Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Memory of place

A week today it will be Boxing Day. Because I don’t like boxing as a sport, I always used to feel a bit disconcerted about what Boxing Day was all about. Then I began to realise that it had nothing to do with the smashing of fists, person against person. What it meant – am I right? – was giving people bits of money in what might be called their begging box.

This year on Boxing Day I’ll be feeling deprived. Normally I’d be in Pembrokeshire and, unless the weather was absolutely ghastly, I’d surely be walking on Whitesands Beach at some point during the day. But this year, Covid restrictions have got in the way, preventing us from driving down to West Wales and staying there a week or two as we usually do. So until the restrictions relax, I’m missing my beach and the little headland where my father used to tell me how the raging monster, the Twrch Trwyth,   came rampaging onto land after its journey across the sea from Ireland. Or where, in contrast, he would also tell me how it was the place of peace from which St Patrick set out on his journey across the sea to convert the Irish people to Christianity.

Especially when the tide is out, Whitesands is a huge expanse of sand. It’s one of the places where I used regularly to go to swim when I was a teenager. In younger years, my family had stayed there for caravan holidays. Even now, it’s the place to which I return in my mind when I need to be calm. Yet, although in that sense it is essentially, for me, a place of solace and peace, it is also now in practical fact abuzz with visitors on most days at most times of the year. Surfers in wet-suits abound. Likewise people of all ages consuming ice-cream cones.

So I ask myself. What makes it remain the place of solace and peace in my mind today? Is it the memory of how it was when my family spent a week there, staying in a caravan on the path next to the beach when there was only one other caravan alongside the one that we’d hired? Or is it the recollection of the week when a group of us school-friends stayed there in a caravan that belonged to the mother of one of our group and each school-day morning we’d set out in a little gang to walk the couple of miles to school?

What’s occurring to me now as I think about it is that part of the power of Whitesands beach in my mind is the sheer abundance of memories I have from there. Yet at the same time I know that it’s not the specific memories that make the difference as much as the sheer majesty of the place, the sense of grandeur that resides there above and beyond the huge numbers of people that flock there and not only in summer. Perhaps for some of them too, Whitesands becomes the place of peace that their minds can return to when they are no longer actually there in person.

So I write about Whitesands while of course I know that, for other people, there are other places that mean similar things, possessing the same kind of power. But it’s an interesting question. How long can that power of Whitesands beach survive in my mind without me actually going there in person?

As I recall from when Paul checked yesterday, the Covid restrictions will be keeping me away from Whitesands until sometime mid-way through January. The minute the restrictions are lifted, see me zooming down the M4 to go there in person. Meantime, thank goodness that the power of the place does so far seem able to retain its force in my mind wherever I am and even when I can’t visit the place itself.

PS: Top photo is Whitesands at sunset – nowhere more spectacular! Bottom photo is Paul on the slipway down to the beach.

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