Today I’ve been counting sheep. Not because I need sleep, I mean I do need sleep, but because I needed something relatively easy to do today due to continuing headiness (Vertigo Watch: walking on a frosty pavement without a decent sole). So I thought I would learn to count sheep the traditional way. I mean, I can already count to twenty in several languages, how hard could it be?
According to Wikipedia, there are twenty four different UK dialects for sheep counting. I forgot, folklore is never that straightforward.
I’ve come across fleecy numbers before. In Neil Astley’s rather brilliantly folklore-infused book, The End Of My Tether, he uses Lincolnshire dialect. A knitting pattern for a sheepy cushion cover I started years ago (and threw out in the Great Moth Debacle) called itself Yan Tan Tether, the first three numbers of Swaledale, Wharfedale and Tong dialects. I vaguely remember a rhyme using Laura, Dora and Dik, 8, 9 and 10 in Wiltshire dialect. Plus my Uncle Peter was a sheep farmer, although, full disclosure, I’m not sure he ever yan tan tethered. I do remember he was a super cool sheepdog whistler, though.
By this time, my head was hurting.
So I watched a video instead of poet, Jake Thackray using Swaledale when singing a song about Molly Metcalfe, a shepherdess who lived ‘a grim, grinding swine of a life’.
Then I got slightly lost in a Yan Tan Tethera Scottish country dancing instruction video from the Dufftown Dance Club, 2017. Which made my head hurt even more:
Before looking back through all 24 dialects and choosing my favourite sounding one from the Lakes:
And learnt that. Feel free to test me. Or not. But if you’re asking, I’m dancing…
Header image: Derek Haynes, 1991, Carnforth Collection 2 – the dance moves to Yan, Tan, Tethera
Astley, N. (2002) The End Of My Tether, London, Scribner
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