ONE of the great joys of having granddaughters is being able to share with them the schoolyard songs, superstitions and games of my own childhood from 60 years and more ago.

My own sons were too much into football, rugby and any other sporting endeavours to be much interested in their father’s fascination with the language and lore of schoolchildren but their daughters are far more in tune with the games we used to play before 24-hour television and universal mobile phone ownership.

So I take every opportunity to recite the rhymes and rituals of my own youth to them, and they tend to fall on receptive ears.

The current favourite with seven-year-old Elise is the one which had scores of 1950s children tying themselves into knots on the way to school by trying to avoid standing on the cracks between flagstones.

I don’t know if was part of the vernacular in Northumberland, but in Macclesfield, the much repeated belief was: “Tread on a nick and you’ll marry a stick and a beetle will come to your wedding.”

Elise thinks that one’s a hoot and she was soon coming up with variations of her own, including: “Tread on a slug and you’ll marry a bug and a wombat will come to your wedding” along with the more surreal: “Tread on some toast and you’ll marry a ghost and six monsters will come to your wedding!”

I have to dredge the memory banks to come up with new ditties for her delectation, and I only have to recite a poem once for it to be committed to her memory banks.

She was only tiny when she learned the Lancashire classic: “Ee bah gum, I sat on a horse’s bum, the horse let off and I fell off, ee bah gum” as well as the one about the Ju-jah tree, which last July, grew so high that it poked a hole in the bright blue sky.

She has a considerable repertoire of other 1950s rhymes, some of which may not be entirely politically correct – but she misses out any risque bits even when repeating them to me!

It’s good to know that these little ditties are not being lost forever, for they have been handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, and have hardly ever been written down to the best of my knowledge.

There were all sorts of superstitions in the playgrounds of Macclesfield, one of the most enduring being that one should never in any circumstances play near a roadside drain. If one of your marbles dropped into the grid, it had to stay there, because going near a drain meant you were guaranteed to be struck down with scarlet fever.

I never knew or even heard of anyone contracting scarlet fever, with or without the aid of noxious vapours from below ground, but it was certainly a good way of keeping children off the roads.

Another childhood stricture involved that giant weed, the white flowered cow parsley. While my brother and I were avid gatherers of wild flowers to present to our blessed mother on her birthday and Mother’s Day, we would never touch the flamboyantly ostentatious cow parsley, because it was ingrained us that if we picked it, our dear mother would soon be singing with the Choir Invisible.

For its other name was mother die, and plucking but one stem would surely mean signing her death warrant.

My brother did nearly pick some once, having told me that one of the Big Lads at school had told him that the name had nothing to do with maternal mortality, but that the plant’s name was actually mother’s dye. “Yer Mum just boils it up, and it makes dye she can change the colour of her hair with, or change the colour of her washing.”

Yet when it came to the crunch, he still couldn’t pluck up the courage to pluck the plant. I think I was in my 50s when I learned that we were right all along, and that cow parsley was indeed held responsible for matricide.

The reasons are apparently twofold – cow parsley looks very similar to hemlock, which as Socrates would testify if he were able, is indeed highly poisonous, so children were deliberately frightened into not gathering it for their mothers’ sake.

A more prosaic reason is that once picked, the flower jettisons its small white petals with gay abandon, and houseproud mothers didn’t want their pristine carpets sullied!