Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ What tales!

Two stories caught my attention this week. One is about a cuckoo so it’s a story I link with the element of air (hence my photo of sky). The other is about a message in a bottle that was recently fished out of the sea. This links in my mind with the element of water (hence my photo of a sadly rubbish-filled bit of the Thames). Both stories have caused me to ponder, partly because they so stirred my emotions, partly because they are true.

Such a long way:

SkycompressThe cuckoo story arrived in an email report from BTO (the British Trust for Ornithology). Skinner, one of the cuckoos the BTO is currently tracking, had become the first of their subjects to cross the Sahara desert on his way back to Britain following the winter emigration to Central Africa. Last Saturday, the BTO people were worried: Skinner’s signals showed him to be grounded in Algeria in the middle of the desert. The North Westerly winds that were blowing in that area provided a possible reason. Perhaps they were pushing him back in the wrong direction. Another possible cause was that the journey was proving too hard-going.

Then came the sudden reversal, the kind of reversal that makes all stories lift off, whether they’re true-life tales or fictions. Signals on Saturday 5th April showed that, since the previous day’s signals, Skinner had flown 335 miles north. A few days later, they revealed him to be in Morocco. He’d not only cleared the desert but the High Atlas mountains too.

It makes my mind boggle. Such a long way. Such hazards overcome. So comparatively small a bird – and, as the BTO had previously informed me in answer to a question I’d sent, cuckoos do not make their journeys in groups. They fly alone.

Such a long time:

The other story appeared in the Guardian newspaper last Wednesday. A woman living in Berlin had recently opened her front door to a man who told her he brought news from her grandfather. This seemed impossible: the woman’s grandfather had died in 1946, six years before she was born. But, yes, in a way it was true.

WatercompressThe man at the door turned out to be a genealogical researcher from the International Maritime Museum in Hamburg. He’d tracked her down so he could tell her about a postcard that, a month before, had come out of a brown beer bottle which had been fished out of the Baltic Sea. Clearly legible on the postcard was the name of its writer, Richard Platz. Also clearly legible were his home address and his polite request that the card be sent there by its finder. The bottle even contained two postage stamps so his request could be fulfilled.

What a tale! It was 2014 when a fisherman in the Baltic fished the brown beer bottle out of the water and subsequent research established that Richard Platz, who would have been 20 at the time, had probably thrown it into the sea while on a hike with a nature appreciation group back in 1913.

The tale has a very nice coda. Following the genealogical researcher’s visit, Richard Platz’s granddaughter, Angela Erdmann, had done some research of her own into the grandfather she’d never known. He’d been a very open-minded man, she discovered. He’d believed in freedom and that everyone should respect each other and, in the course of his life, he’d evidently done a lot for the young. As she learned this, his granddaughter felt that she shared his values. She recognised them as values her mother, his daughter, had passed on to her. Now she was passing them on to her sons.


So those are my stories for this week. The second reminds me of a saying I picked up ages ago from the American storyteller, Dan Keding. ‘A story is a letter that comes from the past. We add our words to it and send it on to the future.’

And, by the way, if you’re going to be in Hamburg in the next couple of weeks, you can see the brown beer bottle and the message that was in it in the maritime museum there. They’ll be on display till the beginning of May.

Also, if you’d like to receive regular information about the incredible journeys that cuckoos make (and the hazards that are causing the decline in their numbers), you can subscribe like I do to the BTO’s cuckoo-tracking project. Simply go to the BTO website and, on the right-hand side of the opening page, click on cuckoo-tracking project.

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ What tales!”

  1. Hilary Minns Says:

    Your cuckoo story is truly astonishing. My friend made the observation that we should no longer think of the cuckoo’s journey as north-south, south-north, but instead think of it living its life within a more complicated geographical circle, round and round, from one place to the next, one day to the next, driven by the need to breed and to feed. This puts me in mind of the stories we tell to children. To be sure they have a start and an end, but often it’s the bits in the middle (what shall I do today? Where shall I go today?) that add the spice!

  2. admin Says:

    Hilary, I think you are very right. The cuckoo’s journey is a geographical circle and it puts me in mind of my own life and that of so many millions of other people in our modern world. We go round and round, in my case from London to Pembrokeshire, Pembrokeshire to London. And I always will as long as I can. There is no one home. It’s both here and there. As always, thanks for writing.

Leave a Reply