Nursery Rhymes

nursery rhymes

I grew up hearing, reading and singing Nursery Rhymes. I brought my daughters up knowing them all too. They are a part of our history. Talking with friends the other day I was lamenting the fact that many children starting school at four years old (in my school anyway – it could be different elsewhere) know hardly any of them. They might just know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Baa Baa Black Sheep but rarely more than that. I said that I would hate for them to be lost from out culture. A friend then pointed out that many of the words were, in fact, violent and dark.

When I thought about it I recalled cats being drowned in wells, choppers chopping heads off, babies falling out of trees, helpless blind mice having their tails cut off, robins being shot with bows and arrows, a boy and girl falling down a hill and the boy fracturing his skull and an overweight lad chasing little girls and trying to kiss them. I could go on!

Apart from the literal meanings, we now know that most of these rhymes refer to historical events and people, albeit in the form of a simple children’s rhyme. I won’t got into all the meanings and origins here, they are extensively covered in texts and on the Internet. I thought I would take a few of the ones I knew and loved best as a child and say whatever comes to mind.

HumptyDumpty

Humpty_Dumpty_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

One theory is that Humpty Dumpty was the name of a very large cannon used in the Civil War in Colchester in 1648 which fell off a church roof and become damaged beyond repair. That might or might not be true but what is known is that Lewis Carroll was the first person to illustrate Humpty Dumpty as a comical egg character.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mistress_Mary,_Quite_Contrary_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

This was one of my favourites as a small girl. I think that was probably because it has such pretty girly images in the words! The Mary in the rhyme is reputed to be Mary Queen of Scots.

Old Mother Hubbard

Old_Mother_Hubbard_Illustrated.png

Until I researched this picture I hadn’t realised Old Mother Hubbard had so many verses! There is a cottage in Devon which is supposedly where the real Mother Hubbard lived. I always felt sorry for the poor dog. My daughters and I always refer to having a Mother Hubbard cupboard if supplies are running low and we need to go shopping.

Lucy Locket

lucy locket

When I was in primary school Lucy Locket was a circle game we played a lot in the playground. Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher are believed by some to have been courtesans in the time of Charles II who had a quarrel over a lover.

Are nursery rhymes sweet and historical or are they gross and the stuff of nightmares?

I love them and think it would be very sad if they disappeared from children’s lives.

 

Space Exploration in the 50s and 60s.

As I follow Tim Peake’s travels in the news I have to remind myself how much Space travel has advanced in my lifetime. We take it all in our stride now and read Tim Peake’s adventures much as we would follow a Polar expedition. But then I stop and think. It is absolutely amazing that travelling to Space has become ‘normal’ in a handful of decades.

My memories are just that – my own personal recollections and impressions. This is not a scientific account. I have checked dates for accuracy but the rest is my own thoughts.

When I was a very small child the sky had stars, the Sun and the Moon in it and that was the sum total of my knowledge of Space. Children’s stories and rhymes of the time talked about the Man in the moon. We used to gaze up on a clear night and try and make out his face.

Moon          moon (1)          Moon

In 1957 the first satellite was launched into Space and the name Sputnik became a household word. I was distressed to hear about a little dog being sent up to Space by herself. Several dogs went up into Space and the idea haunted me. I particularly remember hearing about one whose Russian name meant Little Lemon. All of this was followed on the radio as I was ten before we had our first television.

Laika_(Soviet_dog) Laika, the first dog in Space.                                         Laika_ac_Laika_(6982605741)Her monument in Moscow.

Bush-radio

My next main memory of Space travel is that of the first man to be launched into Space, Yuri Gagarin. This was in April 1961. I was in my last year at Primary School. My little village school had around 30 pupils and two teachers, Our Head Mr Lewis acquired the school’s first television in time for us to watch the TV coverage of the launch as it fell on a school day. This was such an exciting thing to happen! The first man in Space and the school’s first TV!!

It would probably have looked like these and the picture was, of course, in black and white.

tv 2    1961 tv

A lot of other things happened before and after Yuri Gagarin – more dogs went into Space and some returned, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in Space and the first men stepped onto the moon. In 1970 I was a first year university student and although there were televisions in most Common rooms (definitely none in students’ rooms!) the only colour set on the whole campus was in the main Union building. In April 1970 Apollo 13 was launched and loads of us crowded into the common room with the colour TV to see this major event. I couldn’t actually see very much as I was right at the back behind a huge crowd of other students who had got in there first – but I didn’t care, I was there! Apollo 13 was the ill-fated one which suffered an explosion and had to limp back sooner than planned – with no loss of life, fortunately!

tv4 The 1970 TV was probably something like this with a larger screen than the 1961 models and a few more buttons.

 

 

 

Where did they go?

Recently I was reading with some children in school. The book was Michael Morpurgo’s Butterfly Lion (brilliant writer, fantastic book!). Chapter One is called Chilblains and Semolina Pudding. Before doing any reading, I had to explain the two things to the children. I know people do get chilblains and you could, if you wanted to, buy semolina and make a pudding with it. Yet as far as the kids of today are concerned they are unheard of. We were very familiar with both in the 1950s. I suffered from chilblains every winter and semolina pudding was a regular (if rather unpleasant) feature of school dinners. This started me thinking of other things which were part of our lives as we grew up which today’s children have no knowledge of.

I will start with food. Semolina pudding had several relatives in the milk pudding family. I think rice pudding is the only one which has survived into the 21st century in the UK – and even that isn’t very common. The others were macaroni (yes, pasta in a dessert!), ground rice, sago and tapioca (nicknamed frogspawn – the reason for this can be seen in the photo).

 

 

 

                 

 

 

With the advent of ice-cream, mousses and brands like Angel Delight, the traditional dessert blancmange has disappeared from the face of the earth. It was a milk-based, coloured and flavoured dessert thickened with cornflour and set in a mould. It was often served with jelly. For our birthday parties when we were little my mum used to make a rabbit-shaped blancmange and surround it with chopped up green jelly.

         Mum had a rabbit jelly mould like this.

A warm drink in the evening was also largely milk-based and could be cocoa or perhaps Ovaltine or Horlicks. I think they can still be bought but I don’t think many  children drink them or have even heard of them.

Image result for ovaltine                 

Moving on now to school and school uniforms. All school uniform for boys included a school cap which had to be worn every day throughout school if the boy stayed on until 18 years old. Long trousers were not worn by boys until they were thirteen and uniform shorts were worn with long woollen socks.

                     Image result for school duffle bag 1950s                      

Girls wore gymslips until thirteen when they could wear skirts. There were no tights (they hadn’t been invented) so long socks were worn in winter, ankle socks in summer – even if you were a sixth-former! In our school the girls had to wear a beret (known as a tam) and woe betide you if you ever stepped outside school without it on!

                                 1950's Leather School Satchel

The school bag – for boys and girls in secondary school – was a leather satchel. Games and P.E. kit was carried in a duffle bag.Two more expressions unknown to today’s children! The school uniform coat was a gabardine mac or raincoat, usually double-breasted and belted.

Here are some other things today’s youth have not heard of (I’ll cover these in more detail in Part 2):

Meccano,  plimsolls, cycling capes, leather footballs, Dinky toys, Liberty bodices, golliwogs, Spangles, leather footballs and bus conductors. Watch this space!

St David’s Day

St David is the patron saint of Wales and St David’s Day (Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant in Welsh) is celebrated on 1st of March – hence this being posted today. We say Happy St David’s Day with these words.

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These are my memories of St David’s Day in Wales in the 1950s and 60s. All towns and most villages held events such as a concert or eisteddfod with music, singing, poetry and dancing – and still do. Our school always held a St David’s Day concert. The national emblems are the daffodil and the leek and we wore one or the other to school on the day. The smell in our school hall was overpowering, especially when those wearing leeks became peckish and started nibbling! I wear a daffodil on every March 1st and have done all my life – even though I live in England now.

The traditional St David’s Day dish is a stew made with lamb, leeks, carrots and potatoes. It is called cawl (pronounced cowl) and communities would often hold a concert with a cawl supper. The little currant-studded griddle cakes known as Welsh cakes (delicious, too!) would usually follow.

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Primary School

I started school in 1955 when I was four years old. At that time there were 28 children in the school, many of them walking a mile or more to get to school, some being taxied in from the remotest farms. Cars from the garage in the town five miles away were hired by the local authority to ferry kids to school. I can remember, as a four year old, being seated at the front of the class with the other new pupil. The oldest children, ten and eleven, sat at the back of the class.

The day started with a hymn and the Lord’s Prayer. We then remained standing and recited the alphabet forwards and backwards, all the times tables up to 12 X and the weights and measures we were expected to know. And example is the distances one began with ‘1,760 yards to a mile, 880 yards to half a mile, 440 yards to 1/4 of a mile, 220 yards to 1/8 of a mile, 3 feet to a yard . . . ‘

The youngest children learned to write with pencil, progressing eventually to pen and ink. The pens were wooden barrelled dipping pens. The desks had a circular depression which held a china ink well and a groove to stop a resting pen rolling down the sloping lift-up lid of the desk.  

There was an ink monitor, one of the older children, whose duty in the mornings was to collect the inkwells from the desks in a tray with depressions in it. Yesterday’s ink was rinsed out. Fresh ink was made from an ink powder mixed with water. Always blue-black, not blue or black. The fresh ink was then poured into the inkwells, the tray was carried around the classroom and fresh, full inkwells placed in the circular recesses.

The toilets were outside. They were the kind with a wooden bench seat and a bucket under the hole in the seat. I HATED them! I lived nearer to school than most of the other children and used to squeeze through the hedge at the back of the school and run home to use our bathroom instead. A proper toilet block was built during my last year at school. It was a separate building, so we still had to go outside, but the toilets were flush ones and there were sinks and taps.

We had a radio in school, a huge dark brown Bakelite one. We used to do something called Music and Movement, a BBC Schools programme which was broadcast twice a week in term time for twenty minutes in the morning. We loved it! We never did any other PE or Games lessons, inside or out. Sometimes, on a fine day in summer, the whole school would be taken on a ‘nature ramble’.


There was great excitement in April 1961 when the school purchased its first television in order for the whole school to be able to watch Yuri Gagarin become the first human being to be launched into space.