I’m doing the A to Z Challenge in April, using the theme of the UK & Ireland. For the letter O, I remember the childhood rhyme, “Oranges and Lemons.”
For those of you who didn’t grow up with the It’s a Small World album, it consisted of 18 songs, each representing a different country. England, for me, has been represented by “Oranges and Lemons” for almost as long as I can remember. The bells of the churches of London ring out rhymes and tell a bit of a story about paying back your debts. I think I ignored the brutal ending to the song since it’s sung so prettily.
For more scholarly folks, here’s the oldest known version of the rhyme sung at Gresham College, which is completely missing the “cut off your head” part.
You may recognize the rhyme and the church, St. Clement Danes, from 1984 by George Orwell — a thread of memory that connected Winston to a time before the Party controlled everything.
One of my highest achievements in travel-planning was to “accidentally” walk along the Strand at the moment when St. Clement Danes church played “Oranges and Lemons” on its carillon. If you’re in London and want to repeat this feat, be near the church at 9am, noon, 3pm or 6pm. We caught the noon ringing, which was a very busy time and we had to duck into a convenient doorway to stay out of the way of fast-moving pedestrians.
Did you grow up singing about oranges and lemons?