Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Quiddity

P1070781On 19 November, the Guardian newspaper ran a very interesting piece about the author Will Self leading a walking tour of Bristol. On the tour, evidently, he was encouraging participants to take in the uniqueness of our ordinary urban places. ‘Feel the wall,’ he urged, ‘its coldness, its integrity, its quiddity, its this-ness.’

I like Will Self’s words. (Quiddity feels especially good.) For it’s true. You can make what you think of as a commonplace walk and, if you really look, you can see so much. It can be like walking through stories. Often, the full stories are hidden. You end up wanting to know more.

Last Sunday, I took a bus from Brixton to the Kennington/Vauxhall area with a plan for a variation on something else I do from time to time, namely set out from my house on what I call a spoke. This means choosing a direction, then walking briskly for an hour in that direction and seeing how far I get before taking a bus back home. On Sunday, my aim was just to walk around an area that is not familiar to me, seeing whatever there was to be seen.  And I did see so many interesting things – the huge round building that houses the Oval Cricket Ground, the site of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens that were such a draw for Londoners back in the 18th century, several little art galleries I felt I’d like to visit (all closed, alas, because it was Sunday) and some delightful-looking community cafes.

But the treasure was Bonnington Square. Coming towards it unawares, my camera was already clicking, senses increasingly struck by the greenery and flowers outside front doors and along the pavements.  Admiring the inventive ways in which things had been planted, I then came upon the garden. What a miracle of creation! Information boards on the outside fence had caught my interest even before I went into the garden as they told me how, some years ago,  this small area of land had been rescued, derelict, from Local Authority plans to build upon it. The surrounding community had rallied to what they called the Paradise Project and, as I saw when I went inside, the garden they made became a little haven of beauty with a play space for children and several different areas where people can sit in sanctuary below lovely trees surrounded by plants.

Vauxhall wheelThen, drawn by what I read, I saw something else. To one side of the garden is a huge iron wheel almost as high as the houses behind it. The size of it, the solidity of it and the intricacy of its iron work make it quite something to behold, especially in a residential area. The information board had told me what it once was.  The wheel evidently dates from the 1860s, the period of the Industrial Revolution. It was rescued from a nearby marble factory which was under demolition as the community  garden was being created. The purpose for which the factory used it – and how this information makes the mind boggle and long to know more – was to cut ‘wet marble’.

But that’s just the first layer of the story. The second layer lies in the imagination – and how wonderful to see proof, right here in a London street, that imagination really exists. It exists for me, I’m sure it exists for you. (You wouldn’t be reading this blog otherwise!) But isn’t it always good to be assured that it exists for other people too?

Legend has it, the Bonnington Square board had informed me, that once a year, the iron wheel from the marble factory turns, bringing forth beautiful, crystal clear champagne from the worlds below. Was this an ancient legend, I wondered. Or had it perhaps been made up after the wheel was brought to the garden? I don’t know. Does it matter? One midnight, the story of the wheel continues, a lovely fishing boat that floated on a sea of wisteria above the pergola (presumably the pergola in the garden) set sail (no doubt on the sea of champagne) and was never seen again.

‘But only ever for believers,’ the board concludes.

Coincidentally – because the Bonnington Square project was called the Paradise Project – this next Sunday my husband Paul will be singing a very moving Welsh song on the theme of Paradise in a little concert he’s giving in aid of Crisis. The name of the song is  Gwynfyd (Paradise)  and it comes to an end with the thought that where the key to paradise is to be found is in your own hand.

PS: My photos this week were taken, of course, in and near the Bonnington Square  Community Garden. The first photo was taken at a front door in a nearby street. The other photo of the wheel is, I guess, an old one from when it was at the marble factory. Now it appears on the information board at the Garden.  


Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Quiddity”

  1. Meg Says:

    Dear Mary, What an adventurous idea. And simple too. Strange how something symbolic pops as you walkI knew another storyteller who every Tuesday would takes train so many stops north and walk home thru the city stopping at particularly lovely places … Eg cafe, florist, park fruiterer’ China dept of a big store. Thanks for reminding me and for another good story. Meg

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Meg, Walking and storytelling often go together, it seems to me. I know the best way for me to absorb a story is thinking it to myself while on a walk. All the best, Mary

Leave a Reply