12 Aug 2011

Nonsense songs

Across an empty stall a green cloth was fastened, so high that the heads of the operators were not seen. A little curtain flew up, disclosing the front of a Chinese pagoda painted on pasteboard, with a door and window which opened quite naturally. This stood on one side, several green trees with paper lanterns hanging from the boughs were on the other side, and the words "Tea Garden," printed over the top, showed the nature of this charming spot.

Few of the children had ever seen the immortal Punch and Judy, so this was a most agreeable novelty, and before they could make out what it meant, a voice began to sing, so distinctly that every word was heard,--

"In China there lived a little man,
His name was Chingery Wangery Chan."

Here the hero "took the stage" with great dignity, clad in a loose yellow jacket over a blue skirt, which concealed the hand that made his body. A pointed hat adorned his head, and on removing this to bow he disclosed a bald pate with a black queue in the middle, and a Chinese face nicely painted on the potato, the lower part of which was hollowed out to fit Thorny's first finger, while his thumb and second finger were in the sleeves of the yellow jacket, making a lively pair of arms. While he saluted, the song went on,--

"His legs were short, his feet were small,
And this little man could not walk at all."

Which assertion was proved to be false by the agility with which the "little man" danced a jig in time to the rollicking chorus,--

"Chingery changery ri co day,
Ekel tekel happy man;
Uron odesko canty oh, oh,
Gallopy wallopy China go."

Under the Lilacs 1878 Louisa May Alcott
We were talking about nonsense songs from our childhood on a CM list I belong to this morning. It brought back lots of fun memories. These songs, whilst rightly called nonsense songs, are an awful lot of fun to sing, and I am not surprised that Jemimah enjoys singing them as much as I do.

My favourite song of this type was a silly little verse taught to me by my cousins called 'Once upon a time on the land of Chan'. It is rather racist, I guess, but that never stopped me singing it on every long car journey - and teaching it to my impressionable daughter.

I know, bad mumma.

Anyhow, I googled...as you do...only to discover that my little ditty - or a variation of it at least - was known by Louisa May Alcott right back in 1878. I wonder whether she wrote it or whether it was a well known children's song even then? Opinions on google seem divided on that point.

This is my version of it. For posterity. Or whatever. Indulge me, hey! Ahem...
Once upon a time in the land of Chan
There lived a funny little, funny little man.
His nose was long and his feet were small
And the poor little fellow couldn't walk at all.

Chickeracka roo chee
Cha chicka laura
Honky, ponky polly wally wack.
Hokey Pokey Echikioty
Echiky, echiky o-ty.

His servants carried him in a sedan,
that funny little, funny little gentle-man.
Now here he comes and there he goes,
That funny little chap with the handsome nose.

Chickeracka roo chee
Cha chicka laura
Honky, ponky polly wally wack.
Hokey Pokey Echikioty
Echiky, echiky o-ty.
Okay. You're entirely edified now, aren't you?

I also loved Flee Fly Flo. Remember that one?

Never ending songs are really fun to sing as well...ever been to nowhere?
Chuffle luffle steam train,
Chuffle up the track.
Chuffle up to nowhere
and chuffle uffle back.
"Ever been to nowhere?"
"No, what's there?"
"Nothing!" "Nothing?"
Nothing but a steam train...(repeat ad infinitum)
Do you have a favourite nonsense song - or a never ending one? Do share.

Now don't get me onto songs like John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. I'm full of songs like that as well. What a lot of rubbish resides in my brain. No wonder I can never remember anybody's name.

Do you think they're twaddle? Probably. What about Edward Lear? Do you think he is? I don't mind really - it won't stop us enjoying them. I just wondered.

Probably, I think.

Oh well. The kids in Under the Lilacs seemed to enjoy them.


  1. "I also loved Flee Fly Flo. Remember that one?"

    Oh, sure. I went to Guide camp.

    Also The Cannibal King, As one slim snake slid up the slide, Boom boom ain't it great to be crazy, and some others I learned on the playground but won't repeat here.

    I learned a few from my grandma, too. She used to like to sing at odd times, and she taught us some nonsense songs like this:

    I had a dog, his name was (something),
    He was a very intelligent pup,
    He could stand on his hind legs
    If somebody held his front ones up.

  2. Do you remember Eddie Kootchie Katchie Kamma Tosem Heren Tosem Over Samma Kamma Wacky Brown? He fell into a well, I believe...

  3. I love how families have songs like this. One of ours is "there's a hole in the bottom of the sea", I believe from Danny Kaye. The trick is to sing it as fast as you can without blurring the words ;)
    Hubby and I have found some differences in our versions of playground songs/nursery rhymes etc - he grew up in WA (with a mum from Tassie) and I in Victoria (with a mum from NZ)... SOMEone has to be right!
    I've really enjoyed your posts this week, Jeanne. Your hubby and daughter should go away more often! ;)

  4. This is too funny. My daughter (42years old) recently asked me to write out the words of a song I used to sing to them when they were small.
    I thought we had made it up at school, with our music teacher, but maybe he taught us the verses and we had to make up the chorus. Anyway, we used to sing for the chorus...
    Chicka Racka Roo Chy Chang Chicka Lorum
    Pongey lorum, polly wolly whack.
    Okey pokey atchey kie tar tar
    Atchey kie atchey kie okey poke.
    I was googling to see if there was any one else who could remember a third verse, when I came across your post. Too funny. Thanks for the memory.

  5. I too, learnt this from my 43 year old daughter. It goes like this:

    Once upon a time in the land of Chang
    There lived a funny little funny little man.
    His nose was long and his ears were short
    and the poor little fellow couldn't walk or talk.
    Ching chang alaura
    Punchi laura, Polly wolly wacka
    O-ki Po-ki, Itchi-ki O-ki
    Itchi-ki Itchi-ki O-ki

  6. Here is another song that I learnt at primary school (approx. 1959).

    As I walked through London city, after 12 o'clock at night,
    There I spied a Spanish lady, washing and ironing by candlelight.
    Farl-the-rarl, the riddle o-the-day O
    Farl-the-rarl, the riddle o-the-day
    Farl-the-rarl, the riddle o-the-day O
    Farl-the-rarl, the riddle o-the day.
    20, 18, 16, 14,......12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, none
    19, 17, 15, 13.......11, 9, 7, 5, 3 and one.

    My grandchildren are amazed that I can count backward from 20 by 2 in evens and odds!

  7. My kids learn a new song each week, (mostly) from one of four categories - hymns, folk songs, Dutch children's song and silly songs :D. I'm not convinced they are twaddle, necessarily, or else mother goose would be. ..

  8. My grandmother & great grand mother used to rhyme to me all the time! Usually I wouldn't talk about Chinese people like this, but I mean... it was the mid 1900's

    Once in China, there lived a great man
    His name was “Chicka Rocka Chu Chi Chan”
    His legs were long, his feet were short
    This Chinese man couldn’t walk or talk
    Chicka Rocka Chu Chi Chan Chak Alorum
    One day orim, Eddy Be Nye
    Cat go – Do Go – Eddy Buddy Biddy Bye
    Eddy Buddy Biddy Bye, Chinese Man


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