Why do these things come into my head? Today I was walking in Mundy Park, freezing to death on a dank damp trail and feeling a little sorry I'd come, when I heard something in my head.
Something from the past.
Sound of clapping.
A lot of people clapping.
A lot of people clapping at recess. In a circle. Mostly girls, and along with the clapping they were chanting a very strange sort of song.
The words (I'll have to reproduce them phonetically) sounded something like:
Coom-la, coom-la, coom-la feast-a
Ah, nah, nah, na-na-nah feast-a
Eenie meanie etcha- meanie
(repeat until school bell rings).
I don't even remember if I was part of the clapping circle or not. Probably not, as I was never included in anything - not that I tried very hard to be included. But I do remember it and it struck me as very odd, and then it sort of went to the back of my mind into that foggy place where you can't tell if things are real or not.
I honestly doubted that it happened. I never thought about it anyway.
Then. Today on that trail, not feeling very well, suddenly along with the clapping (quite rapid clapping, by the way, really ripping along), I seemed to hear:
FEAST - AHH!
It was probably something like those old TV shows I could never find anything about (though if you revisit YouTube a couple of years later, you almost always find something). I tried googling "coom-la coom-la coom-la feast-a", and got exactly nothing. It didn't occur to me to google Flee-Fly-Flow, which is the actual name of the song (though I seem to remember we sang it in reverse order). But eventually, burrowing around YouTube, I hit on the above video and thought it came closest to the spirit of the song, if not the lyrics I remember (which shift and change with every version, like any good folk song). I wasn't a Brownie or a Girl Guide and never went to summer camp (God, I was a freak), so didn't realize that, along with Found a Peanut and 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, this was a favorite and was sung seemingly everywhere.
I was pleasantly surprised when I recently heard my nine-year-old granddaughter Caitlin chanting some clapping/skipping songs from the schoolyard. They weren't like mine, but they were cool, with the same sort of infectious rhythm. Hell, I was just glad to hear that girls still skip! Most of them weigh 350 pounds, so probably have a hard time getting off the ground.
I shared some of my own decrepit clapping/skipping rhymes with her, minus chunks of lines that escape me, These were met with that "are-you-out-of-your-mind?" eye-roll that I know so well:
I was standing on the corner, not doing any harm
Along came a p'liceman, and took me by the arm
He dragged me round the corner and rang a funny bell
He (something, something, something) and put me in my cell
(Something, something, something) I looked up on the wall,
The bedbugs and the cooties were having a game of ball.
The score was ten to nothing, the bedbugs were ahead,
The cooties scored a home-run, and knocked me out of bed.
This probably isn't too exotic, as I was easily able to find it on the net (though it was under Songs of Southern Michigan, for some reason. Never mind, I lived near Detroit.) Others seem very old to me because the imagery is from another time (and another form of manufacture):
My Mama told me
If I was good-y
That she would buy me
A rubber dolly
My unkie told her
I kissed a soldier
Now she won't buy me
A rubber dolly
(Please note, this came BEFORE it was incorporated into the "clap-clap" hit song and was sung to a completely different tune. We always said "unkie" rather than "auntie", for some reason.)
And there was another one that had dance steps to it, I remember. No tune, just rhythmically chanted:
Charlie Chaplin went to France
To teach the ladies how to dance
First the heel, then the toe,
Right, left, and away we go!
I kind of doubt that ten-year-olds today know who Charlie Chaplin was, but you never know. WE did, because there was actually a Charlie Chaplin show on TV every Friday night, right after the Addams Family: a couple of his early two-reelers. I remember hearing kids discussing it on Monday.
Compared to these primitive childhood war-chants, Flee Fly Flow is beginning to sound like La Traviata. So who wrote this, where did it come from? Some say Latin America - which is quite plausible, because some interpret the second line as "oh, no, no, no, not da Vista" (whatever that means). Other sources claim it's African. The nit-not line, which always struck me as very silly, is probably wrong, somebody's "mondigreen" version. And in fact, this entire song may be a mondigreen (a mis-heard lyric: see previous post).
Like "a ram-sam-sam", it might just be a bunch of nonsense syllables strung together in Jabberwockian fashion. But it's fun. And it actually exists.
Post-post: That formidable brick building, pictured below, is MY SCHOOL: McKeough School in Chatham, Ontario, which I attended from 1959 to 1964. I don't remember it looking so much like a federal penitentiary, but I guess it did. There was a girl's side and a boy's side and we were not allowed to mix. Almost all the teachers were elderly spinsters, and our principal Mr. Robertson was an ex-navy man who ran a tight ship. We marched in to military music in the morning (I remember especially "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning", which turned out to be by Irving Berlin), and every so often Mr. R. would come and inspect the troops. We had to stand at attention until he said "at ease" (no kidding - no one ever believes this). Once in a while we had a treat: we all got to troop down into the nightmarish basement of the place to watch a "fillum". This would usually be a National Film Board educational fillum on hygiene, though we were still too young for warnings about VD. I do remember one about head lice and hygiene (i. e. it only happens to filthy reprobates). This school still functioned up until a few years ago. I don't know what the status is of it now: ghosts probably roam the hall, including Mr. McGuinness, the scary old janitor who was half out of his mind, and the Reverend Russell Horsburgh, who was COMPLETELY out of his mind. Oh, my childhood.