Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Flotsam and jetsam

03A beachcomber is what I’ve become. These days, when back in Pembrokeshire and going to a beach for a walk, I go with a bag and spend some time walking along the tide-line picking up bits of plastic rubbish. It’s amazing how much gets found – large and small lengths of plastic twine, sodden old plastic bags, broken flip-flops, fishing gear. Plastic is poison to sea-creatures. It is good to get rid of it.

Yesterday, collecting along the long length of Newgale beach, it occurred to me that this beachcombing is not unlike something I do as a storyteller. I don’t know if you do the same – namely, collect odd bits of story. They may be overheard pieces of conversation, sometimes perhaps just a single exclamation. Or they may be odd coincidences that happen over the course of a day or a week.

A hot-water bottle from the past: 

For instance, at an event in my native Fishguard at the beginning of this week, I met a young Welsh woman who’d also grown up in the town. As well as making me feel very happy by recounting the effect my storytelling had had on a young pupil of hers some years ago (always nice to hear such a thing), she recalled the person I knew as Aunty Mali although she wasn’t a blood relation. This young woman’s particular memory was of Aunty Mali often turning up at chapel in the winter with a hot water bottle for putting on her knees beneath a small rug she also carried.

Of course, this young woman’s memory of the hot-water bottle sparked similar memories of my own. Aunty Mali was a practical woman. Taking me to recitals in St David’s Cathedral – awe-inspiring but very draughty –  not only would there be a hot-water bottle. During the recital, she’d invariably open her hand-bag and produce – a welcome bonus! – a piece of chocolate or broken biscuit (always previously broken so as not to create any noise during the performance).

The hot-water bottle crops up again:

So later in the week there I was, thinking how lovely it is to share such recollections, when the pot of memory got stirred again. Visiting a cobbler in Haverfordwest (and HaverfordweCrabshellst is not far from Fishguard), I happened to get chatting to an elderly Welshman also waiting to be seen. The two of us were sitting side by side on stools by the door. We remarked that it’s not often these days you get provided with chairs in a shop. Then, almost at once, we discovered – this is country life for you! – that he’d been taught by my father in Fishguard. After asking, ‘You’re not Mary, are you?’ he soon was talking about Aunty Mali. Aunty Mali was a notable Fishguard character and, like the young woman from earlier this week, this man  too had been a member of the same chapel as her. Quite spontaneously, he started describing how she’d sometimes turn up in chapel with a hot-water bottle.

‘Funny thing,’ I said. ‘Someone else this week was remembering exactly the same thing.’ And of course when I explained who that someone was, he knew her too.  

Collecting coincidences:

So there’s a coincidence for you. I suppose I save such little snippets of life because I feel they’re entertaining. Also I do have that profound belief that coincidence is one of the driving forces of story. An ancient Chinese storytelling tradition is to tell a small story as a precursor to a large one which shares its theme. My real-life coincidences often get used in such a way or even, sometimes, as a throw-away reference-point in the middle of the larger tale.

But I also find that coincidences can sometimes make you more aware of deeper thoughts you’ve been having. Just recently, I’ve started thinking that I’d like to revive my storytelling piece, Travels With My Welsh Aunt, which is a kind of tribute to my Aunty Mali. I’d like to revive it as a partnered telling with Burying the Cat, another piece which is also a kind of tribute, this time to two remarkable but generally rather despised women who used to live in my street in London. Maybe the hot-water bottle of this week’s coincidence will help bring the thought to fruition.

 PS:  Beautifully framed by a piece of seaweed,  the item in my top photo is a child’s pink plastic spade. The item in the second photo is the back of a little crab shell, beautifully blue when found, fading to white after we brought it home.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters ~ Flotsam and jetsam”

  1. Jean Says:

    Dear Mary Love the hot water bottle of coincidence stories – wonderful – and of course the fabulous Aunty Mali .
    I remember when i was very young, pandrops were passed round the church and folk would try oh so hard not to rustle the bag. The pandrop was then wedged into side of the mouth and sooked — very very quietly – no slurping . I once swallowed mine by mistake and had a choking and coughing attack and had to ushered from the kirk — folk tut tutted.
    I think reviving Travels with my Welsh Aunt sounds like an excellent idea . Hopefully talk soon Mary xx

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