Mary, Mary, quite contrary - Isobel Clifford (on ZOOM)

Tue, Jan 25th 2022 at 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Reception - Jim Douglas

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Meeting on zoom, members enjoyed social breakout rooms before President Mike Dow opened the meeting with usual challenge to explain an obscure word. With no one getting it right, Mike explained that “chaff” came from book by Charles Dickens and means “good-humoured banter” exemplified in the Fife fun song “Kelty Clippie” - which he promised to sing at a future Folk night.

The club’s recent replanting and improvements of the landscaped area outside the Community Hospital was highlighted, as were the efforts to remove chewing gum from South St pavements. This latter project has proved to be frustrating, both by the great difficulty in removing the gum and very short-term return of such debris to cleaned areas. The club will now look at a possible public awareness campaign of this horrible practice. 

President Mike then introduced speaker, Isobel Clifford, who fascinated all members with her history of children’s nursery rhymes. Her talk, entitled “ Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”, covered 12 varied rhymes, all well-known, from that of her talk title to other favourites such as “Humpty Dumpty”, “Hickory, Dickory, Dock”, “Georgie Porgie”.

Isobel explained whilst most had various sources suggested, there was often a common theme of commemorating some historical event or monarch. Often the rhymes ridiculed a hated king, queen or duke. Interestingly, whilst some today have fallen foul of the woke brigade, like the famous sheep rhyme, history suggests such racist connotations have no basis in fact, rather being referenced to problems of dyeing black sheep!

Such modern moves to outlaw or rewrite our childhood rhymes is nothing new, with the “Nursery Rhyme Reform Society” in 1941 wanting to remove or rewrite many due to historical links to poverty, torture, plague etc. As Isobel explained, Nursery Rhymes have been great for children, bringing them the joys of music, social development and fun. They probably go back to early 14th century when oral learning and communication was the norm.

In giving the vote of thanks, Jim Douglas expressed the surprise and delight of all members with the talk, as the various historical links were new to most, and certainly should not spoil the joy of children in continuing to sing or recite them. Jim noted that a quick on-line search indicated that “Humpty Dumpty” was no. 1 favourite, “ Mary, Mary” came in at 9th.


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