Nursery Rhymes

23 06 2012

Nursery rhymes are a lovely way to teach children to speak, to sing, to rhyme and have rhythm, and to develop memory skills.
You have probably heard that ring-a-ring-a-rosy is a reference to the Black (Bubonic) Plague. Turns out not to be so – the rhyme did not appear until many centuries after Bubonic Plague decimated Europe. Sorry to disillusion you. However many others seem to have dark and morbid antecedents that we would love to believe……

Goosey Goosey Gander where shall I wander,
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady’s chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.

This refers to the persecution of Catholics in 16th Century England. Priests were often secreted in “priest-holes” secret nooks built into the thick walls of private rooms in wealthy houses – for instance the lady’s chamber (bedroom). The old man who wouldn’t say his prayers probably did – but Catholic prayers in Latin, not protestant prayers in English. Being a Catholic – or ‘left-footer” in the vernacular of the time, he was thrown down the stairs – in all likelihood put to death for his beliefs, as would the family of the house who would have been considered traitors in Tudor England.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
Up got Jack, and home did trot
As fast as he could caper
He went to bed and bound his head
With vinegar and brown paper.

This rather gruesome tale apparently refers to the execution of Jack (King Louis XVI of France) and Jill (Queen Marie-Antoinette). The last section refers to the treatment of the head after beheading, where it was held aloft for the crowd to see then thrown in a bag or basket.

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Mary in this rhyme was Bloody Queen Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII of England and half-sister to the future Queen Elizabeth I. A staunch Catholic, she persecuted Protestants. The gardens were the graveyards of people she had put to death, the silver bells were thumb screws, cockle-shells were another instrument of torture used on genitals, and the maids was a slang terms for the guillotine.

Three blind mice
Three blind mice
See how they run
See how they run
They all ran after the farmer’s wife
who cut off their tails with a carving knife
Did you ever see such a thing in your life
as three blind mice

Again this refers to Bloody Mary (the farmer’s wife) executing three noblemen who had plotted to kill her to end her reign of terror. They weren’t blind, and they were actually burned at the stake rather than beheaded or having their tails cut off!

The grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
and he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up
they were neither up nor down.

The grand old Duke of York was Richard, Duke of York, who was killed in the War of the Roses in 1455. He built a fortress on earthworks where he marched his army (to the top of the hill), enabling them to have an excellent viewpoint to spot any army approaching army. However, he then marched them down again – leaving the fortress and tackling the opposing army on the plains – and was killed.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King’s horses, And all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again!

Humpty Dumpty was a cannon – a very large heavy cannon that was installed on the walls of St Mary’s Church in Colchester during the English Civil War. A shot from a parliamentary cannon damaged the wall Humpty was sitting on and he did indeed tumble down and break. because of the immense weight of the cannon, all the King’s men and all the King’s horses could not get Humpty back atop the wall (possibly because of damage sustained to the wall as well).

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor doggie a bone,
When she got there
The cupboard was bare
So the poor little doggie had none.

Old Mother Hubbard was Cardinal Wolsey, beloved of Blackadder aficionados, but a real person as well. Cardinal Wolsey was the man that Henry VIII (the doggie) wanted to get him a divorce (a bone) from his longtime (and first) Queen, Katharine of Aragorn. Cardinal Wolsey approached Rome, base for the Catholic Church (the cupboard) and was given the “no” answer. And on this was the basis of the Church of England born.





And you think you have it tough…

23 06 2012

I can’t vouch for the veracity of this information, but here are some interesting theories on the origins of some of the common sayings and traditions. Makes you glad you are alive in this day and age in a western country.

………………………………………………………………….

In the 1500s tanneries used urine to tan animal skins. Families used to all wee in a pot, and then once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “Piss Poor“.

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. They “didn’t have a pot to piss in” and were the lowest of the low.

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Houses had thatched roofs – thick straw-piled high (see photo above). It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

As there was no inner ceiling underneath the thatch in houses, there was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence. The curtains around the sides were to keep the drafts out.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside.
A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme:

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old”.

Sometimes they could obtain pork. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle,
and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days.
Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of “holding a wake”. (I am assuming you would have to be consuming a lot of lead-laced alcohol for it to have this effect.)

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive.

So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.

Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be,
saved by the bell” or was “considered a dead ringer”.

catacombs underneath Paris were used to store bones that had been exhumed from Graveyards within the city walls of Paris.





Murder or Suicide? A twisted tale….

17 06 2012





Husband banned from Target (an oldie but a goodie)

17 06 2012

Another that I do not claim credit for, but share for your entertainment (and my own)….. It’s always good to see a man with a hobby!

After I retired, my wife insisted that I accompany her on her trips to Target. Unfortunately, like most men, I found shopping boring and preferred to get in and get out. Equally unfortunate, my wife is like most women – she loves to browse.

Yesterday my dear wife received the following letter from our local Target.

Dear Mrs. Samsel,

Over the past six months, your husband has caused quite a commotion in our store.. We cannot tolerate this behavior and have been forced to ban both of you from the store. Our complaints against your husband, Mr. Samsel, are listed below and are documented by our video surveillance cameras.

1. June 15: Took 24 boxes of condoms and randomly put them in other people’s carts when they weren’t looking.

2. July 2: Set all the alarm clocks in House wares to go off at 5-minute intervals.

3. July 7: He made a trail of tomato juice on the floor leading to the women’s restroom.

4. July 19: Walked up to an employee and told her in an official voice, ‘Code 3 in House wares. Get on it right away’. This caused the employee to leave her assigned station and receive a reprimand from her Supervisor that in turn resulted with a union grievance, causing management to lose time and costing the company money.

5. August 4: Went to the Service Desk and tried to put a bag of M&Ms on layaway.

6. August 14: Moved a ‘CAUTION – WET FLOOR’ sign to a carpeted area.

7. August 15: Set up a tent in the camping department and told the children shoppers he would invite them in if they would bring pillows and blankets from the bedding department to which twenty children obliged.

8. August 23: When a clerk asked if they could help him he began crying and screamed, ‘Why can’t you people just leave me alone?’ EMTs were called..

9. September 4: Looked right into the security camera and used it as a mirror while he picked his nose.

10. September 10: While handling guns in the hunting department, he asked the clerk where the antidepressants were.

11. October 3: Darted around the store suspiciously while loudly humming the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme.

12. October 6: In the auto department, he practiced his ‘Madonna look’ by using different sizes of funnels.

13. October 18: Hid in a clothing rack and when people browsed through, yelled ‘PICK ME! PICK ME!’

14. October 21: When an announcement came over the loud speaker, he assumed a fetal position and screamed ‘OH NO! IT’S THOSE VOICES AGAIN!’

And last, but not least:

15. October 23: Went into a fitting room, shut the door, waited awhile, and then yelled very loudly, ‘Hey! There’s no toilet paper in here.’ One of the clerks passed out.





I reject your reality and substitute my own…..

16 06 2012

Herbert A. Millington
Chair – Search Committee
412A Clarkson Hall, Whitson University
College Hill, MA 34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16. After careful consideration, I
regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me
an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually
large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field
of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Whitson’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in
rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at
this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor
in your department this August. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

Sincerely,
Chris L. Jensen





Doing the impossible

9 06 2012


Richard Branson arrives at the British Grand Prix
photo credit: Richard Smith, licensed under Creative Commons.

“Life is a helluva lot more fun if you say yes rather than no”

My step-son and his friend have produced a musical. They wrote it, set it to music, choreographed it, sold tickets and put it on for a season in a theatre. They are 22 years old. The son of a friend of mine made a movie – full length. He is 18. Clearly no-one told these boys that this was impossible.

You might say this is the up-side of Gen Y. They see the world as full of possibilities, they understand technology and how it can be used to overcome the barriers that stop others. And luckily, they haven’t been taught what is not possible and told not to strive for the impossible.

But there have always been people who saw the opportunity instead of the barriers, took the risks, aimed for the giant goals instead of the small ones, did things that seem to be impossible, but somehow achieved them anyway.

Which brings me to Richard Branson.

Now admittedly, it was the swinging sixties in England, when youth culture suddenly took off and opportunities that didn’t really exist in the staid, respectable and conservative 1950s suddenly opened up. Youth became a market – a very lucrative market, and a market that wasn’t already dominated by established labels.

But still… what made a dyslexic student with poor grades think he could start a magazine at age 16? Or a mail-order record company at 20? Or a record company at 22?

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

“Although my spelling is still sometimes poor, I have managed to overcome the worst of my difficulties through training myself to concentrate.”

“My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I’m learning something new.”

And who in their right minds thinks they’ll start an international airline to compete with the likes of British Airways and Qantas?

picture credit Richard Humphrey, licensed under Creative Commons

“What does the name Virgin mean? We are a company that likes to take on the giants. In too many businesses, these giants have had things their own way. We are going to have fun competing with them.”

“I’ve had great fun turning quite a lot of different industries on their head and making sure those industries will never be the same again, because Virgin went in and took them on.”

Yes, the answer is Richard Branson, now the 4th richest man in the UK and worth an estimated $4.2billion US. The man who brought us The Sex Pistols (arguably better known for their on-stage antics and off-stage murders than their music, although God Save the Queen has had a bit of a revival in this Jubilee year by those who want to be seen as alternative and retro at the same time) and Culture Club with the androgynous Boy George.

And along the way he has attempted world-record balloon flights around the world, bought an island, socialised with Princess Di, worked with nelson Mandela on peace projects, and been photographed in all sorts of PR stunts.

And generally, it would seem, had a lot of fun.

“Above all, you want to create something you are proud of. That’s always been my philosophy of business. I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, then I believe you are better off doing nothing.”

Have all his ventures been successes? Probably not, although if you believe the hype, you wouldn’t know it.

“I am prepared to try anything once.”

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them.”

“You never know with these things when you’re trying something new what can happen. This is all experimental.”

“We’d love to be involved with the creation of something very special, something quite large and something quite exciting.”

Reading Branson’s autobiography, various quotes and articles that have been written about him, there are a couple of strong themes that come through.

1. fun – he does all this because he enjoys it
2. risk-taking, almost fearlessness in the business sense
3. barriers, challenges and competitors are seen as exciting, not intimidating

“My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.”

Your life is the result of the decisions you make. If you aren’t happy with the life you have, then make some other decisions. You are limited only by yourself.

That’s what Gen Y knows.

Interested in more business tales?





Banning Books

31 03 2012

When I started to research this, I had no idea there was actually a Banned Books Week. It appears to occur in September, although there is a bit of confusion between the US Banned Books Week and an International Banned Books Week, promoted by Amnesty.

Anyway, in the spirit absurdity, here are some of the more surprising banned books.

John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Now I have never recovered from reading this at school (hence it is one of my least-liked books) but it is a classic. It has been banned at various times and places in the US for obscenity and the portrayal of the US as seen by migrant workers and those living in extreme poverty. Sometimes the truth hurts.

The Dictionary. Various versions of the Dictionary have been banned for various reasons, often by local schools. For instance, Webster’s 10th Edition was pulled from classroom shelves in Menifee Union School District, California, in Jan 2010, because it include a definition of “oral sex”. Since looking up “dirty” words in the dictionary is a favourite of primary school children, I can only say, what spoil-sports! At least they are reading.

Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches. Beloved favourite of children the world-over, these books were banned in the US for obscenity and violence (J&TGP), and sexism and devaluing the life of a child (TW). Maybe they just didn’t get the British sense of humour?

Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. This classic and heart-rending exposition of the life of a young Jewish girl living under Nazi occupation has apparently attracted the wrath of book-banners several times, most recently January 2010 in a Culpeper County, Virginia school for “sexually explicit” and “homosexual” themes. I think they are missing the point.

The Lorax (Dr Seuss). The Lorax is one of many Dr Seuss Books banned at various times for their secret messages corrupting the minds of innocent children. In the case of The Lorax, it is its environmental “save the trees” message that was seen to be anti-big-business. The latest dispute happened in 2012 during the filming of a movie based on the book, but it had previously been banned (the most recent example I could find was in Laytonville, California in 1989 from a local public school).
Mind you, Dr Seuss was asking for it – The Sneetches discusses racism, The Butter Battle Beetle is about the cold war, isolationism took a blast in Horton hears a Who, Christmas in How the Grinch stole Christmas, and the effects of fear-based thinking in Green Eggs and Ham (banned in China between 1965 and 1991 because of its alleged portrayal of Marxism). How he wasn’t blackballed by the McCarthy Commission, I don’t know.

Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland was also banned in a province in China in 1931 for its portrayal of animals speaking, thinking and otherwise behaving like humans.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is probably a less surprising banned book, giving its explicit political overtones. It was banned in the US in 1945 for being overly-critical of Russia (obviously pre-Cold War). It was also banned in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 because of the talking pig.

Picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin Jnr was banned in 1967 in the US when its author was confused with an obscure Marxist theorist…… Bill Martin being such an unusual name… (yes, that was sarcasm you detect). Quite what it was about the book that was considered worth banning is not clear. Perhaps they were just being safe in case there was a hidden message.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was banned in America under the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act in 1873. Puritans! It was of course for all the tales of sex and debauchery – if you read through the olde Englishe to understand them.

For a map of recent book bans (upheld and overturned) in the US, have a look at this very interesting map. Click on the blue pointers for details. Again, it often seems schools, those places for learning, are the ones doing the banning, often at the instigation of individual parents.

For a selection of books banned in Australia, click here Notable inclusions: The Kama Sutra, a selection by William S Burroughs, Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, and Ian Fleming’s The Spy who Loved Me.

And if this sort of thing amuses you, google it – this list is really only the tip of the iceberg!








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