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Nursery Rhymes and their dark origins! by justjoy

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· @justjoy ·
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Nursery Rhymes and their dark origins!
Picture a circle of pretty children holding hands, skipping to the rhyme:
	
        Ring a ring of rosies
	A pocket full of posies
	Atishoo, Athishoo
	And we all fall down.

The giggling when whey all fall down onto their bottoms and fling their legs in the air is delightful.
Usually they bounce up and beg for another ring and another song.

Like several nursery rhymes of medieval times their origins are political and/or social and some are very dark and frightening.

In London in 1665 the population of almost 500,000 people (today there are now 5,000,000 people) mostly lived under extremely unhygienic conditions. Even in fairly well to do areas the sewage was thrown from upstairs bedroom windows into a gutter going down the middle of the streets. 
That is why a gentleman walked on the outside of a lady so that splashes of mud or sewerage didn’t soil her gown! 
She also walked with a posy of flowers to her nose and as she went through the stinking streets they helped disguise the terrible smell.

When the bubonic plague broke out in 1666, caused largely by rats in the poor areas spreading the killer disease, people died in their hundreds. A quarter of London’s population died in a few months. 
That means that 100,000 died terrible deaths. An incredible statistic.

The symptoms were a red rash (ring of rosies) with ugly infectious pus (each pocket full of posies) and when the ‘atishoo’ sneezing started  the people said ‘God bless you,’ because the next step was death……the all fall down phase.

Way back then, the corpses were taken out of the houses in the 'dead' of night and a night cart came around and took all the dead out of the city to dispose of them as best they could.

Posies of flowers were also used by well born ladies, called ‘tuzzie muzzies’ so that they could bury their noses in lavender, tiny roses and herbs, firstly to disguise the stench of the decaying bodies and secondly they hoped that the herbs would ward off the contagious disease.

Still on the subject of children’s games based on centuries old nursery rhyme songs I have an amusing story to tell. 

I taught sewing at a Mission station in the Transkei, now known as the Eastern Cape. During the morning I always made a point of visiting the nearby crèche to play with the children.

For want of a more appropriate game their teacher Thokozile, otherwise known as Blessing, and I were playing Elizabethan games through song and action………….in South Africa! The irony does not escape me.

About 15 high spirited children had already warmed up with Ring a Ring a Rosies, and were shouting for more!

We decided on Oranges and Lemons but Thokozile cautioned, ‘no child is going to choose a lemon! No way,’ she decided in a matter of a fact manner, when we ‘catch’ them they must choose between an orange or a banana.’ I smiled inwardly and wondered what a nanny in an Elizabethan nursery would have thought…………shock and horror!

The song goes………….’Oranges and Lemons, (in our folksong, banana!)
		          Say the bells of St Clements
                          You owe me 5 farthings
                          When will you pay me?
                          Never!
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head
Chip chop chip chop
The last man’s dead!

The children have the best fun running round Thoko and me who are making an archway with our arms for them to go under.
We all sing the rhyme as best we can and on those fateful last words which everyone shouts with 'terror', we bring our arms down quickly on whichever  child is directly beneath us. 
The ‘caught’ child is then asked to choose between an orange or a banana.
I represented oranges. If the child chose an orange he/she would make a queue behind my back. Conversely if he chose a banana he would join the group holding on to Grace’s waist. 
At the end there was a mock tug of war until we all fell over onto the floor.

One particular day we had a slightly older boy who was visiting Thokozile, his grandmother. Being a bit bigger and crafty, he slipped repeatedly through the catch of our arms. His big white teeth gleamed with amusement as he escaped the 'axe man' arms.

Eventually all the other children had been caught by our ‘chip chop’ arms and there were those who had chosen an orange and stood behind me and those who had chosen banana and stood behind Thokozile. 

At last Sipho realised his turn had come. We brought down our arms to encircle his small body and he enjoyed his moment of ‘glory’ to the full. We indulged him for a half minute as he pretended to make up his mind choosing between and orange or a banana.

‘Choose Sipho, choose,’ urged Thoko.

With his eyes shining he announced boldly, ‘ I choose ……… Kentucky Fried Chicken!’ and we all collapsed with laughter and approval…….
https://i.postimg.cc/fWVRgbpZ/Kentucky.png
Pixabay
Why settle for a little treat when there is a bucket of crispy chicken out there?

And today that is my point.
Even though the past might bring us temporary diversion and even fun, let us focus on the now. 
Let us not allow narrow minded thinking blind us.

Let us be aware that no matter our age, culture or anything else, that the world is our oyster.

Let us search relentlessly, until we find our PEARL.
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vote details (333)
@mgaft1 ·
That was cute.  I was not familiar with these particular rhymes.  Though I always enjoy learning the historical origin of the proverbs and idiomatic expressions like "It rains cats and dogs" or "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater"
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@justjoy ·
That poor baby .............you probably know that the poorer families in Britain long ago only bathed once a year in May when it was warmer. The father of the household bathed in the clean water first and then the rest of the family in order of seniority. The little baby had no standing and was bathed last. The water by that time was so filthy that it was feared that if it sank it might very well not be seen and consequently 'thrown out with the bathwater' !! How things have changed, thank goodness,
Thanks for your interest.
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@mgaft1 ·
Yeah. Thanks! I know of this one.  There is a number of interesting proverbs in English.  My favorite is "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."  I also like the "high horse" analogy.
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