Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Recycling

It’s my second chemotherapy session on Tuesday. I do not look forward to it or its aftermath. But some nice things keep the spirits raised: kindnesses from friends, the freshly blooming Mary Rose in the garden, the pleasure of the Great Tit at finding our bird feeder tubs have been refilled and, of course, stories.

Where’s the creativity?

Whenever I read about the state of schools across the country – how some teachers are voluntarily buying food or books for children with money from their own pockets or, just as bad or worse,  how so many teachers feel that all emphasis on creativity has been lost as a result of focus on exams – I find myself wanting the children to have more stories. Young people are disillusioned, turned off, self-harming, depressed. I want them to hear stories, do self-motivated work that is based on stories, talk about stories, tell their own stories. Who is a storyteller to say this should happen? Well, all of us storytellers who’ve seen what powerful effects it can have. Particularly this last week, I’ve been recalling the attention and engagement that  hundreds of children have shown to the daftly innovative stories of Shemi Wâd.

The story that follows is one I found in the handwritten book of Shemi stories I was recently lent. The stories in it were written down by Bili John who had himself known Shemi since boyhood. He wrote down the stoies in Welsh.  The one that follows is in my English version.

The big clock and the tricycle:

One day Shemi dug out from his garden a wooden box that contained what looked like the wheels of a clock. Shemi had never seen anything quite like these wheels before. They were very big – as large as saucers – and without more ado, he got ready to use them to make a clock.

When he’d finished the clock, it  was so big – as big as Big Ben in London – that Shemi had to use two hands to wind it up.  And when he got it going, the tick was so loud you could hear it from half a mile away. It wasn’t long before the neighbours were complaining. Even Shemi had soon had enough of the sound.  So he decided to stop the clock.

Shortly after, a visitor appeared in Goodwick: a gentlewoman who went everywhere on a tricycle. This tricycle was the first that had ever been seen in the area, everyone marvelled at how fast it went and Shemi set about making one of his own. But when it was finished, Shemi found that turning the wheels of his tricycle made his feet very tired. So  he decided to replace its wheels with the wheels he’d put in his clock.  Hey presto,  it now went along like a motor bike. Then came the bet.

Shemi’s sparring partner, Beni the Blacksmith, had not actually seen Shemi on his tricycle when Shemi made the bet with him. He bet Beni an ounce of tobacco that no-one else would be able to travel on that tricycle  from Goodwick to the nearby village of Scleddau and back. The bet was accepted.

At ten o’clock the following Monday morning, hundreds of Goodwick people turned out to see what would happen. What they saw was Shemi winding up the tricycle, Beni getting on it and going off so fast that when Beni reached the village of Scleddau, he couldn’t stop.  There was nothing for it but to hold on. And so off went Beni through Haverfordwest and all the way to Carmarthen. The tricycle didn’t even stop in Carmarthen. Eight miles the other side was where it stopped and, because Beni didn’t know how to wind it up, it took him two whole days to push it back to Goodwick.

So Shemi won his bet. Who knows, I certainly don’t, where Shemi got his cleverness from? Or his imagination. And goodness knows what would have become of him today.

PS: Bili John who recorded this story grew up in a large family in the North Pembrokeshire countryside and had never seen houses in a row till his family moved into Goodwick when he was nearing the age of 10.

PSS: First illustration today is of Shemi as seen by a Primary school boy. Second is of Shemi in Fiji as drawn by illustrator Jac Jones for my book, Shemi’s Tall Tales.

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