Saturday, 11 July 2009

Clapping games and word play

About a week ago I was in a pub garden watching a little boy of about three trying to play Aunt Sally - a game rather like skittles which is popular in our bit of Oxfordshire. He was having difficulty, but eventually succeeded in hurling the heavy wooden baton (which is used instead of a ball) down the alley at the Sally, which is a single white skittle, and knocked her down. In great delight he went running back to his family chanting ‘Easy peasy lemon squeezy, easy peasy lemon squeezy!’

I was smiling and thinking to myself how much young children love rhymes and rhythms and wordplay. Many of them, in junior school, are natural poets. You’d think it would be dead easy to make readers out of them. What happens to the simple joys of having fun with words?

Here’s a rhyme my children used to chant at school. I wanted to show the stresses, but the blog won't let me. Come down heavily on the words 'my', 'your', 'lives', and 'street', and you'll get it:

My mother, your mother, lives across the street.
Eighteen, nineteen, Mulberry Street –
Every night they have a fight and this is what it sounded like:
Girls are sexy, made out of Pepsi
Boys are rotten, made out of cotton
Girls go to college to get more knowledge
Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider
Criss, cross, apple sauce,

Chanted rapidly aloud, you can feel how infectious it is. Another one, which is also a clapping game, runs:

I went to the Chinese chip-shop
To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread,
They wrapped it up in a five pound note
And this is what they said, said, said:
My… name… is…
Elvis Presley
Girls are sexy
Sitting on the back seat
Drinking Pepsi
Had a baby
Named it Daisy
Had a twin
Put it in the bin
Wrapped it in -
Do me a favour and –

I suppose every junior school in the country has a version: chanted rapidly and punctuated with a flying, staccato pattern of handclaps, it’s extremely satisfying. I've heard teachers in schools get children to clap out the rhythms of poems 'so that they can hear it' - but never anything as complicated as these handclapping games children make up for themselves. No adults are involved. What unsung, anonymous geniuses between 8 and 12 invented these rhymes and sent them spinning around the world? Nobody analyses them, construes them, sets them as texts, or makes children learn them. They’re for fun. Nothing but fun.

Keats once said, ‘If poetry does not come as naturally as the leaves to the tree, it had better not come at all.’ I’m not sure he was totally right there (it may have been right for him) but I don’t believe there’s any essential difference between the contrapuntal patter of playground clapping games and the sonorous rhythms of:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should rave and rage at close of day.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light –

which I once declaimed theatrically in the living room to my ten year old nephew. He looked up startled.

“Wow!” he said.


catdownunder said...

Not so long ago I told a very small boy who was splashing in the puddles at the railway station, "John had great big waterproof boots on..." He looked up at me in absolute amazement and, when I had finished, said, "Say it again." I did.

Elen Caldecott said...

"Ibble, obble, chocolate bobble, you are in. Ibble, obble, chocolate bobble, you are out."

Was the skipping rhyme in my school - you had to be quick to jump in or you missed your turn!
Lovely post!

Linda Strachan said...

My father in law used to say this one. I think it was used like 'one-potato, two-potato..' to count kids out in a game.

inky, finky, figgery, fell,
ell, dell, dom-in-ell
arky tarky, tarry rope
I'm Tam you're Jock (pronounced joke)

Gillian Philip said...

What an interesting post, it's triggering lots of memories. You can skip to any version of this and it still gets them all on the floor at ceilidhs 40 years later!

I'll tell me ma when I get home
The boys won't leave the girls alone
They pulled me hair and they stole me comb
But that's all right till I get home
She is handsome, she is pretty, she is the belle of Belfast city
She is courtin, one two three
Please won't you tell me who is she.

It's so true about rhythm and rhyme - when I was a singer back in the late Jurassic, that song was more fun to sing than anything else (even the Irish Rover).

The AA Milne one my kids loved was the one about James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree (who took great care of his mother though he was only three).

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post, Kath! Must go and search out my battered Opie. For sure, as writers, you have to hear the words in your mouth as well as in your head.
Best wishes

Danielle said...

As a teacher I love clapping games. Just a few weeks ago I 'made' the children in my class come up with a song and a clapping game to remember the days of the week in French. It was amazing to see and hear what went on in the playground. Now not only do my class know the days of the week, lots of other children do too!