A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

There Was a Little Man

The Diversification - so where was I?

Spring is rolling in here, longer days, brighter outlook, busy busy...

Big change for me this year, as I've mentioned recently, is the start of an involvement in English Civil War gaming (which is a new area), and my decision to put a final scoping in place for my Peninsular War - i.e. optimise the game, and keep involved with it, but stop the pointless, endless growth of the armies.

First development has been a pleasant surprise - starting to clean out the Napoleonic spares boxes via eBay has certainly not made me wealthy, but it has gone better than I expected - far better - and funds raised to date will more than pay for my first batch of ECW soldiers - I should get my hands on my first shipment of Les Higgins figures in a couple of weeks. I hasten to add that this eBay seam of pay-dirt will not cover getting the soldiers painted, or all the books I've suddenly become interested in, or the whole world of 15mm English Rural buildings and scenery which are now attracting my attention, but it is still an unexpected bonus.

I was intrigued to find how pleased I have been to have some unexpected cross-subsidy to offset the ECW expense. I mean the whole idea of a hobby is that it's a waste, right? It's something you don't need to do, and it absorbs funds and time that you could usefully use for something more productive. What would be the point otherwise?

And yet there is still a little inner angst. My dad's family came from what I suppose used to be called provincial working-class roots in the North of England, and there are traditions of hardship and real struggle in there, however outdated they may be now, which do not sit comfortably with anything as self-indulgent or unnecessary as a hobby. My father was always very keen on his gardens and allotments, and they were always immaculate and a source of great pleasure for him. Yet he would invariably point out the amount of hard work they represented, and justify his gardening pastime by telling you how much money he saved by growing his own potatoes - there had to be a little Calvinist balance-sheet in there to show that this was not really about having fun. You could challenge this argument if you had a mind to - for example, not everyone would choose to purchase a hundredweight of Purple Sprouting Broccoli all in one go from the greengrocer if they hadn't grown it themselves - especially in the days before freezers, so the economic case didn't always stand up. Similarly the annual production of barrow-loads of beetroot, and enough rhubarb to cure the constipation of a small town - I think he grew some of this stuff because he liked to grow it, don't you? And what about all those flowers - did we actually need them? I am not mocking - this is an entirely affectionate reminiscence, and that spirit is still alive in the relief I feel when the cost of my new ECW activities does not all have to come out of the same piggy-bank as the family holiday.

And finally...

There is a well-known nursery rhyme which appears at the top of this post. We had a discussion here recently about a slightly different, old children's rhyme which was, I think, a girl's skipping song when I was a kid in Liverpool. You might know it, or some regional variation on it - I offer advance apologies to anyone who is offended by it's forthright style, but this is street culture, and it's Trad, Dad.

There was a little man,
And he had a little gun,
And up yon hill he did so run.
With an oilskin hat
And a belly full of fat,
And a pancake tied to his bum.

Ho ho, how we laughed. Now, this might just be a child's rude parody of the duck-shooting rhyme, but I have come to understand that children's rhymes - and I mean real, folk-lore children's rhymes - usually have their origins in some political or historical theme, and often it is pretty strong stuff - e.g. nursery rhymes which are allegories for the Black Death, the burning of Catholics and other fun topics. I don't believe that the little man with his little gun is as sinister as that, but it has been suggested to me that the skipping song is a military satire based on the duck-hunter, and may come from the Boer War or some other British Colonial War. I have no idea, but since I know of no more erudite bunch than the readers of this blog, I'd be delighted if anyone can shed a little light. If it helps, the illustration at the top dates from 1912 or so, so the duck-hunter rhyme has been around for as long as you like. Who was the little man, and what was he doing?

I don't really wish to have details about the pancake, if there's a choice.


  1. Interesting post, I haven't heard this rhyme for years, and I've no idea of its origins.

  2. Well now - I learned the verse as "and up to the wheelhouse he did run". Does that make him a sailor? Did the British Empire send a gunboat to Isandlwana? Are you talking nonsense again? Shall we tune in nxt week? CHeers - Lou

    1. Oh rats - that's not the kind of light I was looking for. Thanks, but you obviously learned it wrong! Was this in Rhodesia (as was?)



    2. No, it was when I was little, which would either be Yorkshire (Leeds) or Paisley I guess. Didnt go to Rhodesia until I was 20-something by which time I wasn't doing nursery rhymes anymore. If I was honest I would admit that I have heard your version as well. My theory is that it is a silly kids song with no significance at all. Yes I know that's boring. Cheers - Lou

  3. I'll never get that 1/2 hour back will I? Who knew Mother Goose had been scanned in or that the rhyme had 4 verses or in 1 case an extended version of around 8 verses including a courtship?

    or cared?

    I found it interesting that old Peter Laing 15's and Mikes's Maodels got me more on ebay even though I was just trying to avoid throwing them out than various new painted figures.

    1. Thank you for your efforts - I am pleased to see that I am not the only person who gets sidetracked into these things. I believe that learning is never wasted - it brings its own reward. You are almost certainly one of the world's leading authorities on this rhyme now, and you will be able to fascinate your friends with it at parties. That's not a bad trade-off for a measly half hour, now, is it?

      eBay - I am mystified by the fact that the things which seem to generate the most watchers are items which you can order from Miniature Figurines current catalogue - the rarer stuff goes OK too, but there's only a few guys interested.