|© Copyright 1990 - G.M. Clark & E. Dixon; reproduced here by kind permission|
There would be a sudden craze for a certain game and the craze would just as suddenly stop - only for another to take its place.
Iron hoops were frequently used in the Thirties. They were rather noisy, and when wooden hoops appeared they became more popular. Of course, the iron ones were very strong as many of them were made by the local blacksmith, but fashions change.
The hoop was bowled along by either a stick or an iron rod with a hook on the end. The idea was to keep it bowling as long as possible.
Hoop races were also popular. One of these was Horse Races - with one child galloping with the hoop round her waist and the ‘jockey’ holding it at the back.
Jumping through a series of hoops held by other children was another use for this versatile toy. The art of keeping a hoop spinning round the body was a later practice. The West Indian children who came to this country after the war were very adept at this art.
One seldom sees tops these days, but they were very popular in the twenties and thirties when I was a child. There were two types. One was conical and the other shaped 1ike a mushroom. The dearer ones were made of boxwood and lasted for ever - a child’s forever, that is. The others, of a softer wood, soon split and splintered
A stick with a piece of string tied on the end was used to whip the top. The object was to keep the top spinning as long as possible. After a time, one became quite expert, but it wasn’t easy and some children never mastered the art.
The kites we used were quite simple and often made on the kitchen table with tissue paper and lengths of cane.
On a good windy day it was a pleasant experience to fly them, even though there are not many hilly spots around this district.
Bury Field was the favourite venue.
Cries of ‘It’s not fair,’ and ‘You’re not allowed to do that’ could be heard whenever children were playing. In this way, they were preparing themselves for the great game of living as grown ups, when their time came.
The basic game
If there were more than two players, a variation was to try to hit a second or third marble so that it rolled forward and hit the one in front.
One of the attractions of marbles was their colour, their patterning and their size. Some were made of a very hard baked clay, generally painted in sombre ochreish colours, These had a tendency to split and flake and were not very popular. Fortunately, most were made of a resilient glass, patterned in their depths with swirling coloured threads and blobs, so that they looked like little paperweights.
Skipping was traditionally a girls’ game or activity. It could be played individually or by a group.
Group skipping was, and still is, played with two children holding a long rope between them. The rope can be turned slowly or very fast according to the game and rhyme being used.
Often a rope was used for jumping practice when stands and a pole were not available. It was difficult to hold the rope still when someone was jumping, and fierce arguments about rules and fairness sometimes followed.
Under and Over
The players would endeavour to move under or over the rope as it was being turned, without being caught.
As the rope was turned the children would slot themselves into it, jumping from side to side. They slowly progressed along its length, running ‘out’ at the far end.
Jingles used in skipping games
Salt Mustard, Vinegar, Pepper
The rope was turned faster and faster so that by the time ‘pepper’ was reached, the skipper might have got her feet entangled and called ‘out’ before she could move away with dignity.
Cigarette (Fag) Cards
One game that was played with them was called ‘flinging the farthest’. Each player held his card flat between the first two fingers and flicked it as far as possible until the set was used. The player who managed the greatest distance was declared the winner and was given a card by the other players. In another version, cards were flicked against opponents’ cards that had been propped up against a wall. If a card was knocked down, it became the property of the flicker.
Series of cards are still given in packets of Brooke Bond tea, but they no Longer appear in cigarette packets. Perhaps we should be glad this is so. Certainly, games involving fag cards were usually played by boys, and I suppose they pestered relations to buy cigarettes so they could complete a set by swopping with other boys.
The ‘cheese cutter’ was, of course the prize. This rarity had a sharper edge than usual and could cut through the rounded ones with ease. As the days went by, a progressively smaller number of conkers survived the continual engagements and were known as ‘tenners’ and ‘twentiers’ and so on up the scale. There was a fair amount of cheating. The nuts were supposed to have gained their hardness through natural drying, but there were some that had been slowly hardened in the oven, pickled in brine or even kept over from the previous season.
Needless to say, there were often challenges, with tasting and sniffing of a suspect conker.