Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A quick plug: the best Christmas (or Hannukah, or birthday, or whatever) present I can think of.

Oxfam Unwrapped

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Fal lal de ral

Today I was listening to Kate Rusby's "Cowsong", about a boy with a cow who dallies with a girl he meets by the roadside and ends up losing both cow and trousers. I got to thinking: there's a lot of this scenario in English folksong. Boy meets girl, suggestive dialogue, they have sex in some bit of countryside. In the sad songs she winds up pregnant and deserted, in the happy ones they agree to meet and do it again. In the funny ones one of them is tricked - ha, he lost his trousers! Ha, he won't marry her because he already has a wife!

Was there this much casual pastoral sex in England of one and two centuries ago?

Pastoral, probably yes. Buildings were smaller and more crowded then, and there were no backseats of cars. I personally would not want to be always finding barns and bushes to hide in, but people must have managed. Some songs do attest to the difficulty of locating a convenient place:

"He looked east and he looked west,
He looked north so did he south,
But he could not find a privy place
For a lay in the devil's mouth."

Some of them make it sound quite nice, though:

Then lie thee down, my beam,
I'll not spoil thy gaudy shining gear:
I'll make a bed of fern,
And I'll gently press my Jenny there.
Let me lift thy petticoat,
And thy kercher too that hides thy bosom:
Show thy naked beauty's store—
Jenny alone's the lass that I adore!

But I'm pretty sure this wasn't happening as often as the songs suggest. Queer sex was too unspeakable to even appear in the songs. Before birth control, surely it took a great deal of stupidity for women to have random sex with men by the side of the road. There wasn't formalized education about it, but people living around livestock probably understood from an early age how mammals get pregnant.

Certainly people were having extramarital sex, but I doubt it was so often unpremeditated. Maybe it was more often carefully planned adultery, like in this tragic ballad:

"I have loved you, fair lady, full long and many's the day."
"And I have loved you, Little Musgrave, and never a word did say."
"I've a bower in Bucklesfordbury, it's my heart's delight.
I'll take you back there with me if you'll lie in me arms tonight."

But maybe people liked songs about casual sex because they weren't realistic. People make this stuff up because they'd like it to be real, not because they think it is. And throughout time, it's been very popular. Said the organizer of a Robert Burns festival, "What could be closer to the tradition of modern gangsta rap music? Yes, it's sexist; yes, it's offensive; and yes, it's gratuitous — it's identical in almost every respect." We'll end with some of that esteemed poet:

The night was dark, and thro the park
I cou'dna but convoy her;
Sweet Betsey fell, fal lal de ral!
I am a Fornicator.