Thursday, March 26, 2009


A Young Elizabeth Taylor

When I was at primary school we used to sing a song called "Minka". It was a song from the Department of Education 'Broadcasts To Schools' singing books. It is a good traditional Russian folk song. It has a pleasant melody, great rhythm, a driving beat which gets faster and faster throughout the whole song and has the singers finishing with a resounding Hey! at the end.

I have always envisioned Minka as a sort of Russian counterpoint to Lara in the 1965 film Dr Zhivago. Lara is the beautiful blond romantic lead in the film. Minka seems to me to be a dark sultry gypsy minx of a character. You would meet Lara for dinner at the Ritz. You would meet Minka in a hayloft.

Given those sentiments one would wonder why this song would be taught at our school - well the song has as I have already outlined good musical attributes and despite my middle aged musings regarding the nature of Minka it seems that small children have very different ideas about Minka as you shall see. The words to the song go like this.

From the Volga was he riding
On his horse so quickly striding
When he saw in ambush hiding
Pretty little Minka
Minka Minka go not from me
Do not in the forest hide thee
Come and tell me that you love me
Pretty little Minka
Shy thou art and very bashful
Yet to thee I'd be more grateful
If your heart was ever faithful
Pretty little Minka
Last week, there I was with my guitar teaching the junior children this new school assembly song. Teaching children new songs is a bit like getting one of those very big snowballs rolling as pictured in film cartoons. The snowball starts off very small and over time as it slowly rolls down the hill it gains size and momentum. By the time this particular snowball hit the long plain at the bottom of the hill the song had been well learnt, it weighed two tons and was travelling at 200 kph. This was good because this was exactly the sort of momentum this particular song needed and the huge Hey! at the end needed to be shouted very loudly - like the sound of a two ton snowball exploding on a large pine tree.
After we had mastered the song and sung it a few times I put down my guitar and asked the children some questions about the song. I said, "What do you think Minka looks like?"
One child said that, "Minka is a pretty little pony".
Another said, "Minka hides in the forest, she is a fast horse that runs out at you when you go past"
The third child said, "Minka looks like one of the Oompa Loompas from (the film) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

For some reason (probably the amusing juxtaposition of my personal image of Minka with an Oompa Loompa) I found this statement extremely funny and I laughed out loud. It was one of those head back belly laughs, it was a teacher putting aside the teacher persona laugh. For a few moments I cast aside the semi formality of the context and laughed in the way I might at something really, really, really funny in a pub after a few drinks.

The children laughed at me laughing. They laughed with glee at my obvious utter delight at the Oompa Loompa comment - I looked at them as they laughed. Mixed with the glee in their eyes was a sort of anxiousness - 'My god! he's laughing like THAT! what might he do next!! ? Stand on his head? Do burnouts in the teachers car park in his clapped out Honda? YES!!! we want to see what he does next - it's scary but boy do we like it!!

I remember all the junior school teachers laughing like that last year at a similar assembly with the visiting Public Health Nurse who after giving her talk asked the children, "So who can tell me 3 types of fruit that would be good to have in your lunch boxes? - A five year child who had her hand up was chosen to give her answer and said, "My father has got lots of tattoos and he isn't even in prison" - that made all the teachers laugh out loud like a sudden volcanic eruption - I think the glow in the sky was seen as far away as Amsterdam and pumice fell all over the Pacific.

But - I don't think we are done with Minka yet. Perhaps when the children are singing it again at our next big school assembly, we could get all the teachers and parents up the front to show the children how to do one of those Cossack dances where you squat with your arms crossed over your chest while kicking your legs alternately out in front of yourself with great speed - now that would be very very funny indeed !


Janice said...

Alden, you DO make me laugh!!! That was a delightful post!

Alden said...

I am so pleased that you liked this 'Minka' post Janice. Laughing is good for you - adds many years to ones life - more time to drink Tequila :-)

Katherine said...

Great post dear Alden - I know exactly what you mean about that anxious delight littlies get, 'cos I give it to them once or twice a year to shake 'em up...
And the tattoo thing made me laugh out loud too!

And, guess what (what, Kate?) last night at our movie night a friend turned up who had had a most interesting experience - she'd been to a 'Laughter Yoga' session. Apparently it's marvelous, and very good for you...

Kathryn said...

Your stories are very funny, Pal. I would have loved to have been there to see the children's faces, laughing at you laughing! :-)

Alden said...

Katherine - I have seen programmes about yoga laughing on TV - there is no doubt that there are great benefits in participating -and there is also great benefit in watching the yoga group doing their laughing routine - it is absolutely hilarious!

Alden said...

Kathryn - I am now in my 35th year of teaching and there are two things I have learnt about working with children - the first is that there really is never a dull moment and second - there is a great deal of humour in teaching if you allow it to flourish.

The great thing about children is their honesty - and their honest comments on the life and the world are often very funny indeed.

Janice said...

35 years Alden - that's amazing. I probably wouldn't last 35 minutes in a classroom full of children, they'd see right through me and eat me for breakfast. My husband, who teaches music in the school system here, read your post and enjoyed it too. He says he has taught Minka to kids as well, and liked your picture of her.

When I was a young adult I went to a party where we played a game called belly laugh, wherein we all layed down on the floor, each with our head on someone else's stomach.
I think someone started laughing, and our heads bouncing on someone else's stomach soon had us all laughing hysterically. Great ice-breaker, and I've never forgotten it. There really is nothng like a good laugh, and the kind that makes you cry is the best! So you keep writing, funny man!

Alden said...

Janice, thankyou for your encouragement. The world is often so full of pain that I feel it is encumbent on us all to find the laughter and the love where we can.

I really love the Belly Laugh game. I think that would be an excellent ice breaker!

I am not surprised that your husband liked my picture of Minka - - The young Elizabeth Taylor was indeed a fine looking woman.