White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits!
Apparently you have to say it three times before midday on the first day of a new month, and it means good luck! Either that or I was just really gullible as a child…
There was also the charming ‘A pinch and a punch for the first day of the month, no return’.
By saying ‘no return’ it meant (in playground code) that you couldn’t retaliate back... unless you replied ‘A punch and a kick for being so quick!’
The power of ‘no return’ was like the power of Grayskull… oops, slight digression into He-Man. Of course what I meant to say was like the power of Fainites.
Anyone remember calling out fainites to announce a truce, accompanied by crossing fingers? We pronounced it ‘fay-nights’, and it was usually shouted just before an exhausted small person was about to be tagged ‘it’. Shouting fainites meant an instant shut down of the game, and so It and Soon-to-be-It would stand eyeing each other, panting, until Soon-to-be-It declared they were fit to run again, in which case they were swiped by It before they managed three paces.
Fainites is a curious word to be handed down the years – according to the Collins English Dictionary it dates from around the 1870s or earlier, and is from the Old French ‘se feindre’, in the sense of meaning ‘to back out of battle’. Okay… but what was it doing in my 1980s school playground? I don’t remember anyone teaching us to shout fainites; it was just a word that was waiting for us on the shimmering tarmac.
Wouldn’t it be great if fainites worked beyond the playground? As well as for the really big things (wars, etc), it could be put to good use during meetings.
Work: Jayne, what do you think of Boring Involved Topic?
Me (holds hand in air, crosses fingers): Fainites!
Work (respectfully): Oh, of course. Next person?
Or with tidying up:
Significant Other: Jayne, is it your turn to clean the cat litter tray?
Me: Oh it is but fainites. (Displays crossed fingers)
S.O. (impressed by my knowledge of Old French): Ah. Righty ho then.
Sadly I don’t employ fainites quite as much as I should, but I do still salute solitary magpies, all thanks to the rhyme:
One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
And seven for a secret that has never been told
I actually use this rhyme in the novel-to-be, but the superstition goes if you see a solitary magpie you have to salute it to ward off sorrow, while saying the words ‘Hello Mister Magpie’. You can hold your salute (if you want to look like a nutter) and look around for a second magpie, as then you have turned ‘sorrow’ into ‘joy’ (or perhaps into ‘embarrassment’.) My salute these days may be more of an ashamed rub of my forehead, but I still do it!
Are there any childhood superstitions that you still follow? And I wish you the good luck of three white rabbits!
Image taken from the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland