Monday, 30 April 2012

Polly Flinders

Sweeping the grate clear of ashes this morning brought back to mind a nursery rhyme:

Little Polly Flinders
Sat among the cinders,
Warming her pretty little toes.
Her mother came and caught her,
And whipped her little daughter,
For spoiling her nice new clothes.


How depressing.

When my children were little, like most children they were given books of nursery rhymes by me and by other relatives.  I think I was drawn to them because I had them as a child myself, and without any significant reflection reached out for them for my own children. 

If the time came round again, I think I would not choose them as reading material for a child now.  Nursery rhymes exhibit a kind of pathological callousness and liking for the macabre that makes my flesh crawl a little:

Jack and Jill
Went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.


Three blind mice, see how they run; (x 2)
They all run after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did ever you see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice?

And so on – no doubt you know them.

The Polly Flinders one was particularly baffling to my children.  Convinced that, to flourish, children needed interaction with the elements – fire, air, earth and water – I set about ensuring this would be a possibility.  They were encouraged to play in mud, with garden herbs, in rock pools by the sea, in the tall summer grass, in the fallen leaves of woodland.  We spent hours on the beach, and from their earliest days they were taken outside to be among the leaves and flowers and birds.  And, we always had an open fire.  Rather than separate or protect them from it, I taught them how to respect and interact with it – the dragon in the house, the living being that breathes and eats and flickers and dances.  They traced their fingers through the soft fallen ashes, we cooked sweet chestnuts on the bars of the grate, and winter days and evenings were always warmed by fires of scavenged and donated wood.

So it came about that the first half of the nursery rhyme made perfect sense: my little girls also liked to sit right up close to the fire, enjoying its warmth and the fascination of its beauty, poking it and feeding it and generally enjoying its company.  What they couldn’t understand was the nursery rhymes calm acceptance that this pastime should provoke maternal violence.  It caused a certain hiatus every time.  A pause of uncertainty.  Poor Polly Flinders.


365 366 Day 120 – Sunday April 29th  

A zandana.  I accumulated a considerable number of headcoverings. I kept 3 scarves that I can wind in a kind of turban style (I think it’s called a “crown” style) and a three plain dark hats in soft materials that don’t hurt for being stuffed in a bag/drawer.

365 366 Day 121 – Monday April 30th  

This book is not just itself but represents a category: “Things I must give back.”  I don’t see many people, and don’t keep many things.  This being the case I am constantly amazed by how many items manage to find their way into our home.  One on its way, then!  :0)


Julie B. said...

I know! And how about Peter who couldn't keep his wife but found it acceptable to stuff her in a pumpkin shell?

I still think your next project should be a children's book or two....

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) My mind is hatching a children's story, but a bit slowly because I am working on a commissioned book of bible studies about the unity of heaven and earth, and a proposed book of bible studies to encourage discussion and group participation.
At the moment Grace and I are enjoying with the Wretched Wretch Shirley Hughes' Alfie stories that my children had most of when they were small.

Penny said...

Oh yes, nursery rhymes! We were given a lovely illustrated book of these when our oldest was born. Such a beautifully presented book. Gold foil edging to the pages, pastel hues in the artwork. Peaceful and idyllic in presentation.
But the content was just as you described. So out it went. :)
(unfortunately we've been given another one now, for the youngest this time...)

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, I think they have their place, but whether that is in a museum or a clinic I'm not quite sure.