“Games have always been part of human existence, providing ritual, exercise, behavioural training for adulthood, healthy competition and in some cases, a good imitation of life itself… Remember how to play games and you remember how to enjoy yourself. What could be better therapy for young or old?”
CAROLINE SANDERSON ‘Kiss Chase and Conkers - The Games We Played.’
There once was a time when children played out in the streets, when walls were chalked with cricket wickets and goal posts and pavements with hopscotch grids. Homemade ‘carts’ made from pram wheels and wooden boxes rattled around each corner and every window was at risk from flying balls. Sadly those days and those children have long gone, driven away by traffic and drawn indoors by TV sets, computer games and anxious parents fearing ‘strange danger’…and yet those bygone activities still exert their lure.
Last summer the biggest attraction for kids at the North St Margarets ‘Big Lunch’ Street Party was a large box of chalks and the invitation to draw what they liked on the pavements… and they did, reclaiming for an afternoon the streets that once were theirs. Last month the boys and girls of the 1st St Margarets Cub Pack had a similar experience. They were asked to try out a number of traditional street games popular around the time of the 1st World War - and then vote for the one that they most enjoyed. Older readers will recognise many of the games that they played - ‘Grandmother’s Footsteps’, ‘Bad Egg’, ‘Hot Potato’, ‘Cat and Mouse’, ‘Cigarette ‘flick’ Cards’ and ‘Sleeping Lions’ for starters… all requiring a minimum of equipment or preparation and all with the simplest of rules.
Now these games may not be as exciting as the final of “The Great British Bake-Off” - no soggy bottoms in this Cub Pack - but the young people played happily for an hour or so and then voted on their favourite game. Here are the results - cue drum roll…
At No. 3 was ‘Grandmothers Footsteps’ - a game of stealth and tip-toe precision. In the No. 2 position was ‘Tiddly Football’ requiring skilled squidger and wink action, and the overall winner was… …. … LONG PAUSE… … … … … ‘Bad Egg!’
For those of you not old enough to remember this particular playground favourite here are the rules…
One player - the Bad Egg - faces away holding a tennis ball. Bad Egg chooses a category, e.g Colours, Flowers or TV Characters and shouts it out. The other players then choose a name for themselves from that category and shout back. For example if the category is ‘Flowers’ the other players might call themselves ‘Daisy’ , ‘Rose’ or ‘Tulip’.
The Bad Egg then calls out one of the given names - e.g ‘Daisy’ - and throws the ball into the air. ‘Daisy’ tries to catch the ball while the other children scatter. Once ‘Daisy’ has got the tennis ball he/she shouts out “Stop!” and all the other players freeze. ‘Daisy’ takes 3 steps towards one of them and attempts to hit them below the knee with the tennis ball. If ‘Daisy’ succeeds the hit player becomes the Bad Egg. If he/she misses Bad Egg remains in place and the game continues.
I’m not sure that young people today would be willing to swop their Harry Potter DVDs or Minecraft games to play Blind Man’s Buff in the street but if they did we should warn them to take care - not just of the passing traffic but of what might happen if they step on the cracks in the pavement. Ninety years ago street urchins and Christopher Robin knew all about the bears…
‘LINES AND SQUARES’ by A.A Milne 1924
Whenever I walk in a London street. I'm ever so careful to watch my feet; And I keep in the squares, And the masses of the bears, Who wait at the corners all ready to eat The sillies who tread on the lines in the street, Go back to their lairs, And I say to them, "Bears, Just look how I'm walking in all the squares!" And the little bears growl to each other, "He's mine, As soon as he's silly and steps on a line," And some of the bigger bears try to pretend That they came round the corner to look for a friend; And they try to pretend that nobody cares Whether you walk on the lines or squares. But only the sillies believe their talk; It's ever so portant how you walk. And it's ever so jolly to call out, "Bears, Just watch me walking in all the squares!"
A short film about Street Games in Burnley in the 1950’s
– from Martyn Day
CREDIT: The drawings of Christopher Robin and the bears are by Ernest H. Shepard