Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Archive for the ‘All ages’ Category

Storytelling Starters ~ Cloudscape

Saturday, July 31st, 2021

 

Yesterday morning, the weather here in North Pembrokeshire was utterly different from before. All week the sky had been blue, though often with those fulsome clouds that look like strange flying creatures. Now it was rain-filled and grey.  I’m not sure why, perhaps as a comfort, but as I came downstairs in the morning, I began thinking about old friends. One of the dearest who came into my mind was Leah.

Let me tell you how we met. I was 18 years old and in Kenya as a VSO (Volunteer for Service Overseas) at a time when VSOs could still be unqualified school-leavers. My job was teaching at a home called Edelvale which was run by mainly Irish Catholic nuns on the outskirts of Nairobi. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Clearing the decks

Saturday, July 17th, 2021

Clearing the table, clearing your mind, clearing the air, clearing your diary, clearing the windscreen, clearing the weeds from the garden:  from the abundance of associated phrases and sayings, clearing is clearly a major human activity. Certainly it is in my life right now. For right now I am completely occupied with the conviction that I just want to clear the decks and be shot of stuff.

Part of the reason is no doubt to make room for the flow of new stuff that arrives in the house. Just inside my study door, for instance, is an ever-growing pile of recently acquired books which has now almost reached to the level on the wall of two lovely watercolours painted by my mother, one of our first beloved cat Hannah-Jane, the other of a typical Welsh cottage washed in pink. There’s certainly no room for more books in my bookshelves. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Jigsaw living

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

Jigsaws can be fun. I like them. Paul likes them. Every now and again we have a spate of jigsaw-doing. These last few days we’ve been occupied with a new 1,000-piece one. At various points, one or other or both of us will sit there for an hour or two. Sometimes, we just wander by and try filling in a piece or two. I wonder who first created the idea of the jigsaw. I must try finding out.

Of course, I’ve also now started thinking about the jigsaw as a metaphor, an image for the way we humans go about things and the peculiar miscellany of tasks we sometimes find ourselves tackling. At various points, perhaps, we’re planning to go on a little trip. So we try jigsawing together into one weekend or one week or a fortnight all the various thoughts we had prior to setting out about the places we’d like to visit, the kinds of things we’d like to do. Lying on a beach, going out for a nice meal, visiting that relative or old friend who lives in the area, reading that good book we’ve already begun, taking some excellent photos, having a long walk or several – oh, the candidates are almost endless. How on earth can we put together the mental jigsaw picture that will incorporate them all?

And of course, the weekend trip away is just one challenge. What about every day? I know that during the last few days, I’ve had numerous plans in mind. Pick up the plastic bags full of previously-loved clothes (horrid phrase) that are currently lurking in the sitting room and take them down to the charity shop as previously determined. Get out the small step ladder and feather duster and whisk away the cobwebs that have formed high up in the conservatory ceiling. Be in touch with the numerous kind people who’ve recently asked me to let them know the plans for my forthcoming chemotherapy treatment. Oh the list is virtually endless. And in its way the list is also a bit of a puzzle because, to be manageable on any one occasion, it has to alternate strenuous tasks with easier ones, simple tidying with heavy lifting etc. etc.

Oh the jigsaws of many kinds that we’re all engaged in a lot of the time! They are puzzles in the sense that, for me at any rate, they have to balance the hard work with the cups of coffee, the yukky stuff with the lighter tasks. And meantime, if possible, I always have to try and avoid becoming distracted. For instance, I know that, lurking in one or two of the parts of the house that need attending to, there are cardboard boxes that will undoubtedly turn out to contain fascinating – and hence distracting – old letters and old photos.

Ah well! When I get overwhelmed by the difficult tasks, I must remember. Laid out on the kitchen table (and currently preventing the eating of meals there) is that delightful Cloudberries jigsaw. Skyline is its name and the picture is a harbour with a multiplicity of towers and spires and sails.  It’s attractive. This morning, however, it won’t get much, or indeed any, attention. There are far too many other things to do. A planned phone conversation with the friend I call my Book Pair to talk about Shadows on the Rock, the Willa Cather book we’ve both been reading. An overdue phone chat with my sister. Changing the sheets on the bed. Checking my emails. Making a shopping list. And, oh yes, actually getting dressed since, right at the moment, I’m still in my dressing gown. Happy days! It’s the jigsaw of life.

PS: My top picture is of Skyline – work in progress. Below is a piece of life-jigsaw, taken about ten years ago and sent to us this week by the good American friend who made it, a video of us singing one of the most loved Welsh folk songs, Ar Lan y Môr (Beside the Sea). Please excuse the warm up bit we haven’t managed to edit out!

Storytelling Starters ~ Just a day trip?

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

Two particular thoughts came into, and lingered, in my mind during my day yesterday. One is the huge importance of enabling children from big urban areas to visit the countryside and the sea. The other is to see the importance of doing that very same thing yourself.

Yesterday, Paul and I drove north up the coast road from Fishguard to Aberaeron. It is an extraordinary little town on the edge of the sea just south of Aberystwyth. The most striking thing about it is that all the houses are kept beautifully painted in  notable colours.  There are strict civic rules for effecting and maintaining the policy. The result is very pleasing.

But if  you’d thought that in such a seaside place you might walk along the sea shore on sand, the Aberaeron sea front is not so pleasing. That’s due to all the rocks in the sand. Also wooden groynes, the barriers installed to protect the shore, separate the beach into a series of small sections. However, there’s an excellent footpath which starts at Aberaeron’s attractive little harbour and then proceeds along the front. This provides an excellent way of looking out at the sea while also enjoying the experience of passing so many other people enjoying the sea air, including all the delighted children bouncing along.

After being in Aberaeron – and we were there to meet up with my lovely brother who lives just north of Aberaeron in Aberystwyth – I started getting memories from the past experiences which have provided me with evidence of the huge value and importance of the seaside, especially for town children. Some of these memories come from an experience of joining my friend, the wonderful artist and art teacher Catrin Webster, when she’d arranged for children from Birmingham to come to the West Wales coast to spend some days by the sea. Notably, I remember seeing one of the girls in the group throwing open her arms in absolute delight when she caught her first sight of the sea. Another actually ran into the sea in her clothes in her eager pleasure at encountering it. By the end of just one day, you knew that a whole new world had opened up for those Birmingham children.

Just bringing back to mind that particular group of Birmingham children hauls back a posse of other memorable details, some from that same trip, more from other similar ventures that I’ve been part of over the years. From the Birmingham trip, I remember one of the girls in the group pointing excitedly out of the train window as we passed a field of sheep and exclaiming, ‘Look! Animals!’ On another venture, a week in North Wales for city children, I remember one of the boys, he was nine or ten years old, being afraid to walk across a grassy field. Of course he’d seen grass before. No, it was the expanse of the field that intimidated him.

What’s new can terrify. What’s new can thrill. But what’s vitally important in these particular times is that all children should be given experience of the natural world with its particular beauties and, maybe, terrors. How can children grow up to see the importance of the environment and why we have to protect and maintain it if they don’t get personal experience of it? It’s vital.

P.S. My top picture shows Aberaeron harbour at low tide; the second is one of the strikingly painted houses we saw yesterday.

Storytelling Starters ~ Cats or birds

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

Birds were tweeting to me today. After being somewhat sidelined in my last few blogs, it seemed they were finally wanting to take precedence. However, cats got in first, I suppose, because of a visit I had to make to our dentist a few days ago. The dentist’s surgery happens to be just round the corner from the flat where we used to live in Pimlico although when we first started going there, it was down in Victoria. Its current location proves richly stirring of memory each time I have to visit (and I’m currently in the middle of a string of sessions). This is because the street where the surgery is now located was where the lady lived that gave us our first cat. We called her – the cat not the lady – Hannah-Jane. She was very much beloved and she became the first in the much-honoured line of cats that have been ours. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ From one thing to another

Saturday, April 10th, 2021

A day or two ago, I was wondering what theme to choose for the blog  this week when my mind turned to the unlikely possibility of boxes. Perhaps this was prompted in my mind by a story in the Guardian the other day about a young man who, unable to afford the airfare to get back to the UK from somewhere far afield, as I recall it was Australia, decided to get himself sent as cargo. So he commissioned his friends to make him a life-size crate, then equipped it with a pillow, a bottle of water, a book and some food. His verdict on his experience of the journey was that he didn’t recommend it.

The young man’s box reminded me of that wonderful colonial-era story of the young Englishman killed by a tiger when on duty in India. His family in England asked that his body be sent home for burial. So when a very large parcel eventually arrived, the family assumed it was the young man’s body. When they opened the parcel, however, they instead found the body of a tiger. Dismayed, they sent a sorrowful message pointing out that what they wanted was the body of their son. Back from India came the reply: ‘Tiger in box. Sahib in tiger.’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Birdsong and bark

Saturday, March 20th, 2021

My mother loved birds. One day many years ago when I was still a schoolgirl, she saw a hoopoe in our garden. So excited was she by the sight of it – for a hoopoe is a very distinctive bird and a rare visitor in this country – that she immediately telephoned Mr Griffiths, the Chemistry teacher over at school who was renowned as a bird-watcher. Evidently, upon receiving her telephone call, Griff Chem as he was generally known rushed across to our house at once and together he and my mother admired the hoopoe through our kitchen window.

As for me, I know shamefully little about birds in general. But I can say that, for quite a few days now, I’ve been enraptured by the song of the blackbird who has taken up residence somewhere in the gardens at the back of our house. What gorgeous sounds he makes and how long the song continues! Each time I hear it I know that the world of nature is full of wonders and that this blackbird’s song is surely one of them. Maybe it’s a common-or-garden bird (for indeed it’s just out there in the garden). But its song feels like just as much of a blessing as that of the nightingale that Paul and I used regularly to hear from our bedroom during a holiday we once had on the isle of Iona. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Parakeets and pigeons

Saturday, March 6th, 2021

We’ve got both. Lots of both. Lots of parakeets and lots of pigeons. The parakeets fly to the bird feeder in the middle of what passes for our lawn. There they crowd and cling and gorge themselves. The pigeons mostly cluster on the ground below, munching up the tit-bits of food that fall and generally talking to each other. For it really does sound like a kind of talking. A much-loved friend of ours, Adam Curle, alas long since passed away, used to do a wonderful imitation. Never mind that he was a very eminent Quaker and Professor of Peace Studies, he was never pompous, never too eminent to be a good laugh.

We got to know Adam and his wife Anne because their daughter, Deborah, had become our lodger. How we initially met has faded into the mists of my increasingly misty memory. But it’s a wonderful feature of that  misty memory that the mist can also part upon many unforgettably bright scenes from the past, including Adam doing his unfailingly convincing imitation of a pigeon talking. ‘Who do poo-poo? We do poo-poo. D’you do poo-poo?’ (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A day with a view

Saturday, February 27th, 2021

‘Your language is dead.’ The voice rang out from immediately above where Paul and I were seated at a late night Prom concert in the Royal Albert Hall. It did so in response to the singer and Radio 6 presenter Cerys Matthews introducing the next piece she was about to sing by its Welsh name. Wisely, she made no response to the rudeness but simply continued with her performance. Born of patent ignorance, I see the rudeness as a form of racism and I’ve never forgotten it.

I expect it will come into my mind again at some point this next Monday. For Monday will be March 1st and March 1st is St David’s Day, the day for the celebration of Wales’s patron saint. On the day, were it not for Lockdown, there would undoubtedly be celebrations of St David all over Wales (and elsewhere too) in services and performances in schools and community venues. On the day also, despite Lockdown, many children and adults will undoubtedly wear either a daffodil or a leek. In the school I went to – which as it happens was in St David’s – the girls wore daffodils and the boys wore leeks, chewing them almost to nothing in the course of the day and glorying in the resultingly oniony smell on their breath. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Keeping busy

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

‘Raining here,’ said a Pembrokeshire friend on the phone two mornings ago. ‘Lovely sunshine in London,’ I replied and the day went on just so. Early on, there were two foxes in the garden. Then, as the light began to fade in the early evening, our local blackbird was there, singing its heart out. Such was the strength of its singing, it brought to my mind that very well-known line from my much-loved poem by Dylan Thomas: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

But the bird wasn’t raging. It was singing so sweetly, it almost brought tears to my eyes. Tears wouldn’t have helped at that stage, however. I was sitting at the table in the Conservatory-end of our kitchen working at our current jigsaw puzzle. As I learned from an article in the Guardian that very day or soon before, doing jigsaws has proved a favoured occupation during Lockdown. Certainly it has for Paul and me and of course, what doing jigsaws requires is focused eyesight and concentration – and patience. (more…)