ladyofastolat: (Vectis)
Pellinor's away LARPing all weekend, so the house held no Morris man who was duty bound to get up before dawn to dance in the summer. I decided to head out and watch the dancing, anyway. The plan was that I would join them for their post-dancing cooked breakfast, then go on a nice long walk out in West Wight, and be home by lunch. Most of this plan went very well. For once, the sun actually put in an appearance, and the sunrise was glorious. Breakfast was lovely. On my walk, the early morning sunshine was so perfect that everyone I met for the first hour, instead of just saying the usual "Good morning," said "What a glorious day!" and passed me, beaming. (Well, except for the man who was busy cleaning up after his dog, who gave me a big rant about whoever it was who hadn't cleaned up after their dog a few hundred yards back, but when he'd finished ranting, even HE said "glorious weather, isn't it?") The sea was dark blue, the cliffs were gleaming, the bluebells were like oceans, and everything was rather wonderful...

Except for the whole "and be home by lunch" part of it. I'd planned my walk in a sort of modular fashion, and although I knew the rough milage of each module, I never bothered to add them up. After I'd walked non-stop for 3 hours, I suddenly thought, "hang on. There's 14 miles of coastal path between here and the car!" I had to buy food on the way home, so didn't get home until 15.30, having left home at 04.15. So much for having a nap in the afternoon.

But the walk itself - and the sunrise - was rather wonderful.

Many pictures of May Day on the Wight )
ladyofastolat: (sneezing lion)
"Not last night but the night before..."

What's the rest of the verse? And, yes, I know there's no single right answer, and it's a rhyme that's been recorded in loads of different versions, but I'm always interested in comparing different childhood versions of playground rhymes and games.

EDIT: Oh well... It seems that hardly anyone else knows this rhyme, after all. Strange. Everybody present during the conversation at work knew a version, but everyone knew a different one. However, they didn't provide a big enough sample for me to find out if the differences were regional or due to date. For the record, the version I knew went "not last night but the night before, 3 little pussycats came knocking at the door, [something something] let them in, [something-thing] with a ROLLing pin!" However, when I was chanting it to try to track down the missing words, I kept getting sidelined by "OUT went the doctor, OUT went the nurse, OUT went the lady with the alligator purse," which comes from a different rhyme, one nobody else had heard before.
ladyofastolat: (Fire and hemlock)
It turns out that I have never read The Merlin Conspiracy. How this came to pass, I do not know. It certainly looked read, sitting there contentedly on my shelf next to Deep Secret, where it belonged. But, no, I had never read it. This has now been rectified. I have a vague feeling that I started it once, but never finished it. Why this should be, I do not know, since I certainly liked it this time. Maybe I tried to read it too soon after Deep Secret? Deep Secret is one of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones books (mostly because of the Con), and perhaps I was disappointed to find that although inhabiting the same fictional reality and sharing one character, it was not in any way a sequel. But surely I would have expected that, since this is just how things work in DWJ sequels and series. Do any of her books behave even remotely as a conventional sequel? The Pinhoe Egg, perhaps? I wish we could have got a DWJ style sideways non-sequel to Archer's Goon.

It struck me while reading it that I long ago got to the point that I had read so many novels based on British folklore and mythology, that all the different versions of the Wild Hunt, King Arthur, spirits of geographical features, the Queen of Elfland, white dogs with red ears, and the like, all coexist in my mind, all of them simultaneously real no matter which version I'm reading. They probably are. I bet it causes them no end of trouble at family gatherings, and leads to unfortunately unappropriate Christmas presents. "Oh, I'm sorry, you're that version of Herne the Hunter. Um... you'd probably better stop unwrapping that now before you see what's inside it." And all those different spirits of London and its rivers, bickering over who is the rightful recipient of badly addressed Christmas cards!

It has also occurred to me that I can remember nothing at all about Enchanted Glass but that it (I think) contained Vegetables of Unusual Size, so I'd better go and read that now.
ladyofastolat: (probably ritual)
I've been musing on Christmas trees and USB humping dogs. (I can't remember who on LJ drew attention to the USB humping dog many years ago, but it obviously scarred me deeply. When the world explodes, a USB humping dog will be found in the wreckage, and for alien historians it will say everything they need to know about the Fall of Man.)

When you go to museum displays about prehistoric times or "primitive" people, it sometimes seems as all items must be either utlitarian or ritual. Even decoration is only grudgingly allowed, generally being turned into expressions of status. And ritual seems like a very solemn thing - something you do in order to cause the sun to rise, or because unspecified Bad Stuff will happen if you don't do it.

How do Christmas decorations fit? They're definitely ritual, but I doubt anyone believes that anything bad will happen if they don't do it. Lots of people have strong feelings on when decorations ought to go up, but they don't think that people will be struck with a plague of tadpillars* if they put their tree up Too Early. Like so many other things in our calendar, it's Tradition, but not one full of deep meaning.

It seems to me that there's a tendency to assume that people in Yore and people in "primitive" societies (and people in Fantasyland) do everything for deep reason. They're not allowed to wave bejewelled dongles around while hopping on one leg just because that's what people do on Midsummer, and it's all a bit of fun and an excuse for a drink, but if you ask me why we do it, I don't really have a clue.

And they're not allowed to have the equivalent of USB humping dogs, either.

* "I wonder what's hiding behind this flap?" said I. "It's a little thing that turns into a frog when it grows up." "A tadpillar!" said a little boy. These metamorphing animals are just too confusing!
ladyofastolat: (Default)
At Easter, Philmophlegm and I had a brief conversation about the phrase "you learn something new every day," concluding that it would make a good title for a book or a website, which aimed to teach its reader one new thing a day. I'm not sure which would work better, though: a somewhat humorous Christmas gift book in the QI vein, which gave a quirky but trivial fact for each day, or something that actually tried to teach something useful. The latter would have to be website, I think, which allowed the user to click an "I already know this!" button and be taken to an alternative piece of Useful Stuff for that day.

Anyway, I think I might start making occasional "You learn something new every day" posts when I come across an item of knowledge that brightens my day considerably, and which inspires me to want to share this brightness with others. I certainly won't post them every day, since that would turn the quest for interesting knowledge into a chore, and would doubtless bore my Friends list. However, if anyone else wants to make similar posts of their own, by all means do it; I'm all for collecting delightful facts.

Chances are, many people know this already, but I was quite delighted today to come across the Trial of the Pyx, where a sample of new coins are put on trial to make sure that they are morally upright and thoroughly good lots. I particularly liked learning that, nowadays, "it is unlikely that coins would not conform," which makes me imagine them all lined up in drab uniforms, as opposed to their medieval forefathers, who shouted defiance and asserted their indivuality, probably with placards. However, this was merely the introduction to the a far more delightful piece of knowledge: the existence of the Queen's Remembrancer, which goes firmly onto my list of Desirable Titles. One of his duties is to receive from the City of London the ceremonial gift of 10 horseshoes and 61 nails. Sixty-one nails? Why?
ladyofastolat: (probably ritual)
Some years ago, I read a book that summarised a large number of theories about the origin and purpose of myths and legends. (It's religion! It's ritual! It's primitive science!) "No!" thought I, "it's fanfic." Long ago, round a camp fire, some creative chap invents a hero, and everyone else likes this hero very much... and they spake unto him, saying, "Squee!" And then when two of three women of the tribe were gathered together, they did inscribe the image of the hero upon the sand - oftentimes naked and not-safe-for-hunting - and did create further stories of their own in which the hero fell in love with women just like them, and in which the hero faced great trials. "Hark," said the creative chap, "I have created a new, original hero, who..." but "Nay!" cried the people. "Tell us more about our hero, our old hero, our familiar, beloved hero. If you have told all the stories there are to tell about him, just tell them again, with more adverbs in!"

And so it was, and so it will be. And just as modern scholars look back on the tales of old, and saying, "probably ritual," so will future anthropologists look upon the fic archives and the challenges and the big bangs and the drabbles, and wonder what mystic, mythical role these things fulfilled in our society, and whether "AU" was a form of shamanic divination, and who this demon Mary Sue was, that so many should revile her.

More recently, I have come up with a theory that explains religion and superstition, too. My work colleagues have taken to apologising to me whenever they swear, although I have never asked them to, and frequently ask them not to. "Sorry, [LoA]", they say loudly, after even the most quiet and tame of swear words. I've recently learnt that they've taken to saying this even when I'm not around. "It'll become a habit," I warn them. "When you're 96 years old, living in a nursing home, you'll still be saying it. 'Who is this LoA, that you must apologise to her?' your fellow residents will ask, and you'll frown and think for a bit, and say, 'You know, I really cannot remember.' But you'll still say it, and everyone else will start saying it... and in five hundreds years, future folklorists will wonder who on earth this LoA is, that everyone should apologise to her for swearing, and will conclude that she is a goddess or a witch of great power."

Unfortunately, my colleagues start to look at me as if I'm mad about half way through this litte speech, but I think I'm on to something. Vast aedifices of religion and superstition might have started with one silly little recurring joke.
ladyofastolat: (Default)
When you were a child, what was the main method you used to decide who was "it" in a game? Just curious...

(Will add mine when not typing laboriously on a phone.)
ladyofastolat: (Default)
I started reading a book on the aftermath of the Black Death this morning - a theme I seem strangely addicted to. A few pages in, the author stated that in 1500, children in England were singing a song that went "Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down," and that this was a reference to the Black Death of 150 years previously.

Firstly, as I understood it, there is no evidence for this rhyme existing before the late 18th century. While it is of course very possible that it was sung before then, there is no proof, so it is wrong to state categorically that children were singing it in 1500. Secondly, as I understand it, folklore scholars are pretty sure that the song has nothing whatsover to do with the plague, and that this is just a modern myth. "No evidence for it being true" is not the same as "absolute proof that it isn't true," but, again, the author states it as a categorical fact, not as a theory, which is wrong.

And thirdly, the only people I've ever heard use the words "ring around the rosie" and "ashes, ashes" are Americans. In England, I've only ever heard it as "Ring a ring o'roses, a pocket full of posies, atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down." Of course, if the song was around in England in 1500, the common words are just as likely to be the modern American ones as the modern English ones, but that's not really the point. None of this fills me with any real confidence in the book that's to follow.

Trains

Jan. 27th, 2010 05:55 pm
ladyofastolat: (In comes I)
We have a double CD that contains over 60 original recordings from the 50s British skiffle explosion. "Why are they all about trains?" I asked when I first listened to it. Many months later, Pellinor came in when I had one of the CDs in. "What are you listen-- Oh, it's about a train: it must be skiffle." Closer listening reveals that are not all about trains, but a surprisingly large number are. If they're not about real trains, they're about metaphorical ones, and if they're not about metaphorical ones, they're about bandits who rob trains. Even some songs that I'd originally assumed were about miners (e.g. John Henry; Drill, ye tarriers, drill) turn out to be about people building railroads.

Why this obsession with trains? Since most of the skiffle repertoire consists of American folk or blues songs, why do trains crop up so much in these? Is it because America is so much bigger than Britain, so the coming of the railroads had a much bigger impact, worthy of being immortalised in song? Is it because a new and expanding country wanted folk songs that reflected their own daily life, rather than old imported songs centred in rural British life? (British folk songs definitely found their way to America. Loads of traditional British ballads were collected by folklorists in the Appalachians, for example.)

And why so few trains in the British folk song repertoire? I've been idly thinking all day, and I can't come up with a single one. I've come up with one about road building and one about canal building. I've come up with various songs about highway robbery, but none about train robbery. There are loads of songs about sea travel, and a goodly amount about shipwrecks, but where are the songs about railway travel or awful Victorian rail disasters?

Or are there hundreds of British train-related folk songs that will cause me to go, "Of course! How could I have forgotten that?" when people point them out?

Folk tales

Feb. 4th, 2009 01:33 pm
ladyofastolat: (Library lady)
I've got to do a whole morning of storytelling next week in a school, in which all my stories must be folk tales from around the world. Whenever I'm asked to do this, my heart sinks, because it's just so hard to find folk tale retellings that will delight an entire class of over-excited primary school children. I often wonder why this is. Many of these tales were passed on orally, but a lot of the retellings are very wordy and literary and don't lend themselves well to reading aloud. While they might work very well on a one-to-one basis, reading to a mixed ability class is very different, in that you have to aim for the lowest common denominator. The children don't know me, and are less inclined to be thoughtful and reflective than they are with their teacher. They're excited, and they respond best to stories with lots of noise, humour and actions. It is just so hard to find traditional tales that work well.

The search did, though, make me muse nostalgically about my own favourite traditional tales from my childhood. Nostalgia about traditional tales )
ladyofastolat: (Default)
In light of various discussions last week, I thought I'd scan in the map of regional distribution of truce terms from The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) and the map showing the name of the standard chasing game, taken from Children's Games in Street and Playground (1969), both by Iona and Peter Opie.

Maps )

Festivals

Jul. 19th, 2007 09:57 am
ladyofastolat: (In comes I)
Day off today, because of the Day of Doom that is Saturday. While waiting for the kettle to boil, I was perusing my folklore calendar, and I realised that many old traditions have clearly been faked as a result of a random word game. How else can you explain "swan upping" and "church clipping"? At least they got lucky when their olde traditional random word generator came up with "common riding" or "hay strewing". I presume "hop hoodening" makes sense, though I'm not sure how you hooden something. Sometimes they try to disguise things by changing the word word: "Burning the bartle," or "weighing in the mayor", but it's much the same thing.

I think it was a party game for bored Edwardian folklore collectors. Write down 100 random nouns on slips of paper, choosing them by sticking a pin in a dictionary. Do the same with verbs. Put them in two hats. Each folklore collector present has to draw a pair out, design the ceremony - complete with fake scholarly explanation of its pre-Christian origins, and then pick a community of villagers who can be convinced that this was a true ancient custom that had only died out in their grandparents' time. Cue instant "folk revival."

Using the pin-in-a-book method, I have come up with ten new folk customs:
Bell sipping, Tunnel laughing, Grass nearing, Frog smacking, Sky sharing, Virtue shuddering, Stool digging, Quilt screaming, Bottle running, Hair chasing

Now I just need to work out what is actually done on these days, come up with some spurious origin story, and find some credulous natives to celebrate them.
ladyofastolat: (Rhymer icon)
I was reading a rather annoying book on the history of highway robbery yesterday, and its chapter on Robin Hood started me thinking. Could people think about the following question before clicking on the cut.

Stories of King Arthur: Myth, legend, or folk tale?
Stories of Robin Hood: Myth, legend, or folk tale?

If you're currently thinking, "don't know, don't care," don't bother clicking on the cut. For anyone else... Click here for the usual vague ramblings )

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