Alouette. I sung it as a child. I’m sure you did too. It’s a familiar and catchy little tune; Alouette, gentille Alouette… All these years though, and I’ve never actually known what I’ve been singing about. In fact, I confess, I always thought it was Alouette, jonty Alouette. I had no clue what ‘jonty’ meant. But then I didn’t know what an Alouette was either.
Then, many years later, I found myself on an intensive French language course. I really disliked that course. 6 months of studying a language I find so difficult – it would have helped to have supportive teachers, instead of ones that made you feel 3 inches tall when you couldn’t remember a verb. As testimony to the quality of the course, I offer the fact that, despite progressing to – and passing – level 3 (which they term ‘intermediate’), I still didn’t know how to say “sorry, I can’t speak French”, in French! I digress. Back to the Alouette song…
As part of this course, we sung. Yes, I felt a little embarrassed, but a least I was in the corner at the back, so I could sing quietly and not be noticed. One of these songs, of course, was Alouette. We attacked it with gusto. A song that we could all handle. The words were there on the song sheet, so we read, we sung. We didn’t understand.
After a few renditions, it was time to actually discover what the words meant.
For those still in the dark, the song is about plucking a bird (an Alouette is a bird. Actually, it’s French for Lark. I know that now). Each verse details the progressive mutilation of this innocent little creature. Depending upon the version, you pluck the feathers on it’s head, then the wings, and and the back, even the poor little bugger’s beak gets tugged out! And no mention of the bird being deceased before the commencement of this torture either. Disturbing.
Naturally, I did what all self-respecting, sane, relatively new parents would do. I found a version on YouTube, and played it to my 10 month old son. He loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Wanted me to replay it over and over. It rivaled Beyonce’s Single Ladies as his all time favourite (what is it with that Beyonce video mesmerizing babies?).
My son’s favourite version of Alouette:
Of course, the French are not the only ones to impose songs and rhymes of dubious content on the next generation. It got me thinking of a few other little ditties we used to sing. It’s no wonder we all grew up to need therapy:
– Rock-a-bye, baby in the treetop… When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall, And down will come baby, Cradle and all – what kind of whack-job would hang a baby in a treetop? Especially on a windy day.
– Humpty Dumpty, a giant EGG with arms and legs fell off a wall and smashed his head into pieces. (“Daddy, what have you been smoking?”) The King’s Men, couldn’t save him, and presumably with that level of head trauma, the paramedics wouldn’t have fared any better.
– Jack and Jill fell down the hill. Jack broke his crown. No word on whether he’s going to survive, or on Jill’s condition.
– Oh, and in other news London Bridge is falling down.
It’s worse than the six o’clock news.
Any more unsettling kids tunes spring to mind?
Do you ever find old British sitcoms on Canadian TV, and leave them on despite the fact you think they’re crud and you never used to watch them in the UK? I do.
I’m currently writing this with Birds of a Feather going on in the background. A bad 1990’s sitcom about two working class women living in a posh suburb off the back of their imprisoned husband’s loot. I never watched it in the UK, but I find it somehow soothing to have it’s familiarity playing away as the backdrop to a cold Canadian evening. Next up is One Foot in the Grave, which, in my humble opinion is much better.
Keeping Up Appearances is another that gets left on, despite me never having watched it 20 years ago in Britain, and in spite of the fact I don’t like it at all. Coronation Street on a Sunday morning has become a ritual in our house (I know, it’s not a sitcom, but it may as well be). I never actually watch it, it’s just on. When in Britain, it gets switched off.
It must be the security that familiarity brings. I long for the day that Del Boy, Rodders and Grandad (or Uncle) turn up on my Canadian TV screen. Now there will be a Britcom that will get my full attention.
It’s recognized as a great British pass-time; talking about the weather. And, it’s true. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with my mother in the last 10 years where she hasn’t mentioned the weather. The Brits just love talking about it. Or should that be complaining about it?
The irony is, in general the Brits don’t have any weather. Ok, they have ‘weather’, but not ‘weather’. Not the kind of weather we have over here in Canada. We have seasons in Canada. In spring it rains, the sun shines and it gets hot in summer, the fall* is a little chilly but we’re treated to the beautiful foliage. And in winter, well it snows. A lot. And it’s cold. Very, very cold.
In the UK it’s usually mostly a grey and wet spring, followed by a largely cloudy summer with showers, a gloomy autumn with some downpours, and a miserable wet and cold winter. Barring a day or two of sun in July or August, and the annual few days’ national shut down due to an inch and a half of white stuff, it’s pretty standard fare. Of course, I understand that this is some justification for the complaints, but it’s hardly riveting conversation is it?
“Bit wet and chilly today, innit Bob?”
“Yup, mind you not as wet and chilly as yesterday, Bill”
“Ye’r right there. What’s it supposed to be like tomorrow Bob?”
“Gonna be gray Bill. With a bit of rain. And chilly.”
“Tut, tut. Bloody weather.”
“Yeah, bloody weather, tut, tut.”
Conversations like this have been going on for centuries across the British Isles. There are probably thousands of conversations like this taking place right now.
I genuinely admire the Canadian resilience in the face of extreme weather. “A bit chilly” to them is -10°C, with a -20°C wind chill. They’ll also wear shorts at the first sign of sunshine on grass, regardless of the temperature, and they’ll be sitting outside on terraces milking the last glimmer of sunshine until the last leaves fall.
Now that’s weather, and how to deal with it.
*Fall is Autumn in North Americanish (for the Brits without North American experience)