Mary had a tiny sheep

Tuesday 26th June 2012

MARY had a tiny sheep has to be one of my favourite writing exercises. Those youngsters quick to grasp the idea can run anywhere with it, much as they do with sand, snow or sweet shops.

The format is straightforward enough: take a nursery rhyme, pick a consonant (or one of that other group of five) that appears a number of times, take out any words containing that consonant, and re-write the piece substituting synonymous words or phrases for those you’ve removed, without changing the verse’s meaning.

Thus we might find Jack being accompanied by, say, his sister, on the ascent of ground tapering to a summit when needing to fetch that bucket… or a certain Ms Parrot being urged to put on a water-containing, spouted pot, in order for each and everyone of us to have a cup of tea.

Here are a few starters:

Wee Bo-Peep has been defeated with regard to her sheep

Not big boy down at heart, come detonate your horn

Madam Bird, Woman Bird,
move through the air on your wings away home

You don’t have to choose the same keyboard character every time, which is what I’ve done above. The best thing to do is opt for the character that occurs most often.

With Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man, therefore, it has to be the ‘a’. And there’d be no point (or fun) in revising the first verse of Sing a song of sixpence by substituting the one word containing an ‘x’, when there are ten which have an ‘s’.

Here’s a finished revised version:

Mary had a tiny sheep
Its coat was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went
The infant ram or ewe was sure to go

It shadowed her to an institution where education is on offer
to those who attend… one day
Which was against the customary code of behaviour
It made the boys and those of the same age
of the opposite sex guffaw and cavort
To see a young sheep sitting at a desk

You can then try writing, say, a piece of prose without a chosen consonant or one of those five characters representing sound produced by vibration in the voice.

As happens in this diary entry.

 

 

 

 

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