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.

More Pompeii photos

5 02 2012

gymnasium – change-rooms and storage-rooms are built into the walls around the edge

The amazing thing about Pompeii is how large it is, The town was considered to have a population of anywhere between 12,000 and 22,000. It was a modern metropolis in 79AD when it was destroyed. It boasted plumbing – water piped into homes through lead pipes – storm-water drains, sign-posts on the street corners. The streets were paved and had footpaths and stepping-stones so you could cross the streets without walking in the horse manure. It had theatres, a gymnasium, bars, bakeries, a large fresh food market, and most famously, brothels. This was not a farming community, this was a city. When we visited, our guide was asked why we didn’t visit both of the amphitheatres. His answer was that if we had wanted to visit the other one it would have entailed a hour’s walk from the first one. It is a big place. (It was also quite hot and very humid when we were there.)

So here are a few (OK, really a lot) more photos from our visit to Pompeii last year. You might also like to Google Street-view of Pompeii (which will show you the exteriors of the buildings, but also the massive size of the place). Almost all of the rooves were destroyed in Pompeii, so where you see rooves on buildings, they are probably reconstructions to protect the interiors of the buildings.

And yes, unless you are an archeologist with a job on the digs, everywhere you go in Pompeii there will be tourists. Lots of them. But it was a city, so maybe it was about this busy when Vesuvius exploded in 79AD.

For further information on Pompeii there are plenty of books with fabulous photographs of the site and the treasures that have been found both here and at Herculaneum. Here are a few suggestions:

The Last Days Of Pompeii

Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii

The Wonders Of Pompeii

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found

amphitheatre inside the theatre

detail of carvings on one of the columns at the gymnasium


details of the gymnasium / theatre complex

detail of the marble counter-top in the bar

paved street with raised footpaths

stepping-stones to cross the street without stepping in manure. The stepping-stones are wide enough apart to allow the wheels of chariots to pass through easily

some of the brothel "menu"

a stone "bed" in a brothel room. Presumably there must have been a mattress!

more "menu"

more "menu"

menu in the brothel

bar - theatre in the background.. The basins in the counter are for cooling jugs of wine.

shop with oven (possibly a bakery)

water fountain (drinking water)

Sacrificial Altar in the temple of Diana and Apollo

temple of Diana and her brother, Apollo, statue of Apollo

statue in the temple of Diana and Apollo

statue in the temple of Diana and Apollo

statue in the temple of Diana and Apollo

urns and other relics in the storage area, in the former food markets

reconstruction of a body, urns and other relics

cart, body and urns

reconstruction of a dog

plaster reconstruction of a body, surrounded by urns and other relics

not a pleasant death

Fish and wheat market

detail of carving on a column in the storage area of the markets

urns and other artefacts in storage area in the markets

meat and fish markets

paintings of the menu in the markets

row of shop fronts on the street

rain catchment in the front room of a house

a bar - the basins on the counter are for cooling wine

a bakery, with ovens visible

shop counters

wide city streets

lead pipes for plumbing. They presumably didn't know the dangers of lead poisoning.

storm-water drain in the street

tourists on a street

apparently a "good-luck" symbol, carved in the road. These are all over Pompeii on walls and roads.

main square

main square

main square

courtyard entrance to public baths

courtyard entrance to public baths

public baths

public baths

detail of wall carvings inside the public baths

detail of wall carvings inside the public baths

public baths

font inside the public baths

font in the Roman Baths

detail of marble craftsmanship inside the Roman Baths

exterior of private house

entrance to private house, mosaic "cave canem" - beware of the dog

courtyard letting light into the centre of a private house

private house looking to front entrance through atrium with rainwater collector

wall mural inside private house

household altar in the courtyard

household altar in a private house

streets of Pompeii

monument in the graveyard / mausoleum section, outside the city gates of Pompeii

exterior of a farmhouse outside the city gates of Pompeii. The roof is a reconstruction.

machine for pressing grapes

elaborate and bright murals inside the farmhouse. Experts are unsure whether this represents a cross-dressing cult or same-sex marriage....they knew how to party in Roman Pompeii!

atrium with rainwater catchment

farmhouse outside the gates of Pompeii. The roof is a reconstruction.

courtyard in farmhouse

farmhouse decoration - either men dressing as women based on Bacchus, or a woman being prepared for marriage

If you liked this post, you might also like:
A childhood dream (Pompeii)
Sorrento – an after-thought
The Amalfi Coast

The Louvre

8 01 2012

A recent travel study showed that the Louvre was one of the top places for Australians to visit in Paris. Perhaps it is because our built heritage and history only dates back a couple of hundred years (Aboriginal history dates back much further of course but it is not a built history – no buildings). The amazingly detailed and elaborate historic buildings in Europe, and the enormous collection of artworks dating back centuries – and even thousands of years to Egyptian, Greek and Roman times – this is all on a completely different scale to art museums in Australia.

The Louvre is housed in the former Palais de Louvre. In the basement of the current building the original fortress walls (circa 12th century) have been restored and are on display.

It took us three goes to get into the Louvre. The first time we turned up on a Tuesday….to find that was the one day of the week that the Louvre is closed. The second time we turned up on the 1st of May. to find that it was again closed, perhaps for the Mayday Parades. Given France’s revolutionary history, perhaps they were concerned that the workers in the Parades might rise up and sack the museum…..

Third time lucky, we got in. The queues to get in were very long – across one courtyard, through and archway and into the next courtyard – but they moved quickly and it took about 3/4 an hour before we were inside.

I haven’t included too many photos of the actual artworks, because there are much better photographs available on the net (try Wikipedia and the Musee de Louvre website). Instead I have tried to capture some of the magnificence – the huge halls, spectacular architecture and the gilded details – that make the experience of visiting the Louvre so special.

If you are heading to the Louvre, a couple of things to remember:

1. It is closed on Tuesdays. (and, as we discovered, on May Day)

2. There are four wings to the Louvre – and if you want to see everything, you will need to take at least four days. Luckily there is a lovely restaurant in the foyer (which is also the nexus of the wings) so you can refuel and recoup ready for the next onslaught.


The Louvre viewed from the Eiffel Tower

The Louvre from across the Seine (first attempt to get into the Louvre!)

The famous courtyard of the Louvre, featuring the glass pyramid by I.M.Pei

plenty of opportunity to admire the architecture waiting in the queue.....

amazing architecture

view of one of the boarded-off storerooms, full of treasures

One of many depictions of Diana, goddess of the hunt

Q: what can be at the centre of this crush of people?

A; a very small painting on wooden boards.....and possibly the most famous painting in the world.

there are other paintings in the same room as the Mona Lisa!

this courtyard is closed - a view from the second floor windows

statue in the closed-off courtyard

view of the I.M.Pei pyramid from the second floor windows

grand staircase

some of the surplus treasures stored in a boarded-off area

"rogues gallery"?

the entire building features elaborate painted and guilded ceilings - the artwork as impressive as anything else on display

Venus de Milo

part of the medieval walls of the original Palais de Louvre, now on display in the basement of the Musee de Louvre

a replica of the original fortress de Louvre

A sphinx guards the entrace to the Egyptian collection

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower)

Standing Stones of Carnac

31 10 2011

field of menhirs

On a recent family holiday in France we endeavoured to have a variety of attractions to keep the children entertained. (We failed miserably in the entertainment bit, but that is another posting.)

We combined the Chateaux, Museums, Parisian landmarks with amusement parks (Asterix Parc, EuroDisney, Futurosopce and Puy du Fou) with neolithic and prehistoric. The Standing Stones of Carnac comes into the latter category.

Keen readers of Asterix comics will know that France has a long history, evidence of which dates back pre-French Royalty, pre-Roman and pre-Greek. Carnac is a town on the west coast of France, almost directly west of Paris but south of Mont Saint Michel.

I confess I had not heard of it prior to our trip there, and while, unless you have a specific interest in this type of thing, this is not going to keep you occupied more than half a day, it was pretty amazing to see.

The standing stones of Carnac are a neolithic graveyard. Approximately 3000 stones are arranged in perfectly straight lines. And by stones, I mean boulders, all arranged so then are standing upright on end. These are called Menhirs. The other arrangement, which is less common, is dolmens, which look like tables constructed again of massive slabs of rock sitting improbably on a circle or rectangle of upright rocks. While some of the photos don’t really show the scale, many of these are taller than a man and weighing, one would have to guess, many tonnes. How did neolithic technology move these rocks here and erect them so that they would emain standing for over 5000 years?


inside a dolmen

The stones are said to date back to around 3300BC, and while it is not clear if these are actual gravestones, it is believed that they were erected in honour of ancestors. The Dolmens may have been tombs.

These stones have been here for thousands of years...small boys aren't going to make a difference!

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette