I thought it would finally be an element of parenthood that I could actually do – and do well. I like to sing (though others might not find quite as much pleasure in that as me) and even though it has been a good 30 years or so since I last needed a repertoire of nursery rhymes, I expected it to be like riding a bike.
The first time it became clear that my skills were sadly lacking was during a Bounce and Rhyme class at our local library when Freya was a few months old. It didn’t matter as much then because I could easily just mumble along and when it got to a bit I didn’t know pretend the baby needed attention. However, now that she is off rampaging with the rest of the toddler army while the adults sit (or sometimes mix it up by marching on the spot) and sing, it is much clearer that I. Don’t. Know. The. Words.
In fact, half the time I don’t even know the songs. Who is this mysterious Tommy Thumb (is he Tom Thumb before he shortened his name so he could be one of the cool kids?) and why are we trying to wake up sleeping bunnies – surely they are just like sleeping babies with a big DO NOT DISTURB cordon around them? Also, does anyone else find a turtle with a bar of soap stuck in his throat a bit disturbing (where is the line about calling the vet)?
Aside from the ones I simply don’t know, there are also the ones I have a vague recollection of – which is possibly even worse. I Hear Thunder had a mysterious line of French in it until I realised it was the same tune as Frere Jacques but then Frere Jacques seemed to have “soggy semolina, soggy semolina” as one of its lines.
I thought I had done really well with One, Two Buckle My Shoe. It went like this:
One, two buckle my shoe.
Three, four knock on the door.
Five, six stack up the bricks.
Seven, eight set them out straight.
Nine, 10 a big noisy hen.
13, 14 maids are cavorting.
15, 16 elves are stitching.
17, 18 ladies are skating.
19, 20 my plate is empty.
I missed out 11 and 12 entirely, which bodes well for future maths homework. While I tried to tell myself that everyone else was wrong, in the end I had to concede that it probably was me.
After a particularly embarrassing incident at baby massage where I continued singing when everyone else had stopped, I thought I had better make the effort to actually learn the words.
And it has been something of an education. I thought nursery rhymes were just about getting children to learn their ABCs, numbers or GO TO SLEEP but many, and maybe you already knew this, reflect actual historical events. It was also used: “as a seemingly innocent vehicle to quickly spread subversive messages”.
Baa Baa Black Sheep (one I thought I did know), which dates from 1731, is said to be either about Medieval English taxes on wool or the slave trade. The words haven’t changed much across the centuries, although they have come under scrutiny recently and “black” is sometimes changed to “rainbow” or “little” these days.
Then there is Ring a Ring ‘o Roses (which I always sang as rosies). There is some debate about whether this is about the Great Plague of 1665 or whether it was sung long before that. Posies of herbs were apparently carried to ward of the smell of disease, according to the Wiki link, and “we all fall down” is said to be about collapsing and dying. Nice! (I used to love dancing in a circle to this happy tune in the playground. Little did I know that when I “atchoood” I was probably transferring Black Death to the child opposite).
While we are on a darker note, whatever you do don’t read about Jack and Jill unless you want this rhyme ruined forever.
Anyway, there I was with all this new found knowledge but with nothing to do with it so I thought: “I know, I’ll make up a little quiz”.
So, how well do you know your nursery rhymes? There isn’t a prize, other than a great feeling when you get them all right.
1. How many fiddlers did merry Old King Cole have?
2. What should you be doing in 11, 12 of One, Two Buckle My Shoe?
3. What do speckled frogs munch on? (yum yum).
4. Finish this line…Your tail goes swish….
5. Whose garden were the pretty maids growing in?
6. Where should you put your hands once you have finally Wound The Bobbin?
7. What is the third thing the old lady swallows?
8. What was the name of the turtle who ate the bar of soap?
9. What is the third line of Frere Jacques?
10. Finish this line… You owe me five farthings….
I’ll post the answers in the comments.
Do you struggle with remembering nursery rhymes? Or do you sing the naughty versions you learnt at school? Please join in below.
Also, if you get a moment, please like After The Rain on Facebook – it’s a bit lonely at the moment.