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Life Chez Dee Episode #84: Songs of Yesteryears

Today we lost a national treasure, the forces sweetheart, a symbol of hope, and a very much loved lady. We have been reminded so recently of all the wartime songs which she and so many others sang, whilst the nation celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and I’m glad that she lived to witness our country marking this day. The nation’s sweetheart lived a remarkable 103 years and her long life will be remembered for a long time; iconic, timeless, unforgettable.

I write on so many occasions about my love of songs, and how much songs have played a part in my life; I’ve written lots about words, and songs in many an article on Life Chez Dee. Songs, music, and words are so important to me; I soak up the words, and the tune, and immerse myself in them so greatly, that they become part of me. I sing them, I think about them, I recount the words in my head, I hum the tune, I immediately think of this when any of the song words are spoken, even out of context, and the song is triggered yet again for me to play over again in my head, or sung out loud … depends where I am. I hope that my children too will remember lots of songs in years to come, perhaps the memory of these songs lying dormant inside them, waiting to be triggered. But for sure, I am always singing and humming songs around the house, or on a car journey, with quite a few of these songs only having been heard by me. I get looks from Justin, baffled that I know so many, which in return baffles me that he’s not heard of them. Some of the songs which pop into my head are from long ago, old songs, the songs sung by my Grandma, the songs of yesteryears. I’ve never heard them anywhere else, either before my Grandma sang them, and certainly not since.

I’ve gained general knowledge from these songs, and have many a time drawn on a line from a song to answer a general knowledge question, and I’ve used songs when explaining things to the children over the years. I seem to know a song for every occasion; but there will be a song for every occasion, because that’s why songs are written. Songs are a way of expressing feelings, emotions and experience, whether joyous or sad, of celebration, love, loss, jealousy, friendship, and of hope and inspiration. Rousing, or serene, there is always a song for every occasion imaginable. Just recently, as we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of VE Day we listened to, even played, the songs of the time. The Andrews Sisters singing about a “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, Glenn Miller getting us “In the Mood”, Dame Vera Lynn reminding us that “We’ll Meet Again” “…over the white cliffs of Dover”, and Gracie Fields telling us how she helped make “The Thing Ummy Bob”.

Songs depict life; songs are part of life; life is depicted in songs.

I started to think about some of the songs of my childhood, prompting me to go to places I’d not visited for a long time. Those places being my memories from long ago, tucked away and buried deep within me, but still there. Memories from my childhood; really happy memories, with one of my earliest being hearing my mum singing “Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain”.

My grandma would sing so many songs, and I don’t know if she sang more to me than anyone else, or whether she sang songs which nobody else did, which is why I remember them more. There are notably a few of her songs which I remember so well that I am transported back into that memory, and I am with her again. “I like a nice cup of tea in the morning” was one of these songs. I remember sitting with her in bed, with our pillows propped behind us, drinking tea which was conveniently made for us from the teas maid by the side of her bed. I’ve always loved a nice cup of tea, and I so often think of my grandma when I drink tea. How we used to cuddle up together, read books, chat about all manner of things, play I spy and sing songs.

“Little Mister Baggy Breeches” is another song which I’ve only ever heard my Grandma sing. This song provokes memories from over forty years ago. So many memories, and so many other songs which have stayed with me, in me, and have become part of me. They evoke happy memories; memories of feeling safe, secure and loved … loved so much I cannot begin to explain the bond I shared with my Grandma.

“Little Mister Baggy Breeches I love you.

If you’ll be my Sunday fellow I’ll patch them with purple with pink and with yellow

The folks will say, as we sit on the garden wall,

If you don’t put patches on yarco’s breeches, he’ll have no breeches at all.

Yarco … I didn’t even know what that meant, and I don’t know why I never questioned it, I just sang it, with no understanding and no meaning, but it didn’t matter, I just liked the tune, and I liked singing it with my grandma. But now I wonder about it, and I start to look into the meaning behind this word. I think is a term used for someone working class, who generally wears casual clothes. It is a very old fashioned song, but as are so many other nursery songs and rhymes, and as with so many other songs of that era, or before, they also contain what are now regarded as derogatory terms, rendering them rather unacceptable songs to be singing. There are loads of songs I can think of which would be unacceptable nowadays, and there are probably even more which were sung to me as a child which I can no longer remember, but I can hand on heart, honestly say that we really did take songs on face value, tune value, without even questioning the words, their meaning, their origins or their implications. In fact, it is only just now that I’ve googled the meaning of this word, so all those years of knowing, recounting, singing this song, I’ve never really bothered to look at what that word meant, I just sang it. As I googled the meaning, I also noticed that that particular line is replaced in many versions which come up in my search. Possibly through generational and geographical Chinese whispers, but also to possibly remove the yarco term; I don’t know, I’m surmising.

Where is this song now? Where are all the songs my Grandma used to sing … obviously not all politically correct as the above example shows, but part of my childhood. “Little Sir Echo”, there’s another lovely song, as too is the “Little Dutch Boy”, with the words “tick tock, tick tock, went the funny old clock” popping into my head, and me singing, whenever I look at an old clock.

Then there are some songs which I remember Grandad singing … “Ukelele Lady”, or sometimes “Lloyd George Knows My Father, Father Knows Lloyd George”, sang to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers. I remember my Grandad singing these, as vividly as I remember him writing out mouthorgan music. I can picture him now handing me a sheet of paper with the words “Blow, Suck, Blow, Blow, Suck, Suck, Blow” and we’d laugh together at his little joke, making him cough and wheeze, as he suffered with emphysema, rather ironic that this should amuse him as he’d so often sound like a mouthorgan, his chest humming, as he struggled for breath.

As I sat in the back of his old white Saab (his pride and joy) and we sang on the drive over to his house. I still have vivid memories of sitting in the back, with the tiny triangular back window only opening a crack. We sang, we talked, and he tested me on my weekly spellings, not really comprehending what I was saying as I’d spell the words with the letter sounds rather than the letter names … and to this day, actually still do.

Where are all these songs now? Why have they all disappeared? I don’t want these songs to die out as that generation of people dies. Yes we sing nursery rhymes, and other songs to our children … well I did anyway. But did others? Do the mums and dads with little ones today sing traditional songs and rhymes, or do they sing more modern songs. Life moves, traditions fade, trends shift … and some of these treasured songs are lost, but some thankfully stay with me, buried deep within. There must be some who are my age or older who remember these songs. I’d love to hear some of the memories of others which my recollection has now provoked.

Go grab a nice cup of tea, and reflect on some of the long forgotten songs, and let’s share them and let them live on. Whilst you do that, I’ll leave you with this song, as “there’s a lot to be said for a nice cup of tea”.

I like a nice cup of tea in the morning

For to start the day, you see!

And at half past eleven,

Well my idea of heaven

is a nice cup of tea!

I like a nice cup of tea with my dinner

And a nice cup of tea with my tea,

And when it’s time for bed,

There’s a lot to be said

For a nice cup of tea!

This article is dedicated to two great ladies, one a national treasure, and one a treasure to me, Dame Vera Lynn and Mrs Florrie Mills

By Elizabeth Dee

[This piece was originally written for and published by Lytham St Annes News; republished by Elizabeth Dee on Life Chez Dee 18th January 2021]

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