What was the alley, alley O?

It was a game played in the front playground at High Ham Primary School. Two children stood facing each other, their arms raised and outstretched and their hands clasped together to form an arch through which the rest of us passed.

It must have been before Easter of 1069, for once I was in the junior class, playtimes were spent in the back playground. Children being particular about the exact timing of activities, it was probably September-time, so it would have been the autumn of 1968, or even 1967.

Where the words came from, and what they meant, would have been questions that did not occur to the class of twenty or so children. The object of the song seemed to be that the children forming the arch would bring their arms down on the person passing through on the last day of September, whereupon the person trapped would become a member of the arch.

The big ship sails through the Alley Alley O,
Alley Alley O, Alley Alley O,
The big ship sails through the Alley Alley O,
On the last day of September.

The Captain said, ‘It will never, never do,
It will never, never do,
It will never, never do’,
The Captain said, ‘It will never, never do,
On the last day of September.

The big ship sank to the bottom of the sea,
The bottom of the sea, the bottom of the sea,
The big ship sank to the bottom of the sea,
On the last day of September.

We all dip our heads in the deep blue sea,
The deep blue sea, the deep blue sea,
We all dip our heads in the deep blue sea,
On the last day of September.

Looking back more than half a century later, the question that occurs is why the Alley-O was a source of fascination for small children in a tiny country school.

Did we become engaged simply to be engaged? Was the concern with taking part in an activity which involves everyone else? Whether it was the Alley-O, or some other concept that equally lacked any meaning for us, was there a desire to join together in the singing and the activity?

Perhaps the greater knowledge of the world and much greater cultural sophistication of younger children now have brought with them the loss of something simpler and unsophisticated. It is a long time since I saw the Alley-O being played, what now takes place to create participation and community?

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