By Alex Johnson.
Recently whilst walking through my old village I noticed with great sadness, that not a child could be seen. I thought what a shame it is that no longer do children want to play outside. No longer does the village echo to the sound of children's laughter and excitement or to the happy voices of children singing. Once upon a time, before the advent of TV and computers and when the wireless (radio) was in it's infancy, children amused themselves by playing games. Small children played in the back streets, older children played there too but played also in the open spaces, fields and woods. They learnt to lose and to win and learnt to help the young and the disabled. It was all character building.
FOOTBALL was the most popular game for boys and indeed many went on to play for the league clubs. In my early days I remember the boys playing with 'clooty baals' - balls made up of rags rolled up and tied with string. Small rubber balls were very popular and every boy had one to practice his dribbling while running an errand. Games were played without a referee. Such was the standard of fair play that when a foul was committed a free kick was automatically taken - no one objected. The game finished only by mutual consent.
CRICKET had only a short season. Very few children had bats - they were too expensive, so fathers made them at home. A boy would bring home a suitable piece of timber (from a farmers fence) and the father or big brother would shape the handle. Wickets varied - sometimes dustbin lids or a large cracket or perhaps some broken broom handles sharpened to stick into the ground. Most games were played in the street or on the road so if a ball was knocked over the hedge into a garden the batsman was out, but scored a six. Children would leave school, saunter home, where Mother was waiting, have their tea and would dash outside to join their friends in playing games.
The younger girls played 'HOUSES'. They collected bricks, stones, bits of wood etc, to make the perimeter of the house, leaving spaces for windows and doors. They borrowed bits of matting and stools and they became housewives. Tin lids were pans and mud the dough. Much time was spent preparing the meal for the husband and putting the bairns (dolls) to bed. Small boys were sent to 'the shop' - boody (broken coloured china) was used for money.
Every boy in the village (and one or two girls) had 'GORDS'. These were were hoops made of ¼" round steel and they were made at the blacksmiths usually the colliery blacksmith if your father was a miner. The gord unlike the townies hoop, which was propelled by a stick, was propelled by an iron hook, which meant the owner could control it. We became very skilled handling these steel hoops and spent hours racing around obstacles and even had our own racetrack on the neglected gardens of Gardiner's Buildings. Shopping in the next village was done much more quickly in the summer for we always ran with our gords. If the gord broke it meant a visit to the village blacksmith where the boys would stand and watch with big eyes the forge - roaring and showering sparks all around. To be asked to blow the bellows was an added treat. The cost of the repair was one penny.
When sufficient boys had gathered - eight to twelve - they would play MOUNT KITTY. A derivation from "mount the cuddy" which really meant, "mount the horse", for a cuddy was a small horse. It derived from St Cuthbert who always rode a small horse. All Cuthbert's were nicknamed Cuddy. Two teams would be chosen. One team would bend forward as for leapfrog, hands outstretched to the boy in front, holding on to him. A boy would stand in front of the team so that they looked like this l¬¬¬¬ The other team in turn would jump as far as possible on to the 'cuddy'. When all were all desperately hanging on they would as a team chant "Mount Kitty, Mount Kitty, One, Two, Three". If they were still on at the end of the chant they had another jump but if they fell off they became the cuddy. If the cuddy collapsed they had to do it again. Many times a young boy of nine years could be seen with three larger boys on his back trying to keep his knees from bending under the weight. Perhaps this game is the reason for so many old men having 'back trouble'.
KICK THE BLOCK was a favourite game for a mixed group of children. It was really just Hide and Seek but the block was a large tin. After being spotted the children would stand near the tin. If a boy or girl kicked away the tin without being spotted the captives were released and the Blocker had to replace the tin in the circle before beginning the search again for prisoners. The game went on for hours.
MARBLES (muggles) was a popular game and girls sometimes joined in but many were poor losers so we preferred to play by ourselves. Marbles in those days were made of clay and painted red, blue, green and yellow. A hard blow or standing on them could break them. We had to be vigilant on occasions when playing marbles for some children played outdoors in bare feet and they were adept in picking up marbles between their toes and walking off with them. There were four main games of marbles. They were 'Powly up' - 'Blobby' - 'Shooty Ring' - 'Penky Follow'. POWLY UP was a game in which you and your opponent threw single marbles into a small hole in the ground about eight feet away. The person who got the most in the hole or if none were in then the nearest picked them all up and threw them (with cupped hands) to the hole. He then flicked the marbles with a finger into the hole. He continued until he missed. He then collected all the marbles from the hole and his opponent then took his turn until he missed. They continued in this fashion till all the marbles had been holed. BLOBBY was a sudden death game. Odds and evens would be a better name for it. You put a certain number of marbles together with the name number from your opponent and he or you would throw them towards the hole. If an odd number went in, the thrower lost but if the number was even he won the throw.
SKIPPING Girls loved their skipping ropes and would spend hours happily skipping while singing their countless jingles. When there was a group skipping, a clothes line was borrowed and everyone joined in. A broken clothes line was a disaster for mother but was great for children for boys could use it for lariats for 'cowboys and indians' and girls for skipping ropes. Few had bought ropes - they had no money so hawkers were pestered for the straw ropes Which were around the boxes of fruit. I can only remember two of the jingles: they ran like this:-
My sailor laddie's gone far away
Red rosy cheeks and bright curly hair
He'll send me a letter when he's coming back
My sailor laddie with his hair curled back
The second began:-
Miss Polly had a dolly who was sick, sick, sick
She sent for the doctor to come quick quick quick
The doctor came with his bag and hat hat hat
He looked at the dolly and shook his head head head
He said Miss Polly put her straight to bed bed bed
He gave her a note for a pill pill pill
And said l'll be back in the morning with a bill bill bill.
There were many others and a favourite began with "Salt: Pepper, Vinegar. Mustard". When the girls were skipping in numbers they chanted a verse which began with
All in together girls
Never mind the weather girls.
HOPSCOTCH (Bays) were everywhere. Both boys and girls played it. the skill was throwing the 'dabber' into the circle you needed. Starting from one you had to go to eight, hopping in each circle without touching a line. Having mastered this game you went on to "Hitchy Dabber". This was a very diflicult game and certainly strengthened your leg muscles. You had to hop on one leg and kick the dabber into each numbered circle without it landing on a line. The dabber was a piece of flat sandstone or tile and was carried in our pockets so we could play the game at any time.
CIGARETTE CARDS. Nearly every make of cigarette included cards in their packets. The exception was Woodbines. They were cheap - 5 for 2d and even in those days were called 'coffin nails'. Most men smoked, so boys had a fine time collecting the sets of cards and swapping those doubles you had. We also played games with cigarette cards. We had a game called 'Knocky down Polis'. One card would be propped up against a wall or a fence or stone and we would take turns flicking a card at the upright card. The aim was to knock down the standing cards. The boy who did this then picked up all the discarded cards. An easier game was 'Putty on'. You simply flicked your card from between your first two fingers along the ground alternately with your friend. When a card rested on another card the thrower picked up all the thrown cards. The cigarette cards were ideal for playlng games but were also educative, as each card had a picture on one side and on the other was a mine of information. Sets of 'Wonders of the World' and 'Do you know' were as good as any book. In 1932 Wills brought out five sets of cards which were collected and when the forty eight was got, they were sent away to W.D. & H.O. Wills and they sent you the picture which the cards made like a jigsaw. The five pictures were "The Laughing Cavalier". "The Boyhood of Raleigh". "The Toast". "Mother and Son" and "When Did you last see your Father". I'm sure many are still hanging framed in lots of local houses.
TWO-BALLER This was a game played by girls and played at great speed. Using two rubber balls or tennis balls the girls threw them one after another against the wall, catching them and throwing them back rapidly, counting each throw as they did so. When a ball was dropped the other girl took over. The winner was the girl who caught the most balls while the opponent chanted a rhyme.
SIXES Another game for girls, although some of us played it too. You had to bounce the ball on the ground so that it hit a wall and you caught it six times. You then threw the ball between your legs against the wall six times, catching it. You then turned your body sideways and threw the ball between your legs. This was followed by a turning of the body the other way and repeating the throws. Finally you had to throw the ball up your back and over your head against the wall six times. When these were completed you won the game. If you dropped a ball then when it was your turn again you started at the point where you dropped it.
BOWS AND ARROWS Boys played 'Cowboys and Indians' till they were twelve and thirteen. Bows were made from hazel, holly, sycamore or even ash. Bigger brothers showed the young ones how to make them. Arrows were holly or hazel, long and narrow. The big boys made bows to chase rabbits. They would take nails up to the mineral line, put them on the line and wait for the coal waggons to pass. The nails would be flattened and these would be used as arrowheads. A slit in the arrow would take the nail, it would then be bound up and the arrow was ready. Many hours were spent with our bows and arrows, sometimes playing and sometimes just shooting at tins which were put on top of rail lines. Pocket knives were used to cut the bows and arrows; every boy had a knife and seldom were there accidents.
TOP AND WHIP Every child had a top and whip. The tops were coloured with chalk by their proud owners. Girls preferred this game and could start the top spinning from under their foot, under the knee and from a standing position. The experts could make the tops jump over objects and would race with them.
KITES Spring with its balmy breezes. brought us into kite season. These were made at home. A crossed stick with string around it, brown paper (or newspaper) pasted over it and around the string, using a flour and water paste. A long tail interlaced with small rolls of paper every foot or so was attached to the kite to keep it steady. The kite therefore, cost nothing to make but you needed two pennyworth of string (very thin string) to complete the outfit. Any green field was used to fly your kite. A friend would hold it while you help the string which was rolled on a stick. A short run and the kite would rise gracefully while you let out the string. Soon it would be soaring high in the sky. "Messages" were sent up to the kite by making a hole in a piece of paper, slipping it over the stick on which the string was fastened and the wind did the rest, sending it whirling up the string. This was mainly a boy's pastime.
QUOITS AND HORSESHOES Every village had a Quoits Pitch. Quoits were large steel rings shaped to a point so that they would dig into the ground. There were two types of pitches. One had two ends- squares of clay bounded by slats of timber with the hob in the centre. The other pitch was just green field. Some men were very skilful at the game and we watched them play before dashing off to get our horseshoes. As boys we couldn't handle quoits but we could throw horseshoes. These were in abundance and we practised for years with pit-pony shoes before graduating to farm horse shoes.
STILTS These were usually made. You acquired two tins, hammered two holes in them. threaded string through the holes into a loop and holding the loop taut you stood on the tins and walked along. Syrup tins were the most popular as they were very strongly made. the older boys would search the field fences for thin palings to make high stilts. They would nail a square of timber onto two pieces of paling, climb up on two the wooden blocks and walk around. The boys usually fell off at first but soon learnt to balance themselves about two or three feet above the ground. The tin stilts were ideal for racing or if you fell you had only a short distance to fall: although most of the girls fought shy of using them in case of accidents.
QUEENIE Another popular game was Queenie. It was a simple game to play: so young children Joined in with the elders. A child with a ball stood with her back to a row of children- she would throw the ball over her head to the children. After a little skirmish a child would get the ball and hide it behind her back. All the row would stand innocently with their hands behind their backs. When the ball was safely hidden: the row of children would chant "Queenie. queenie: who's got the ball I havn't got it, it isn't in my pocket Queenie: queenie who's got the ball" The girl in front would then turn round and examine each face and body and choose a child. If she was right that child went to the front: if not she repeated the act.
TIPCAT According to a history book John Bunyan was chastised playing Tipcat on a Sunday: such is the age of the game. The game was played by two boys. One held a stick and stood in the front of a 'bay' (a circle of about three feet in diameter drawn on the ground) the other boy threw the 'cat' which was a small square stick about six inches long and pointed at both ends. This was knocked as far as possible by the striker. The striker then looked at the figure showing on the 'cat' and tapping the pointed end made it jump high enough to be knocked further. This was done according to the number shown. The striker then challenged the thrower to get back into the 'bav' in a certain number of jumps. steps or hops. If the thrower was successful or if the striker had missed the 'cat' and it had landed in the 'bay' the thrower took strike and the game restarted.
CANNON Another game for two children. A tin was placed equidistant between the two children and six pieces of twig were placed on top of it. A ball was thrown at the tin by one of the childrern and the bounce would take it to the other child. When the tin was knocked over the child had to run: pick up the tin place it upright and put on the twigs, while the other ran for the ball. If the child was 'tagged' (hit with the ball) before she had completed her task she lost and it was one up to the ball gatherer. lf however she had replaced the twigs before she was 'tagged' it was her point. Ten points and the game ended.
RELIEVO A team game for the energetic boys and girls. One side chased the other side and on catching prisoners returned them to a large bay, already marked out and guarded by a boy. The aim of the other team was to rush into the bay, tag a prisoner or two, and escape with him, without being tagged by the guard. This was usually accompanied by a yell of 'Relievo'.
CHUCKS Usually played as we sat round on a hot summers day (we seem to have had many more in those days). Ten small stones (gravel) were picked up, thrown into the air and caught on the back of the hand. If seven were caught, using the same hand you had to pick up the other three without dislodging any of the seven. Having done that you had to throw up the seven and catch them all in one hand. If you did so you won the game. If you dropped a stone then the other boy took his turn.
© Copyright 2002 Alex Johnson
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