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Nursery Rhymes Aren’t For Kids

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I’m not going to write about the election results – you’re probably as sick of hearing about it as I am. A “no-win” for most people but a change for all, regardless.

I just hope the rioters have calmed down by the time this goes to press. The freedom they so earnestly desire has already been exercised, while they ironically bring more violence to a society that they say is going to get more violent. I’ll bet a pound to a pinch dog poop that most of them didn’t vote anyway.

Mind you, I do look forward to less pandering to political correctness. I was speaking to my brother in England this morning who informed me that my great nephew’s school has banned the use of the word black in the nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” They now have to sing “Baa Baa Blue Sheep.” I kid you not.

Now I’m as sensitive to people’s feelings as anyone but, seriously? The origin of this child’s song was to celebrate the difference in people. Black sheep were prized in the Middle Ages as dark clothes could be made from their wool without the necessity of dying and higher taxes were due on the fleeces.

Mind you, the supposed origins of some nursery rhymes can be pretty horrifying. The once-popular “London Bridge Is Falling Down,” some contend, refers to human sacrifices put in the foundations of the bridge in the belief that the remains would keep it standing. “My fair maiden (or lady)” refers to that sacrifice as being a virgin. No archeological evidence has yet been found to support (sorry) the theory.

When you think of the words to “Rock-a-Bye Baby,” they’re pretty gruesome. Who would rock a baby in a treetop anyway? Of course the cradle and the baby would fall – duh! Fancy singing about that to a little baby. It’s said that it was an allegory for the Protestant Wind blowing from the Netherlands and William of Orange taking over the throne from King James II.

“Ring a Ring of Roses” was a direct reference to the Bubonic Plague of the 1660s. Symptoms of the plague included round spots surrounding the bulges, or ganglions, on the body – the rings of roses. Constant sneezing also accompanied the disease – atishoo, atishoo. The stench of the dead and dying had people walking around with a sachet or handkerchief filled with dried flower blossoms, a posy, to obviate the smell at close quarters, as it was believed that the plague was transmitted by the odor itself. Actually it was carried by the millions of rats in the city and transmitted by the fleas that went from rats to humans.

“London’s Burning,” often sung as a descant, recalls the Great Fire of London in 1666, which started in Pudding Lane and suitably ended in Pie Street. The good news was that it killed all the rats that carried the aforementioned plague.

Perhaps the most gruesome was “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.” Mary is Queen Mary l who was often the subject behind many of these ditties and she was a meanie; the “garden” is actually a graveyard, “silver bells and cockleshells” were nicknames for very gory articles of torture and “little maids” were executioners’ axes – multiple executions were a commonplace affair often taking place at noon when the first axe would fall on the first strike of the bell of Bow Church and the last on the twelfth.

Jack and Jill was no more than a reference to adultery gone wrong and the dire consequences, which follow ‘climbing the hill’; Jack falls over and cracks his skull (crown) and Jill dies in childbirth.

It seems the folks of yore avoided direct political references too. Thank goodness we live in a more civilized society – or do we?


Read 989 times Last modified on Thursday, 01 December 2016 13:24
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Tony Moorby

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