When he arrived, she got to work. After first soaking his foot in hot water, she took a very sharp knife and removed the finest of fine slivers of nail from the toe which was causing the problem. Then she told him he must be brought back to her each day at the same time for the same thing to be done. And eventually, of course, he recovered.

So a lie can have value. But what about bragging? I’ve always loved the story from the land of the Dalai Lama about a seeker after knowledge who’d heard about a guru who was renowned for his wisdom. This guru evidently lived in great simplicity in a remote place in the hills. But our seeker after knowledge determined to make his way there, however far this proved to be.

When he  eventually reached the place where the guru lived, the seeker introduced himself and began to recount all the various steps he’d already taken on his path towards enlightenment. After some time of listening, the guru interrupted to ask if he might offer him some tea. When the tea was brought, the seeker after wisdom continued in his recounting of all that he’d done to achieve his goal. But then he suddenly stopped as the tea the guru was pouring began overflowing the cup. ‘Guru,’ he burst out, ‘the cup is overflowing.’ ‘ Yes,’ the said the guru, ‘much like your knowledge.’

PS: In the absence of photos to suit stories of an ingrowing toenail and the search for wisdom, I decided to choose a butterfly and an owl, both in different ways symbolic of the subject.


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