Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Twists of thought

P1070231It’s sensuous and sexy. It can be a crowning glory and it can be a nightmare, dreadful if you lose it, awful if you can’t get it right. And this week, it came up as a theme when, I can’t remember why, I was recounting how my Aunty Mali (subject of my storytelling piece, Travels With My Welsh Aunt) would remove the hairs from her hair brush after she’d finished her nightly brushing. Then she’d carefully twist the hairs together into a loop before twisting them into a piece of tissue paper which she then threw into her waste bin.

‘My mother used to do the same,’ said the new friend with whom I was having coffee. ‘Not the bit about the tissue paper. But the bit about removing the hair from the brush and making it into a twist.’ Conversation then turned to the interesting observation, put forward by her scientist husband, that each strand of hair with its root is a record of your DNA. This seemed to make some kind of sense of my Mali’s oft-repeated saying: ‘Scatter your hair and you throw away your thoughts.’

This then reminded me  – it’s the way my mind works! – of a conversation which had occurred on the occasion of Enchanted Evening, the evening of songs and stories that Paul and I did in Fishguard on June 15th. (And yes, we’re now planning another similar evening, in fact two – one back in Fishguard, one in London.)

A memory of hair:

Out of the blue, a woman who stayed on for the supper after Enchanted Evening surprised me very much by saying, ‘I know you.’ Perhaps not as surprising as all that: I’ve had a long association with Fishguard having lived there for the first fourteen years of my life.  ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I was a Learning Assistant at the Junior School when you came to us to tell stories.’ But then the real surprise emerged.

Explaining how she’d hated her hair as a child – it was white-blond, soft and all over the place – she went on to say how she’d envied me mine. She remembered walking to school behind my younger sister and me and envying our long, heavy plaits.

Hair rites:

So memory starts unfurling. Those plaits! Although I loved them, they also caused a lot of bother. Tangles having to be untangled, the brush feeling hard on the scalp,  ribbons having to be retied and so on. Plus I’ve since recalled how our piano teacher who lived next door  to us (and therefore could hear whether or not we’d been practising!) used to insist on getting involved whenever our plaits were trimmed. She had a special and alarming ritual. After the trimming, she’d light a match and draw it quickly over the end of the plait. This left an awful smell of singeing which, in memory, alarms me even more than then. What if the plait had gone up in fire? No, to her it was essential that the ends of the hairs were sealed. Otherwise, she insisted, the cold air would go up inside each hair and give us colds in the head or worse.

Hairy talesMirror

So one thing leads to another. What about all the tales where hair is crucial?  Remember how Samson lost his strength when his hair was cut – and how sensuously engaged with his hair was Delilah, the one who cut it. Or how Rapunzel had to hang her long hair out of the high castle room which was her prison so that the witch who kept her there could climb up her hair to get back into the castle upon arriving back back home.

Or Catharinella in Grimm’s Other Tales?  It’s a story I retold in this blog on Nov 14th 2015. (To find it, simply enter the name Catharinella into the Blog reference search box on the left.) Similarly imprisoned for stealing spinach, Catharinella had to do the very same thing as Rapunzel. And of course, her long hair also played a vital part in her escape. For when she and the young man she’d bumped into in the castle (he was also being kept there as a servant) were finally running away together, she naturally took her comb, brush and mirror. Then as the ogre who’d imprisoned them chased after, she threw these items behind her one by one. The comb magically turned into a high sharp-edged fence. The brush turned into a thorny thicket. And the mirror turned into a lake. This brought about the ogre’s demise. For, even though the ogre managed to get past the fence and the thicket, he couldn’t survive the lake. He couldn’t swim.

In so many stories, personal and traditional, hair plays an interesting part. And you, dear readers, probably know lots more. Thinking about them might give many different dimensions to your getting up in the morning this next week. Or perhaps they could just send you back to bed.

PS: Photos this week are, first, of some rocks on the beach that look like bald heads, second of the back of a pretty little mirror.

Leave a Reply