Tag Archives: bedtime stories

The First Time Ever ….. or a folkloric tale with a fantasy leitmotif

I know! I know! I told you last month that I was one step closer to  a special occasion involving  a little someone and her new friend. But here I am in September, still not ready, and still not properly dressed in purple, for our get together.  My friends and family will tell you that’s typical of me. These days I take forever to get ready for anything,  because I am easily distracted, as per my previous post where Mrs Cockalarum suddenly waylaid my attention.

And, now, thanks to a couple of queries from my lovely commenters, concerning the whereabouts of Mrs Cockalarum’s other half,  I am skipping jauntily down memory lane in search of Mr Cockalarum, almost entirely forgetful of present and future social engagements.

I can’t be sure where Mr Cockalarum is today, but I have encountered him ( or possibly his relatives) in numerous locations.  But  the first time ever I   heard him I would have been about this size i.e. pint-sized.

Mother and Child, Lautoka 1956. Churchill Park in the background.

The first time ever I remember hearing Mr Cockalarum I would have been about this size and revelling in a fantasy world  (what’s new!); that of Toad of Toad Hall.

Badger

And the first time ever I tried to record those remembrances I was in my late thirties, and living in Cairo. I typed them into our smart, new computer, and later read them as a bedtime story for my two children.

“In the half-dark of early morning I heard a rooster crow.  Dear Daughter, you said you heard a rooster crow in the summer, but I don’t remember hearing him. A rooster crow is not a normal sound for our part of Maadi. It made me wonder if one of our neighbours were fattening poultry for a special dinner.

When I was little I often heard a rooster crow in the early morning. It was a sound which belonged to my waking. In the summer, or the rainy season, a rooster would crow about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. I remember that time as the half-light of early morning. In the colder season, or the dry season, the crowing started at about 6 o’clock, just before the sun rose. That time always comes to my mind as the half-dark of early morning.

The other sounds, which were in my waking, for a few months of the year during the cane crushing  season, were those of the sugar cane trains.  The sugar cane trains clanged and made a ch-ch-ch chuddering sound as they prepared for work each morning. Photo by C R Auckland, August 2008 Loco no 11 entering Lautoka with a long train of approximately 45 loaded wagons.  

I hear the sound of the trains here in Maadi, too, but it is not the gentle, warming-up sound of slow, old trains which I knew as a child. Rather, it is the high speed whistle and whine of a fast, modern train. ( In fact, they are so fast we haven’t seen them, have we? Perhaps the sound we hear floats all the way from the Metro Line next to Road 9, and not from the tracks next to Kimo Market.)

Another sound of my morning, more regular than the trains or the rooster, was the call to prayer from the mosque.

Although we seem to be surrounded by mosques in Maadi, I have yet to hear an early morning call to prayer. I hear all the other calls, but not the first one. In Lautoka, I often heard the first call, and, sometimes, the evening call, but I don’t remember any of the others. Perhaps I was busy at school or swimming at the club, or playing with friends during the day. I liked the first call of the day. The mosque was on the other side of Churchill Park, catty- corner to  our house.

Home, Verona Street, Lautoka

The call floated clearly over our neighborhood. I didn’t know what was being said, but I liked the song of it; the way it wove through and over the early morning air and out to an endless beyond. Later, when I was slightly older, the call changed in tone because it was delivered through loud speakers. The sublime purity of the call was masked as it struggled with the crackles and harshness of the new technology of speakers. The change made me sad for a while.

In Maadi, the mosques have loud speakers, too. Sometimes, I wish I could hear the solitary, unaided call of the muezzin again. I miss its beauty; its resonance.
What do you hear as you wake in the morning? ” Maadi, Cairo, November, 1994.

There was no YouTube in 1994  to give my children an opportunity to hear a call to prayer similar to  the one I knew as a child. Today I found this clip.

This  took me home again to a time of great happiness and love; a time when, by and large, my small world was a friendly, welcoming place, rich in experience, and a delight to play in.

As for the elusive Mr Cockalarum; perhaps you hear him, or have heard him, in your neighborhood.

 

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The real world of the bedtime story

When I see our little cat cuddled up and snuggled up in her warm place like this,Snuggled

I always think “Snugglepot “or “Cuddlepie”.  Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are the main characters in a classic book from my childhood. They are not cats but fictitious Gumnut  babies. The book is The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, written and illustrated by May Gibbs. A Classic

So, why does a sleeping cat make me think of  Gumnuts?  I am not entirely sure. My mind works in strange ways, but there are three possibilities.  The first is the cuteness factor. Here are Snugglepot and Cuddlepie sleeping in their” second-hand houses”.Snuggled and Cuddled

And, here, they are overlooking a busy highroad. Snugglepot is helping himself to a grassroot bun. Secure

How cute are those illustrations!

The second possibility is to do with comfort, or a type of security blanket factor.

My siblings and I were lucky to grow up with  the comfort and security of bedtime stories. I don’t remember Snugglepot and Cuddlepie  being read to me but I do remember being cuddled up next to my sister, at bedtime, and reading it to her.   I associate Snugglepot and Cuddlepie with sweet and gentle times and the notion “That all will be well”.  Just as the sight of a peacefully resting cat reassures me that there must be a rightfulness to life, even if I can’t always see it.

The third possibility is the joy factor.  Both cat and book make me smile for the sheer joy of their existence. How can one frown at the sight of a sleeping cat? How can one not be amused and entertained by the humour and sensibility  in May Gibbs’ text. Here is an example of her writing; ” Gumnut Editors generally write backwards, because they say it takes longer to read that way, and the people think they are getting more news.” (Even back then the Press was trying to pull the wool over our eyes!)

And here is a piece from Snugglepot’s story. “Down, down, down he tumbled, right through the window into an Ant’s house. A tired night-nurse saw him coming, but before she could do anything he had crashed in and killed several babies. This was a blessing for Snugglepot, but it was sadly hard on the baby ants. “I’m so sorry,” said Snugglepot. “It can’t be helped,” said the Nurse. “What will their mother say?”, asked Snugglepot, brushing tears from his eyes. ” She won’t know,” said the Nurse, ‘ we have three hundred babies in the house.”

And I love the request from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie at the beginning of the book which reads ” Humans, Please be kind to all Bush Creatures and don’t pull flowers up by the roots.”

May Gibbs( 1877-1969)( http://www.nutcote.org/) was Australia’s first full-time, professionally trained children’s book illustrator. She developed a uniquely Australian fantasy world . The first book about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie was published in 1918. May Gibbs not only brought great stories to children but, in her will, she remembered them by bequeathing the copyright from the designs of her bush characters and her stories to Northcott Disability Services and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance of New South Wales, Australia. The rest of her estate was left to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.