One of the very best parts of my working life is the chance to work/play alongside the inimitable Shonaleigh – described on her website as “a modern day Shaharazad”, she is a wonder weaver, a tale-teller, and a privilege to work with.
She got me running craft workshops in two primary schools in October, creating artworks to decorate the woodland spaces where two fine storytellers would be spinning their yarns as part of the yearly Beacons project in Sheffield. I got Y1s to explore the physical limits of glitter and sequins (conclusion: glitter and sequins are limitless, and in fact multiply in inverse correlation to the age of the child), and Y2s – exceptional, fabulous Y2s – using applique techniques to sew, yes sew, story images onto bunting. And if that wasn’t enough, they even did some finger-knitting. They were so enthused by the finger-knitting I was concerned they would cocoon themselves in their classroom, and we would have to call the caretaker, or a passing prince, to come and rescue us all. So yeah, that was fun. Fun in a way that meant I got out of bed each morning *really* looking forward to going to work, how often do you get to say that?
This was the second year I’d helped with Beacons, but the third year I got to work for Walking the Wild Woods. Shonaleigh has been developing a storytelling course, which involves taking a class of already talented storytellers and honing their skills to ninja fineness. At least, that’s what it looked like from where I was. Three years, with three annual week-long residentials. For which you need… a chef! Ta-da! Bet you didn’t know I could cook, too. OK, maybe you did. Anyway, last year and this year I got the brilliant job of being le grand kitchen fromage at Treowen, in Monmouthshire.
As someone who absolutely loves really old buildings anyway, this was just the cat’s whiskers. The bee’s knees. The badger’s… yeah, anyway, it was fab. I got to stay in this most beautiful old Tudor manor house, cook in its vast kitchen (luckily now installed with a gas oven within the old fireplace), and as if that wasn’t awesome enough…. I got told stories! Whilst clearing the kitchen in the evenings, I would snag a passing teller, sneaking in for a crafty cuppa or some more bikkits, and ask for a story.
I sat eating grapes, for to carry on drying the dishes would have been most disrespectful, and listened to tales about Afghanistan, Wales, England, and, I suspect, South America. I baked everyone a special cake to say a big, chocolatey, fruity, cardamomy, gluten-free, dairy-free thank you, but without further ado I wish to to say a proper, internet-linked thank you to Janet Dowling, for Brutus and Gogmagog, Gawain and the Loathly Lady, and Molly Whuppie (which I later told to my daughter, who loved it!). To Carl Merry, for that story about those Welsh guys whose names I can’t even pronounce, let alone spell [edit: Twm Sion Cati – thanks Carl!], and the pot with no hole in it, which had my kids in stitches when I clumsily explained the plot when I got home. To Simon Heywood, whose telling of Rabbit and the Jaguar Princess had me laughing so hard I cried. And to Shonaleigh, for trusting me to feed your students, and to all you other Wild-Wooders – may your stories never stumble.
And to anyone out there who still thinks that storytelling is just for children, I challenge you to remember what it was like to be a child, and ask you why you stopped.