Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Patches, Parrots and 'Arrrs'

On Sunday, as I was drawing with my three-year-old nephew, he asked if I could draw him a boat. As I was colouring in the hull, he instructed that I needed to add a sail and a scary flag.
He then put my drawing skills to the test by asking for the inclusion of a pirate, which according to Joshy had to have a hat, a patch and a parrot. As I attempted to draw out his requests in thick Crayola felt tip pens, I asked if he could make up a story about pirates (sneakily thinking I could get Josh to unwittingly write this blog post). I started him off with the classic and culturally ingrained ‘Once upon a time...’

Once upon a time, there were dinosaurs that roared loudly. Scary, roaring dinosaurs. They chased the pirates away. The pirates ran back to their boat and sailed away from the dinosaurs. They went to an island to find treasure, gold treasure. They had a key. When they used the key – ‘POP!’ – because there was a Jack-in-the-box hidden inside. Then the cavemen came and took the pirates underpants and then took them to the dinosaurs. And the dinosaurs wore them and roared because they were happy. The end.

Anyone who regularly reads books to children will be able to see that Josh’s story has been greatly influenced by a specific children’s book, Dinosaurs Love Underpants. This book, along with others, have formed part of Josh’s current knowledge of a world he’s still learning and trying to understand. At the minute, for him, his favourite books (full of imagination) are just as real and valid as concrete objects or authenticated facts.

From both what Josh asked me to draw and from the story he told, it is clear that Josh has managed to acquire the same stereotypical depiction of a pirate as would be held by most adults. However, where we perhaps just accept this stereotyped view of a pirate, Josh is presently in a ‘why?’ phase – questioning everything and looking for answers. And it got me thinking: is this view of pirates derived from reality or has it been constructed overtime by fictional works (such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan) and subsequently reinforced via the medium of film?

So what was based on reality and what has been made up?

Did pirates really have pet parrots?
Exotic pets were certainly popular amongst sailors, if for no other reason than the high price they could command in the European markets, and parrots were especially popular, perhaps because they could be taught to talk. Several probate inventories of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries list parrots or parrot cages amongst the possessions of seamen, but most importantly perhaps is the description of parrots to be found in William Dampier's journal of his circumnavigation in which he describes the parrots of Campeachy Bay as "yellow and red, very coarsely mixed; and they would prate [talk] very prettily…"

Did pirates really wear eye patches ?
There is one theory that the eye patch was worn over one eye so the pirate could move between the darkness of below-deck to the brightness of topside without waiting for the eyes to adjust.
Another theory: the eye patch stereotype predates the "Golden Age of Piracy" by some 200 years. Up until the 1500s one of the key tools of maritime navigation was the cross staff, which required the navigator to look directly into the sun at high noon. This led to a lot of sailor/navigators who were partially blind in one eye. After significant sight loss, many would likely have taken to wearing an eyepatch over the afflicted eye. By the 1500s other tools like the back staff had been invented which eliminated the need to look directly into the sun, but by then the sailor/eyepatch image had made its way into public consciousness.

Did pirates really say ‘Arrr’?
Most scholars think English-speaking Golden Age pirates spoke exactly the same as English-speaking merchant sailors of the time, since large numbers in both groups tended to be from riverfront neighborhoods around London, he said.
Many of the phrases that most people think of as pirate speech today can actually be traced back to the 1950s Disney movie Treasure Island, starring Robert Newton as fictional pirate Long John Silver (hear Newton as Silver).

Thank you for reading,


Ashley R Lister said...

I notice we got Josh's story - but we didn't get your picture of the boat...

Fascinating post.


Lindsay said...

Aside from the cultural influences, Joshy has a great twist in his tale there, a jack in the box in the treasure chest is just brilliant, so imaginative.

Interesting stuff about the pirates, great post mehearty, aarrrr.

Lara Clayton said...

Josh's story was much better than my badly drawn pirate ship :)

vicky ellis said...

I always thought 'Arrgh Jim Lad' sounded like a West Country accent. If the Bristol channel were a popular destination for pirates, it could have originated there.

I love the image of a jack-in-a-box in the treasure chest :) I wonder where he gets his fab imagination from...

Great post Lara.