Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/2/19
Primary Language: English
It took some effort to get my informant, who immigrated from England at 13, to remember some examples of English folklore. I prompted him by asking for bedtime stories or lullabies from his childhood.
So, when I was little, my English grandmother would sing me and my brother Tate this song before bedtime, or whenever we pestered her to do it. Um… I don’t know where she learned it. Basically you, you say the names of various… culinary treats, and you gradually speed up in a rhythmic way as you say each item, um, like a locomotive carrying on — gathering steam.
Cheese and biscuits, cheese and biscuits
Fruit and custard, fruit and custard
Fish ‘n’ chips, fish ‘n’ chips
(And then, imitating steam whistle, going up in pitch)
With some digging, I was able to find an account of this song on a British teaching website, and some performances on YouTube. My informant did not know where or when his grandmother had learned the song, but commenters on the above website remembered singing it at Bible camp in the 1960s and hearing it on a 78 rpm record in the 1940s. I also found a slightly different version of this chant on a website for the Australian Joey Scouts group. It is difficult to determine the precise origin of this piece, but it is clear that although I had never encountered it, it has been around since the early 20th century and has made its way around the world.