Thursday, 19 December 2013

Burning pants, farting donkeys and the Lords of Misrule.

I was going to start this blog with a quasi academic article about modern orality and snobbery but I figured "it's Christmas". So, to quote my favourite children's film of recent years, what we're going to do is... we're going to have a little fun.

Before we begin, a handful of things that will come up a lot in this blog:

  1.  In a literate culture, the oral tradition is generally the preserve of those on the borders of literacy - traditionally,  this would be women and children.
  2.  In a culture of partial or even full literacy, the relationship between oral and textual forms is symbiotic.
  3. Orality, particularly what Ong calls "secondary orality" is frequently subversive, offering acomment on established power structures.
  4. Therefore it totally justified for me to say:

Jingle Bells, Batman smells,
Robin laid an egg...

Yeah, that's right. The kids smirking that out in the back row of a carol concert?  Defenders of the folk tradition, every one of 'em.

I could argue it - like, with footnotes and everything and as this blog gets going properly, there will be plenty of opportunity for that. Instead, let's talk about Christmas carols. Better still, let's talk about the rude, playground versions of Christmas carols.

 Traditionally, Christmas was a time for Misrule - a time for a sanctioned inversion of the established order. Like the oral tradition, like the back row the aforementioned carol concert, it was a place where one could vent some of the gripes that come with being powerless in a societal, financial and cosmic sense. As time has passed, these festivals - never viewed with full approval - were whittled away. This process, by the way, is ongoing. Heck, I think I remember when some killjoy idiot added that "before midday" rule to April Fools. But misrule still prevails - at times of year that are considered 'special' there is a certain laxity to behavioural standards, something of a "come on girls, it's the last day of term, let's watch a video." Children - even generally goodie-two-shoes children - seem to pick up on the atmosphere of festivity and license and whether it be yelling about the Batmobile having lost its wheel, or smirking at the word "sod" in Good King Wenceslas, they are more than happy to keep Misrule alive.

Although, there is something about Christmas carols that lets all of us slip back into the oral tradition of disruption. I think of my father, the year my carol concert decided to sing Orientis Partibus in a mixture of Latin, French and English, amending the English verse to:
Donkey now you're full of hay
So you'll fart and smell all day.
 and how that is now the only bit of it I remember. Or my mother, normally so very respectable, always singing, "Pleased as punch with man to dwell" in Hark the Herald Angels, or me, not changing the words of Come, O Ye Faithful, mostly because the line "Lo he abhors not the virgin's womb" manages to be pretty ridiculous all by itself.

So, in the spirit of Misrule, I will share with you an ongoing domestic. My husband insists that the correct words to We Three Kings are:
We three Kings of Orient are
One on the drums and one on guitar
One on the bass
Who's stuffing his face
With a Twix and a Yorkie bar

Oooooh! What a racket, what a noise
Those three kings are noisy boys,
Pay them quick before they're sick
And send them back to Illinois.

I, on the other hand, being much more adult and dignified,  feel the season is better served by:

We three Kings of Orient are
One in a taxi, one in a car,
One on a scooter,
Beeping his Hooter,
Smoking a fat cigar

Oooooh!  Star of wonder, star of light
Charlie set his pants alight
Westward leading, through the ceiling,
Guide us to the traffic lights!

Far superior,  as I'm sure you can tell.

Do feel free to share your own memories in the comments.


  1. Little Driver, Little Driver,
    On the Motorway...

    1. Aha! How could I forget? My favourite was, "
      Little Driver, Little Driver,
      In the muddy ground...

    2. I have pages and pages of it in a folder somewhere.

      "Little Driver slept that night!
      Ahhh Ah ah ahh, Ahh Ah ah ahh,
      Car hit him with all its might!
      Ha haha ha, Ha haha ha"

  2. We three kings of Leicester Square, selling ladies' underwear. It's fantastic, no elastic! Buy your granny a pair.