(Ref. a site I like which deals specifically with lyric interpretation, Songmeanings.com)
(UPDATE 25/04/16 - I find that only a month later in August 2015, Chrissie Hynde released a biography in which she revealed that at the age of 21 she had a forced sexual encounter with a motorcycle gang. It would seem reasonable to assume this event influenced the writing of the song.)
There are a few lines which brought back memories of my adolescence: -
"......target practice in the hall
While waiting for their number to get called
I, I, I, I found out what the wait was about"
I recalled a house on the edge of my local suburb, in a secluded position amongst trees and set well back from any street. The property was used as a shortcut and was overgrown as well. As far as I knew it was unoccupied, but was used by local young people as a hangout. I recall a situation similar to the above; some older boys were in one of the rooms, I was in the hall where knife-throwing practice was one of the pastimes, with a few other kids, and girls were sequentially called into the bedroom for unknown but presumably/possibly/probably sexual reasons. I was too young to even know exactly what might be going on. I knew I was too young, and that I was not included or even considered. It was all very tantalisingly mysterious and attractive as well, especially the knife-throwing!
I recalled that amongst my peer group, a girl who participated in such activities would be labelled a "mole", or that is how it was pronounced and the spelling understood by me at least.
It suddenly occurred to me with my adult knowledge, that maybe this word might be related to an old English slang word "moll", which I would pronounce differently, but which has similar connotations.
Sure enough, the first page I land on in my search is the Wikipedia entry for "Moll (slang)" which specifically deals with a usage particular to Australia and New Zealand (my country).
I was pleased to find the statement "The existence of the popular derivative spelling, mole, likely reflects the word's history as a spoken, rather than written, insult." This backs up both my conjectures as to the meaning link and the spelling variation.
I also recall that the noun "mole" is often paired with the adjective "huckery".
See the NZ Herald 5th May, 2005, listen also to Max Cryer on Radio Live 21st July 2012 at 04:35, as he elucidates the origin of "huckery" as also NZ, specifically from the Maori "hakurawa": - useless, slovenly or past its use-by date.
Children's oral culture
I am not talking about "nursery rhymes", which are recorded in books and passed from parent to child, but rather those things which are learned from other children.
These can be words, phrases, expressions, rhymes, stories or games, but their essential characteristic is that they are not formally taught, they are absorbed by experiencing and imitating them.
Who has to teach a child "Eeeny meeny miny moe", for instance?
I wanted to do some background research before writing this post, but I found there is little not buried in academic papers at sites requiring academic organisational credentials to access.
There are some tantalising glimpses, such as at this page describing a repository of the papers of researchers Iona and Peter Opie. I was particularly struck by this statement from the description of the contents' creation:
"Their interest in folklore was piqued around 1944 when they were expecting their first child, James. Encountering a ladybird during a country walk and recalling the “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home” rhyme, they were “left wondering about this rhyme we had known from childhood and had never questioned until now. What did it mean? Where did it come from? Who wrote it?” (Opie 1988:208). Their search for answers introduced them to earlier sources of folklore and dialect, and began what Iona..."
This describes an event that I empathised with as it is so similar to the way many of my own thought processes lead to posts such as this.
After writing the above post, I did some more searching and found the Beyond Text website , which has a project called "Children's Playground Games and Songs in the New Media Age", updating, analysing and re-presenting the Opie Collection of Children's Games and Songs at the British Library.
Lo, and behold, the Opies again!
There is a link to the British Library site, where there is a fantastic set of recordings available, made by Iona Opie between 1969 and 1983.
I will link to one example, but this is obviously a marvellous body of research work.
(She asks where they learned a rhyme and gets the reply "It just goes round the school".)
Part 1 of 3. [00:00:00 - 00:16:16]. This recording, from St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Primary School, Huddersfield, 1978, contains discussions with a small group of schoolgirls who perform singing and skipping games for Iona Opie. The girls begin by playing the singing game 'Oranges and Lemons'
I was struck by the sheer quantity of knowledge and elaborate rules known by these very young children.
I have just recalled that when I was at Primary School in the late Fifties, in the playground a fat child could be called a "Fatty Arbuckle". We had no idea that we were referring to a Hollywood actor whose career ended in scandal in 1922, and who died in 1933, thirty five and twenty four years earlier.
It appears the poor man's name had survived him in the playground purely by word of mouth, because his films were mostly banned at the time of the scandal.
While fact-checking for a piece on gender differences, I stumbled upon a reference to this cultural phenomenon of intra-juvenile culture in other primates. In a paper on chimpanzees, a study of stick play found it was mostly done by pre-motherhood juveniles: -
"By contrast, sex differences in juvenile stick-carrying did not result from females observing their mothers carrying sticks, since mothers never carried sticks. Instead, youngsters apparently learned socially from each other. Such juvenile traditions have previously been described only in humans."
See: Sex differences in chimpanzees' use of sticks as play objects resemble those of children