SING A SONG OF SIXPENCE – WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
by Cynthia Smith
Sing a song of sixpence A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened, The birds began to sing.
Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before a king?
The King was in his counting house, Counting out his money,
The Queen was in the parlour, Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
Along came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
This well-known English nursery rhyme is thought to originate from the 18th century. Many different meanings have been attributed to its lyrics. An Italian cookbook from 1549 contains a recipe “to make pies so that birds may be alive in them and fly out when the pies are cut up”. Symbolically, the rhyme has been linked with folklore, the King representing the sun, the Queen the moon and the blackbirds the number of hours in a day. The birds were also thought to represent monks during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. The blackbird biting off the maid’s nose was seen by some as the Devil taking her soul.
However, I wondered what the maid could tell us…
“Lawks, I’m not ‘appy about this! I’m s’posed t’ be the maid, not the bloomin’ cook! But she got the sack after ‘er blackbird pie failed. Well, it’s not easy. ‘ave you ever tried t’ get twenty four live bloomin’ birds t’ stay in a pie dish long enough t’ slap the pastry over ’em? Thought not.
Well, Mrs B did ‘er best, but when the pie were cut open – in front of all Their Majesties’ importan’ guests – instead of the birds flyin’ out an’ singin’, they was all laid there, limp an’ dead. The King was furious an’ the Queen told Mrs B she had never bin so …what was it? Embarrassed. Mrs B said the pastry must’ve bin a bit too thin and she wouldn’t get it wrong again. No she wouldn’t, cos ‘er Maj gave ‘er ‘er marchin’ orders!
Seems the Queen went t’ see the King t’ tell ‘im she ‘ad sacked the cook, but ‘e was in ‘is countin’ ‘ouse, counting out ‘is money, and couldn’t be arsed what t’ do. This made the Queen very cross, so she went to the pantry fer ‘er fav’rit food, like she does when she’s upset I know cos when I went into the parlour to clean, ‘er Maj was tuckin’ in to a whole loaf of bread an’ a pot of ‘oney. But it didn’ improve ‘er mood. Soon as she saw me she said I was t’ be the new cook – with another penny a week t’ do the cleaning as well! She said I would just ‘ave t’ get up earlier. Earlier! Lawks! I’d soon be gettin’ up afore I went t’ bed.
Well, things went alright fer a while. I’m not a bad cook as I’d often ‘elped Mrs B a bit, specially when she was making eyes at the butcher when ‘e delivered. Hmm – I don’t think it was just three pound o’ steak an’ a fat ‘en ‘e wanted t’ give ‘er.
Then one day, what I was dreadin’, ‘appened. The Queen told me there was some lords an’ ladies comin’ t’ dinner next day an’ she wanted me t’ make a blackbird pie! I was quakin’ in me boots at the thought of it, an’ the stable boy wasn’t ‘appy at bein’ asked t’ catch two dozen blackbirds again. ‘e tried t’ slip in a thrush an’ a couple of sparrers, but I wasn’t ‘avin’ it. This pie was goin’ t’ be the best the King an’ Queen ‘ad ever seen an’ their noble guests would be amazed!
When the footman took the pie into the dinin’ ‘all, I waited out’ve sight to’ear what ‘appened. Well, I never ‘eard such a beautiful sound as all them birds singin’ as they escaped from the dish an’ flew roun’ the room! I rushed back to the kitchen and when the footman returned I felt right pleased wi’ meself when ‘e told me ‘ow delighted Their Majesties were at their guests’ amusement. I were minded to ‘ave a little nip o’ cookin’ brandy and do a jig roun’ the kitchen, but there was no time fer that. I ‘ad to ‘ang out the washin’, so as to get it dry enough to iron afore I went t’ bed.
So there I was, peggin’ out the sheets on the line, when the scariest thing ‘appened! Somethin’ was rushin’ t’wards me an’ then there was a sharp pain in me nose. I felt blood pourin’ down me face!
I screamed an’ ran back to the kitchen. The under maid were there an’ ‘anded me a cloth fer the blood. She was white as me clean sheets an’ said me nose were ‘anging off! She’d seen it all when she was shakin’ out the dusters an’ said me attacker were …….. .a blackbird!