Family, Funny Links, Love, Uncategorized

Champis, The Sheep Herding Rabbit, And Maudie Nicholls

The best part of this little video may be the utterly useless Border Collie, who I think might be stuffed.

I first “met” Champis the Sheepherding Rabbit over a decade ago, online.  What can I say?  People send me these sorts of things all the time.  I pass them on whenever I can.

The audio track is of Flanagan and Allen singing a jolly song from my childhood. I’m sure it would never make it into the nursery today. Far too many carnivorous references and much too much violent imagery. But non-reformed modern kids still seem to love it, and chortle with glee when they sing it.

I first learned “Run Rabbit, Run” at Maudie Nicholls’ knee.  She was my great grandmother’s maid of all trades, and she showed me how to knit, and how to sew, and that it was possible to love children and exercise a lifetime of beneficent influence over them, without ever actually having had any yourself. (Sister Mary Janet Ryan, call your office. Likewise, Auntie Pat.)

Maudie was a tiny person, less than five feet tall, who functioned as kitchen maid, lady’s maid, house maid, and gardener to my great grandmother’s family on my mother’s side. She was an ageless, agile, bundle of energy who never complained at what must have been a dull and hard life, and for me, she was the bright spot on the obligatory visits to my Dickensian Great Granny, who could have given both Miss Havisham and Mme DeFarge a run for their money any day of the week.

But Maudie was different. Magic, even.  She loved children, and she lavished attention (and sometimes chocolate) on generations of us. Small, strong hands, skin like sandpaper, rubbed Vicks on our chests when we were ailing. Tidy, quick little feet walked us to Victoria Park to feed the swans. And one day, with infinite patience, and in spite of the repeated mistakes made by my fumbling five-year old fingers, Maudie taught me to knit.

Maudie spent a lifetime “in service,” (think, in a smaller way, Anna from “Downton Abbey,” or Rose from “Upstairs Downstairs”). My great grandmother was a hard taskmaster, and Maudie wasn’t allowed a “young man,” even in her youth. Her half-days off were spent in church. She wasn’t supposed to read the lurid tabloid newspapers that she loved, or to play the weekly game of “spot the ball” she always hoped she’d win a fortune on. When she went grocery shopping, she’d hide the newspaper under her coat when she returned home, so that Great Granny wouldn’t see as Maudie took it up to her room.

My grandparents on my father’s side also had a succession of maids.  (It wasn’t a stretch, in those days, for those in the middle class.  Neither of my ancestral families was particularly wealthy, but they were comfortably off and the men worked hard to maintain their family lifestyle.)  But Dad’s family treated its house servants differently.  The nanny and the maid had regular time to themselves, and were encouraged to “walk out” with a young man who’d taken their fancy.  And–should they get married, they were sent off with a present and good wishes, and remained lifelong family friends. Quite often, Dad and one or another of his siblings would be sent off in the summer to spend a week or so with a former servant and his or her family, and some of those episodes formed Dad’s fondest memories of the childhood memories he passed on to his children.

While I met a few of Dad’s old family retainers very late in their lives and long after they’d retired, I remember Maudie, her life in service, and the fact that she was never out of her maid’s uniform, very clearly.  I hope only that somewhere, somehow, she’s in a heaven full of children, leading them all in raucous and politically incorrect song and rhyme.  And that she’s finally won the football pools!


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