Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Remembering – Cofio

May 22nd, 2021

One of the magazines I get sent in the post because I’m a subscriber is Golwg, a Welsh magazine which arrives once a fortnight.

Opening the current Golwg  gave me a start of surprise and recognition. For there, fifty years after his death and accompanied by a lovely photo of him, is a piece about one of the most well-known and admired of Welsh poets of the 20th century, Waldo Williams. Thanks to my redoubtable Aunty Mali whom I’ve mentioned in this blog numerous times before, I met Waldo Williams on several occasions. His home was just a few miles from Fishguard where Aunty Mali and my family lived, she at No 1 Vergam Terrace, us at No 16. From time to time when Waldo came to tea with her, it would be my job to bring over to him from the table the platters of sandwiches and cake on offer so he could choose what he’d like.

Waldo Williams was a Quaker and a passionate pacifist. He refused to pay taxes that would be used for military purposes and in 1960 his non-payment of taxes got him sent to prison for six weeks. A second prison sentence followed the next year. Professionally, he was a school teacher working with young children. He published only one book of poems for adults, Dail Pren (Tree Leaves). He published another for children, Cerddi’r Plant (Poems for the Children). He had a lovely smile and a great sense of humour and evidently he was gifted in that very Welsh art of making up verses on the spot.

As important to me as meeting Waldo Williams in person in my young teenage years were the one or two of his poems I came to know well. In Wales we’re keen on poems and in school we’d be encouraged to learn and recite them. One of the ones I loved is one by Waldo Williams:  Cofio, which in English means Remembering. The poem is only six verses long, each verse consisting of only four lines. But short as it is, it’s wonderful. Did I ever learn it well  enough to recite it by heart at a Noson Lawen, the social evenings that regularly happened where we lived? Certainly, I’d read the poem to myself from time to time and I still love it today. The imagery of it, the theme, the rhythm: all are wonderfully resonant. Here’s the first verse of it:

Un funud fach cyn elo’r haul o’r wybren,
Un funud fwyn cyn delo’r hwyr i’w hynt,
I gofio am y pethau anghofiedig
Ar goll yn awr yn llwch yr amser gynt.

One small moment before the sun leaves the firmament,
One dear moment before evening comes to its end,
To remember the unremembered things
Lost now in the dust of times that have gone.

Dear Aunty Mali, she introduced me to any number of fine people and I feel grateful to her for that as well as so much else. In this year of celebrating fifty years since Waldo Williams’ death, I’m proud that she gave me the memory of helping to serve him his tea.

PS: The top photo is Waldo Williams (by Dafydd Williams, Rhuthun) exactly as I remember him; the bottom photo is of the wonderful Ceanothus Pershore Zanzibar now in full bloom in our garden in London.

Storytelling Starters – Back and fore

May 15th, 2021

Maybe it always happens when you go away from home. Even as you reach the place where you were headed, you’re paying attention to new things, features of your new environment that are different from what you experience at home.

One thing I’ve been much aware of this Spring in Mathri, the village where we have our Welsh home, is the multitude of cowslips in the verges and hedges of roads leading into and out of the village. OK, cowslips will never cease to be among my favourite countryside flowers. But each time I see them en masse at this time of the year, I feel excited and privileged all over again. I’m tempted to describe them as very modest creatures, they seem to blend themselves in to the hedgerows and fields. I feel grateful to be here at the right time to see them. The bluebells and garlic have a fine show too in the woodland ways close to the sea.

Another thing I’ve been much aware of since arriving here in Mathri this Spring is the birdsong. There’s what I want to describe as a flight of very tall trees in the churchyard at the top of the village. Walking past them in the early evening a day or two ago, there issued from them such a chorus of sound that it felt like the birds had decided to give the village a special concert. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Just a day trip?

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 ~ A Morning Walk in Pembrokeshire

May 1st, 2021

Yesterday morning, waking early in Wales, the light is so lovely that I’m prompted to get quickly out of bed, throw on some clothes, go down the stairs, unlock the front door and enter the world outside. It’s a beautiful morning, cold but bright. No-one else is about.

Now a short early morning walk begins as I go up the small hill beside Mathri village green, the green to my left and Mathri church on the right. When I get to the road at the top of the green, I turn right to walk along in the general direction of the sea. The road takes me past what used to be the village shop. It’s been closed and empty for a long time now. I used to see that lying sadly in the window was a poster for one of my storytelling shows, an evening of Shemi’s Tall Tales. This time, I noticed it was no longer there. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ In transit

April 24th, 2021

Brixton bluebells

In transit is where many people are. At any one time, huge numbers of us humans will be on the move – in planes or trains, buses or cars or, indeed, on foot. Each time Paul and I go to Wales, that physical process of being in transit takes six or seven hours depending on the traffic and whether we stop for coffee or a snack on the way.
But at least when we go to Wales these days, it’s because we want to go. Rarely do we absolutely have to make the journey. Yes, we absolutely had to go in order to be there when my mother or, years later, my father were in the last stages of their lives. Then it was a question of needing to be with them and to support or look after them. Nowadays I’d say that it’s for our own pleasure that we go except that, especially in my case, there is also a sense of need that drives me. It’s need for the North Pembrokeshire air, the sea and the beaches and the countryside. And, of course, for the many old friends who live there. Added to that in my case is the need to reconnect with my Welshness. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Cats or birds

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ From one thing to another

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.’ Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ What we’ve been missing

April 3rd, 2021

Disgruntled is how I feel. Not about any particular person or situation. Just disgruntled – and all the more so as Lockdown trundles towards an end. On Wednesday this week, as if to emphasise what we’ve been missing, Paul and I were royally entertained to lunch by some friends, one of whom is a most fantastic cook. Thankfully Wednesday’s weather  came up trumps for, of course, we needed to sit outside for this lunch. So sit outside we did, enjoying the food, the talk, the garden and the company of two affectionate dogs. It was altogether a pleasure.

So why, you may ask, did it produce that subsequent feeling of disgruntlement (if disgruntlement is a word)? Well, only because the occasion itself was a reminder of the social life of which Lockdown has generally been depriving us. For life before Lockdown was peopled by friends. By now, we’ve probably all become acclimatised to doing without the social pleasures that friends bring. But as I was reminded of how much we’ve been missing, it did make me feel a bit sad. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Excluded

March 27th, 2021

Reading the Guardian on Thursday morning brought back to my mind a time when I was excluded. Not from school as such, though it did happen while I was at Primary School, but from the group of friends of which I was normally a part. One morning they announced that they weren’t going to talk with me any more and they weren’t going to go about with me either, I couldn’t be part of their gang.

It hurt. I remember telling our teacher about it when she called me to her and said she’d noticed what was happening. This teacher was very pretty and very approachable. She was someone you could talk to. So when she said she’d seen what was going on, I felt I could tell her about it. I don’t recall that she spoke to the ‘friends’ who’d excluded me but at least I felt glad I’d been able to talk to her about it. Eventually I suppose it blew over. I never discovered what lay behind it though perhaps there was a clue in the fact that, during the period when they weren’t talking to me, my erstwhile friends were calling me Jezebel. This hurt. It all hurt. I was familiar with the name, Jezebel, as that of a woman in the Old Testament who attracted the hatred or scorn of others. At the time, I didn’t know why. Only now, all these years later, have I looked her up in my Biographical Encyclopaedia. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Starters ~ Birdsong and bark

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. Read the rest of this entry »