Thursday 14 May 2015

Bluebells, Cockleshells Catherine Johnson

Guestling Woods East Sussex
That's what started me off a walk in those woods last week, I couldn't get this skipping rhyme out of my head;

Bluebells, cockleshells,
Evey, Ivy, O-ver,

Did you play this one? You'd need a big group, and a big rope with two enders, or one ender (nobody wanted to be an ender) and then you'd tie the other end to a drainpipe. Anyway on 'Bluebells, cockle shells' the rope would be swayed, not turned all the way over until the word 'over' in the rhyme. At this the next girl, it was always a girl (and there was only Barry Morgan in our school who could skip I may be wrong here) would run into the rope. She'd sing;

I like coffee I like tea 
I like Sheila in with me

And then Sheila would jump in and you'd both skip together and spell out her name as you jumped. But sometimes, and this would be around 1970 in London, I can remember singing;

I like coffee I like tea,
I like sitting on a black man's knee

Which seems completely shocking today - although we didn't think about it then - and did I think I was skipping about my Dad? Not at all, this was the same mythical black man who famously got caught by his toe, best mates, no doubt with the man from China who was forever doing up his flies. Skipping rhymes were always odd and sometimes rude and sometimes completely scatological. Can I just say I am glad those days are gone? I never felt these rhymes were a sign of any kind of innocence.

But that picture, of my walk last week near my new home got me onto the subject of this months' blog and one of my favourite books, Iona and Peter Opie's wonderful book The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren. 

I first bought this book in a school fair on a second hand bookstall. Since then I have sought out loads more of their books, collections of rhymes from British playgrounds from the 1950s to the 1980s. These include The Singing Game, and The People In the Playground. If you don't know them and are at all interested in children's play or children's history in general it is so worth seeking them out.

The collected rhymes and songs from all over the country, singing games and clapping games with slight variations depending on north or south. We used to sing (in London);

Under the brown bush
Under the tree
My darling

becomes, in the midlands; 

Under the bram bushes
Down by the sea

And thinking about it I can still do loads of the verses of Under the Brown Bush, which was a clapping, not a skipping song.  As was When Susie was a baby the verse that chronicles Susie's life from baby to skeleton and finally ghost.  The verse for 'teenager' sticks in my mind.

When Susie was a teenager,
A teenager Susie was.
She went 'Ooh, ahh, I lost my bra
I left it in my boyfriend's car

 There were lots of skipping rhymes that involved the word Mississippi for no good reason. My generation was, I think, very in love with America.

But I think this one was my favourite, it's another skipping one;

Bubble car, bubble car,
Number 48
Goes round the co-ooooo-rner (runs out of skipping rope and round the enders)
And slams on the brakes (runs back in and traps rope on the word brake).

What was yours?

Catherine Johnson's next book is The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo out on July 2 published by Random House


Carol Drinkwater said...

I don't know any of these verses. They are fascinating. Have you found out any more about sitting on 'the black man's knee'? Where does it come from? Thank you for this post.

Sue Bursztynski said...

We had a book called Far Out, Brussell Sprout and another called All Right, Vegemite, by June Factor.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

I grew up in Scotland. Can clearly remember doing a chain dance where people linked hands and wove in and out and stopped to pat each other on the shoulder. Sung to the tune of Bobby Shafto (sp)

In and out the dusty bluebells
Repeat twice more
Who will be my partner?
Pitter patter pitter patter on my shoulder (repeat twice more)
Who will be my partner?

There was also 'The Farmer wants a wife. Someone stood in the middle of the circle and then chose one of the others hand-joined and circling to be the wife. Then the wife wants a child. Another person picked. Then the child wanted a nurse and the nurse wanted a dog. The dog wanted a bone. Whoever was nominated the bone was then patted - hopefully not hit by the other children. 'We all pat the bone.' The main verses were separated by 'Eee aye addy o.'

catdownunder said...

The Opies did an enormous service to our cultural history in preserving so many of these rhymes and more. (Yes, it is Downunder's heritage too!)
I was lucky enough to hear Iona Opie talk in London and, when she discovered I was from Downunder, she had some very searching questions for me too.
The Lore and Language book is fascinating - all writers for children need to read it!

Catherine Johnson said...

Elizabeth! Yes! Am singing that right now In and out the dusty bluebells...why were they dusty? Who knows?

Carol have no idea where it comes from I'm afraid...

JO said...

Oh I remember Susie!

And I still recall the day my daughters sang a very rude version of Daisy Daisy - enough to make my splutter on my cornflakes and know I ought to reprimand them but was finding it too difficult not to laugh. I asked them recently what the rhyme was but both were too embarrassed by it to tell me!

Joan Lennon said...

In Ontario it was -

I love coffee - I love tea
I love the boys and the boys love me!

Make of that what you will ...

Kit said...

We sang the bubble car one too as a skipping rhyme, except we said bumper car, bumper car.

And I remember Susie as a teenager, now you mention it though it can't recall any other verses.

Would love to find a copy of the Opie's book, sounds fascinating.

Lydia Syson said...

All those are familiar…though in our part of London we did 'Under the brambles, down by the sea…' My little sister had one about being taken to 'the pictures' and undressed…(!) and my children have all sorts of other ones like Apple Crumble, Makes me rumble… that I never knew… We did bumper car too.

Elspeth Scott said...

I'm from Scotland too, but (on the west coast at least) our version of Dusty Bluebells was "I am the master" not "Who will be my partner"

And then there was
"My name is Shirley Temple
And I've got curly hair
I've got dimples and wear my skirts to there (gesture to indicate very short)
Got legs like Betty Grable
A figure like Marilyn Monroe
Got hair like Ginger Rogers
and a face like an elephant's toe!"

At seven years old in 1959 we didn't know who any of these people were but it didn't stop us playing it...