Friday, 30 January 2009


This really is too much. The PC brigade has got its hands on The Drunken Sailor. Captain Pugwash will be turning in his watery grave. Along with Seaman Stains and Master Bates. Remember them? Aired on primetime kids' telly throughout the glorious 70s.

What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor is a fabulous, rumbunctious, hale and hearty shanty which I can remember singing when I was small with a particularly convincing slur (that'll be down to my alcoholic aunt then...). In truth I wouldn't call it a nursery rhyme, but that doesn't mean that children shouldn't sing it. They may do it with more attention to diction than this hairy lot...if anyone can work out exactly what should be done with a drunken sailor from the following, um I'll think of some sort of prize:

The dilemma presented within its verses will be a familiar enough concept to any child with a family member who likes a tipple, or indeed any child who has attended a wedding with their parents in tow. One solution generally offered: 'Put him in the brig until he's sober' seems to me an eminently sensible and practical solution, although the modern child may wish to use a broom cupboard or cellar should no brig be available to them. Iinfinitely preferable to "Watch Dad try and pull the best man's girlfriend."

Seriously, there was a party a few years ago where a little girl we know had to watch her out-of-it-again Mum systematically (and unsuccessfully) try and shag each and every one of her friends' Dads as the evening wore interminably on, and then live it down at school the following Monday. I feel a brig or at least a spare room with a lock on it would have come in very handy quite early on in proceedings. The Mum, of course, could remember nothing. Which isn't the point.

Nursery rhymes, fairy tales, folk music and myths are there as a guide, a sort of unwritten handbook. They contain the wisdom of generations and although there aren't always clearcut answers offered up, they do help children make sense of what often seems a bewildering world peopled by giants who are unpredictable, strange, often drunk and sometimes cruel. Bruno Bettelheim wrote a book exploring the psychology behind folklore in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.

In it, he argues that far from shielding our children from the scarier or more unpleasant aspects of the stories handed down to us, we should encourage their retelling as a way of helping kids encounter and examine 'unmentionables' like alcoholism, rape, incest and murder.

In fact Bettelheim has used the harsh realities contained within Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and The Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs and many other tales and rhymes in his work with children as a therapist.

But no, the powers that be have decreed that drunken sailors and their antics be replaced with grumpy pirates.

Excuse me, but what's so PC and preferable about grumpy pirates anyway? There are two flaws in this substitution:

  • The pirate in question may feel unfairly singled out for attention - is it his or her fault they have melancholic inclinations? What if it's actually a case of mild depression or seasonal affective disorder, just to entangle us further in PC hocus pocus.
  • The pirate in question could well be hungover. Which leaves us with our original problem
And frankly, "Do a little jig and make him smile," or "Tickle him till he starts to giggle" are not things I would want to do anywhere near a grumpy pirate. He might get you with his hook.

Apparently Bookstart has raided the original nursery rhyme because it wants to stage pirate-themed events at book readings for children. Not because of any sensitivity about alcohol references you understand.

What Bookstart has achieved is further Disneyfication of our children's lives, where no one behaves inappropriately and no one gets hurt.

Anodyne, meaningless, soulless and very, very pointless. And utterly lacking in danger and excitement, which are also important building blocks in the child's imagination. Not all children have had to put up with drunken sailors in their lives, but shouldn't we let them at least have a go at working out what they'd do with one if they did?

Sunday, 18 January 2009


I am currently pondering the following:

  • Cold weather payments and the logic or lack of logic therein. Much head scratching.
  • The Marmalade Festival and the possibility, or not, of entering depending on how tomorrow's exploits turn out. Marmalade with cloves, marmalade with cardamom and marmalade with Triple Sec (that's sec...but how I am tempted to change the labels on my entry, should I enter).
  • The loveliness of a Goldfish :-)

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Pass The Sunscreen

So the humble light bulb is being phased out. Most people are in favour of switching to low energy bulbs, and indeed already have.

Most of us that is apart from those for whom low energy bulbs pose a significant problem. I was pleased to see the BBC's latest on this issue made passing reference to migraine sufferers, who can be triggered after a mere 30 minutes in the presence of one of these bulbs, due to their imperceptible flicker. But there are many more people with ME/CFS, Lupus, Eczema, Dermatitis, Electrosensitivity and XP whose suffering can only increase as low energy bulbs become the norm. Being bathed in UV light is not always a good thing if you are a person with any of these conditions. Headaches, rashes, dizziness, visual disturbance, and fatigue have all been reported. Sunscreen can help, and in some cases is available on prescription, but for many it's an expensive last resort.

I sit on the fence over this issue. Obviously the environmental benefits of using low energy bulbs are huge. So I compromise and use them in hallways, where I'm just passing through, and in the bathroom because I always bathe in total darkness. I used to be a Goth.

Sally campaigned for incandescent bulbs to continue to be made available and urged people to sign a petition organised by Spectrum. In the end more than 600 people did, and the response from Number 10 is here. Whilst it doesn't promise that those of us who need incandescent bulbs will still be able to get them forever and ever, it does at least reassure that some of these bulbs will continue to be available for a long time yet.

I had a moment...I suppose you'd call it yet another light bulb moment...though not quite on a par with Sally's light bulb moment which explains exactly why people with light sensitivity suffer so greatly.

Anyway, I wondered whether all the organisations who represent people with Lupus, ME, migraine, eczema, dermatitis, electrosensitivity and XP could fundraise to start stockpiling incandescent bulbs before they get phased out.

Because let's face it, in a few years' time do we seriously want to be living plastered in suncream all the time or permanently behind dark glasses?

Monday, 5 January 2009

End of An Era

I confess I entered Woolworths at the weekend with two ulterior motives. The first was pure Schadenfreude. The second was I was bloody freezing.

But truth told, it was chilly in Woolworths. Icy cold. Eerie. This was the final weekend of trading for a household name, the King of Pound Shops, Queen of the Five and Dime, or Emperor of All Tat, depending on whether or not you were a fan. Most of the cavernous shopfloor was empty, peopled only by one or two callow youths, all the goods moved to the front. Looking at the cordoned corner containing the sad remnants of a shopkeeper's dream, I could only shake my head. Then someone asked me to move my scooter, which kind of ruined the moment.

The motley collection of wares revealed not so much what people are rushing to buy as Woolies breathes its dying breath, but (of course) what has been left behind. It became a surreal tour of the British subconscious, and led me to conclude the following on my way round, based on a bit of demographical detective work:

  • There are no boys aged 6-7 in my area. The sudden proliferation of row upon row of packs of white vests actually made me quite concerned. Hundreds of them, all size 6-7. Has the Pied Piper been in town?
  • Yikes! As I turn the corner, it would seem there are in fact no children in my area. Boxes and boxes of black rubber plimsolls line the aisles. The kind that we wore in the 70s with nylon gym knickers. What is going on?
  • Whatever is going on, no one in my town knows what an Espadrille is. Stacks of them. Maybe they think it's a kind of tortilla. Bit chewy.
  • I then see tons of unwanted files, box files, lever arch files...all manner of files. Just the sort I used to use for GCSE coursework. Has the Pied Pier nabbed all the secondary school kids too????
  • No. Wait. The toy section proves there are indeed still children, at least ones with common sense (and they'd be the ones to not follow the Pied Piper, let's face it). All the Dr Who Destroyed Cassandra frames and Incredible Hulk plush fists remain unsold. Which is a good thing as they are utter crap. Particularly the Cassandra frame. Who's idea was that then? Did some kid break his Cassandra Action Figure and they just decided "Sod it, let's sell them broken." Sorry, slight tangent. Moving swiftly along to...
  • Ceramic coffee jars. Two shelves full. So no one round where I live drinks coffee? Broadening this observation somewhat, if we've moved with the times and Woolies is no longer cool, how come based on this evidence we're still a nation of tea drinkers?
  • A crate of sellotape, masking tape, parcel tape. Strange.
  • Little soap dishes, shelves and shelves of them. Stranger still. I am starting to feel like it's all gone a bit David Lynch in here. Get me out!

I start to panic. Where are the children? Why are there no coffee drinkers? Where did all the soap dish purchasers disappear too? If serial killers aren't using tape, what are they using? I am jolted back to reality by the sight of...
  • Terry's Chocolate Oranges. Now that's just silly. Surely Dawn French would love to eat them if nobody else?
I leave Woolies realising the only thing I really wanted to buy was the 1950s staff chairs from out the back. And then I feel all nostalgic for a time before I was born. It doesn't last long, being an abstract sort of concept. Later that evening I find myself idly checking out Amazon.