Sing up, all together now…

The last day of September already?  How did that happen?  And of course it brings to mind the children’s nursery rhyme ‘the big ship sails on the alley alley oh’.  When I say ‘brings to mind’ perhaps that is slightly misleading.

We have a handful of songs that are stalwart favourites with our toddler.  And when a toddler decides they like something, that’s it, you’re in serious repetition territory! I think most parents with young children will empathise.  It is a rare day indeed if we don’t hear all of them at least once.  Happy Birthday to You!, Incy Wincy Spider, Alley Alley Oh, and Jingle Bells are all included in the repertoire.  All sung with big gaps in the lyrics, and in that incredibly tuneless flat monotone that toddlers all seem to share before they gain their songbird stripes.  It’s incredibly cute.

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Just straying off topic a little bit, yes, you did read that correctly.  Jingle Bells is a year round favourite in this household!  Yes, even though we live in a Muslim Sultanate, where Sharia Law is practised and celebration of Christmas is not permitted.  Our girly is going to be overcome with excitement this Christmas when she’s home in England for the holidays.  It will be so refreshing to be in a country that celebrates Christmas and has round-the-clock Christmas commercialism and carols for us to indulge her with.  I am excited for her!

Anyway, back to the Alley Alley Oh.  It is one that I remember from my childhood, and I used to love it too:

The big ship sails on the alley-alley-oh
The alley-alley-oh, the alley-alley-oh
The big ship sails on the alley-alley-oh
On the last day of September.

The captain said it will never, never do
Never, never do, never, never do
The captain said it will never, never do
On the last day of September.

The big ship sinks to the bottom of the sea
The bottom of the sea, the bottom of the sea
The big ship sinks to the bottom of the sea
On the last day of September.

We all dip our heads in the deep blue sea
The deep blue sea, the deep blue sea
We all dip our heads in the deep blue sea
On the last day of September.

The big ship sails on the alley-alley-oh
The alley-alley-oh, the alley-alley-oh
The big ship sails on the alley-alley-oh
On the last day of September.

As a child, the repetition and simplicity is highly appealing.  As an adult, the lyrics leave you pondering the rhyme’s provenance and meaning.  Although I’ve tried to find some answers, the information is sketchy and speculative at best.  This often seems to be the case with nursery rhymes and other gems passed down through the generations as part of our oral and story telling heritage.

Some people believe the Alley Alley Oh is a reference to the Manchester ship canal in England and that the ‘big ship’ was the first ship to sail on it.  Others think it marks the opening of Egypt’s Suez canal.  More plausible, given the sea-going references, is the link to the Atlantic Ocean, with the ‘big ship’ reference relating to the sinking of the SS Arctic (about which there is more information, here).

Whichever of these theories – if any! – is correct, it is a typically British nursery rhyme.  All very whimsical and jolly if you just let the tune and words wash over you.  But actually many of these ditties were fairly sinister in meaning and carried much more political, religious or social significance when they were conceived than may be immediately apparent.  So very British, to not quite say what we mean, and hide everything neatly away behind a polite, respectable facade!

Some of these nursery rhymes have been around for generations; most likely many of them will continue to be for generations to come.  Still being sung, hummed and whistled by our own children’s children, when they too are despairingly trying to soothe their fretful baby to sleep or desperately searching for a distraction to appease a petulant toddler.

I like to think I’m not the only one with nursery rhymes playing a permanent loop in my head, trying to remember not to hum along out loud when in public.  It’s a small comfort at least to know that anyone with children has been there at least once (no? really? come on, be honest now!).

Having woken up thinking ‘the last day of September’, I’ve obviously had this tune bouncing around in my head all day.  Did you know the rhyme already?  I wonder whether you will now also be fiercely resisting the urge to burst into song periodically throughout the day, having read my post?  If you are, try not to hate me – there’s solidarity and strength in numbers, right?!

 

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10 thoughts on “Sing up, all together now…

  1. Osyth

    YOu will never recover from the repetition … later they will tell you to shut up. Don’t. Because much later again they will remember with love and they will ask you to repeat! The Alley alley-oh … I live in the Auvergne (Cantal, Haute Loire, Puy de Dome and up North Allier … when ever I cross the border (sometimes with a daughter who told me to shut up once upon a time) I sing ‘when the good ship sales on the ALLIER ALLIER-oh! I’ll sing it loud today from Cantal because it is indeed ‘The last day of Sep-tembeeeeeer! 🙂

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    1. jenny Post author

      LOVE it! That’s so good to hear, and yes, I’ve been that grown-child, remembering with fondness what I thought was deeply uncool before. Good work, mummy Osyth! 🙂

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  2. pattimoed

    Interesting post. I remember taking a literature class in college where we discussed some nursery rhymes–like:
    Ring-a-ring-a-roses,
    A pocket full of posies;
    Ashes! Ashes!
    We all fall down.[4]
    It was fascinating to learn it might have been written about the plague.

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      1. pattimoed

        I remember one of the purposes behind the rhymes is to be instructive. They not only describe the plague “ring around the rosie” (a ring around a red spot), they describe ways to ward off the disease (carry “a pocketful of posies”) and the consequences (“ashes, ashes we all fall down”). Fascinating that they are contained in children’s rhymes!

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        1. jenny Post author

          Maybe some canny person realised that that way lots of people would be hearing it – children do love to sing!! So often I think the material we see aimed at children is less innocently sweet than we like to think. Nursery rhymes for sure – Jack and Jill is about taxation I believe! Also traditional fairy tales like the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson are pretty sinister. Even modern takes by the likes of Disney and Pixar can be pretty dark, despite the cheesy sing-along songs!

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          1. pattimoed

            It’s true that they can present the “dark” side of human nature disguised as witches and sinister beings. I think childhood is a rather recent sociological concept–in terms of sheltering and protecting children and honoring their stages of development. Even as recently as a hundred years ago, they used to be considered “little” adults–who had responsibilities and weren’t sheltered from the harsh realities of life.

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            1. jenny Post author

              Ahhh Patti, I would happily talk with you about this all day! I studied the sociology of childhood at university and found it utterly fascinating. Very different times now – more fostering of independence and free-thinking, but actually far more restrictions on freedom in other ways.

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                1. jenny Post author

                  The university I was at specialised in dual honours degrees so I did both English and sociology with social anthropology. It was great to get such a wide variety, including the sociology of childhood for one semester. Before I had my own children I never really thought about language development, but now I can fully see how interesting it would be to study early language development. Fascinating stuff.

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