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Nostalgia - Live
STREET PLAYGROUND: Children from the Marsh area of Cork city playing with a skipping rope at Adelaide Street in 1937 — before Jo Kerrigan’s time, although the game was still popular in her day
STREET PLAYGROUND: Children from the Marsh area of Cork city playing with a skipping rope at Adelaide Street in 1937 — before Jo Kerrigan’s time, although the game was still popular in her day
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

The games we played in the good old days

IT’S high summer now. Remember your childhood days when you played from early morning until the gathering dusk, and there was never enough time to do all you wanted to do?

Whether in the city streets or out in the countryside, there were games aplenty, each with its own mini season within the long summer holidays.

Some could be played anywhere, such as tag or tip, where somebody was ‘it’ and rushed around trying to touch somebody else, who immediately became ‘frozen’ and had to stand in one place shrieking ‘Release! Release!’ until another daring flier dashed past and tapped the trapped one on the shoulder.

Grandmother Steps was a fraught and exciting game. One person stood facing a wall or tree, while the others waited in a line a set distance away. On the word ‘go’, the individual players began to creep cautiously forward, watching constantly for a sign that the Watcher was about to turn round. As turn round he or she did — with lightning speed — spotting someone moving and pointing gleefully, ‘Out!’

If you were caught in mid-movement, it was still possible to escape being expelled if you could stand stock-still in that position — no easy task if you were on one leg! The slightest perceived movement and you were out.

The delicious terror for young players was that sense that at any moment you might be discovered, and some were too afraid to move from baseline at all. The idea was to reach the wall or tree and touch it without being caught moving.

Hopscotch, or ‘picky’ as it was known in Cork, was a city game, ideally suited to pavement play, and was almost entirely a girls’ game.

 STREET GAMES: Children playing hopscotch in the street

STREET GAMES: Children playing hopscotch in the street

A boot polish tin was the only requirement. (And doesn’t that bring back memories all its own — who remembers the little cardboard box kept under the stairs or in the scullery, with worn brushes for brown and black, and almost-empty tins with hardened scraps of polish left, used energetically on Saturday nights in preparation for Sunday? Most modern shoes, made of heaven knows what in huge factories far away, don’t require polishing.)

You put small pebbles or gravel in the tin, to make a satisfying rattle. A stub of chalk (was that pinched from the classroom?) was used mark out the squares with their different numbers and ranking.

The idea was to hop on one leg and kick the tin just far enough but not too far (a bit like shove-ha’penny in pubs). All the skill was in the gentle movement of the tin. And balancing on one leg of course. Which you had perfected from playing Grandmother Steps above.

When you could still find gas lamps on their tall poles with side bars to support the lamplighter’s ladder, these were used as city swings. Many survived up to recently, having been converted to electricity.

An old Corkonian phrase was ‘waxing up a gazza’, or climbing such a slippery pole. For swings, a rope was thrown over the sidebar, and children gleefully swung back and forth or right around the lamp post.

Again, that was mostly a girls’ game. Boys, in the meantime, chased in and out of laneways playing at cowboys and Indians or ‘cops and robbers’, with ideas gleaned from visits to the cinema.

The thing to grasp here is that expensive- bought equipment didn’t feature. In the first place, such luxuries weren’t generally available, and in the second place, money was in short supply in those post-war years. You made do with what you could find, either at home, or, more usually, all around you.

A short, thick stick with a bend in it made an ideal gun, while whippy ash branches made splendid bows and arrows. What more did you need? Well, some string for the bow, but your household always kept a box of little rolls of string, carefully saved from parcels.

Don’t you do that still? Or do parcels only come with self-sealing strips now — the kind that are impossible to open without tearing everything to bits? Ah, sic transit gloria mundi...

Country children could find cockerel feathers to make decorative head dresses, and many a rooster must have crowed plaintively after losing most of his splendour.

Handkerchiefs were borrowed from Dad’s drawer to do duty as masks. And you could make great hats out of the Echo pages if you had the folding knack.

Marbles were played endlessly in back streets, both the cheaper solid ones and the magical big glass type, known as ‘glassy alleys’.

They, in their season, gave way to ‘conkers’ for country kids. Savvy rural children kept last year’s tucked up the chimney, where they hardened into little cannon balls that were undefeatable.

Tossing a ball in the air or against a handy wall was ubiquitous. There were special chants to accompany this exercise of skill. “Plain-ee, clap-ee, roll-ee, pol-ee. A step in the wood, a run in the wood, a jellybag and a basketball!” This illustrated the movements to be performed as the ball soared up and bounced back.

Or “Wallflowers, wallflowers, growing up so high, high high. Except (insert child’s name) — she’s the only one! She can dance and she can sing, so turn her round from the wall again!”

Boys often honed their skills here before going on to the older lads’ handball alleys which required both a good eye and a tough hand. No special indoor courts, no top of the range racquets, no expensive sports gear. Just you, a small rubber ball, and the nearest wall (but mind that window!)

Skipping, now part of carefully-organised training programmes, was an everyday game back then, although mostly among the girls, for some reason.

Skipping was hugely popular in the 50s and 60s
Skipping was hugely popular in the 50s and 60s

It too had its own special chants. “Salt, mustard, vinegar, cayenne pepper…” “One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Five potato, six potato, seven potato, MORE!”

The great thing about skipping was that you could do it by yourself or in a group. The group skipping sessions, with a longer rope, could be extremely challenging, with the requirement to ‘run in’ or ‘run out’ at different times, which was by no means an easy action to execute successfully.

Having been an avid skipper in childhood, this writer was terrified when faced with a gigantic skipping rope and at least 20 other pupils already in action, when secondary schooldays arrived.

Small children enjoyed joining hands for Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosy or The Farmer Wants a Wife. And playing ‘shops’ in the garden, utilising sticks, stones, flower petals, as goods and chattels, chattering in make-believe adult style as they bought and sold.

Similar fun could be had by those possessing a few of those old lead farm animals or soldiers, making little fields and huts and forts with nature’s materials.

Country children made cowslip balls, and poppy or potato dolls. Daisy chains — how many of those were made on long ago sunny summer afternoons, to bedeck small necks, or drape over pet kittens?

Those who lived within easy reach of Goulding’s Glen, had a magical world in summertime, where you could spend the whole day exploring, paddling, playing exciting games.

Glanmire Woods, Carr’s Hill — everywhere around the city was within reach for those with adventure in their minds.

If dressing up was demanded for a particular game, or even a party, you made your own, and used your imagination. Sheets, pillowcases, mother’s shoes or hat.

One creative child turned up at a party as Maggie Flour Bags, wearing several of those old cotton sacks fastened together with safety pins.

There was certainly no going into special shops to buy sparkly Disney dresses. If you could afford a pack of brightly-coloured crepe paper from Woolworths, the possibilities were endless.

Later, making telephones with two tin cans and a long piece of string became a fad. It didn’t matter that the concept of long-distance conversations rarely made it into fact — just trying to achieve it was the fun part.

And later still, when the concept of television began to be discussed, although not really understood — since rental, much less personal ownership, was still in the future — kids would wander up streets and look in lighted windows at families having tea. They called that ‘television’.

Nowadays, doubtless, it would be attacked as ‘peeping’, but not then.

When television finally did arrive, and your household didn’t boast a set, you went downtown for special events and stood in a crowd at the window of an electrical shop that kept one TV going all night. That’s how this writer saw Butch Moore singing Walking The Streets In The Rain on Eurovision.

We had a father who disapproved strongly of television. It would ruin children’s reading habits, he said. He was right. It would take the place of playing outside, creating your own adventures, he said. He was right. It would breed a nation of adults trained to watch a flickering screen instead of the stars in the night sky, he said. He was right.

Nevertheless, when we were old enough to club together defiantly and rent a set, my father became an avid watcher of The Avengers. With Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. “Well, at least that’s worthwhile...” he said defensively.

Can you remember the games you played when you were young? Tell us about them! Email [email protected]

IT’S high summer now. Remember your childhood days when you played from early morning until the gathering dusk, and there was never enough time to do all you wanted to do?

Whether in the city streets or out in the countryside, there were games aplenty, each with its own mini season within the long summer holidays.

Some could be played anywhere, such as tag or tip, where somebody was ‘it’ and rushed around trying to touch somebody else, who immediately became ‘frozen’ and had to stand in one place shrieking ‘Release! Release!’ until another daring flier dashed past and tapped the trapped one on the shoulder.

Grandmother Steps was a fraught and exciting game. One person stood facing a wall or tree, while the others waited in a line a set distance away. On the word ‘go’, the individual players began to creep cautiously forward, watching constantly for a sign that the Watcher was about to turn round. As turn round he or she did — with lightning speed — spotting someone moving and pointing gleefully, ‘Out!’

If you were caught in mid-movement, it was still possible to escape being expelled if you could stand stock-still in that position — no easy task if you were on one leg! The slightest perceived movement and you were out.

The delicious terror for young players was that sense that at any moment you might be discovered, and some were too afraid to move from baseline at all. The idea was to reach the wall or tree and touch it without being caught moving.

Hopscotch, or ‘picky’ as it was known in Cork, was a city game, ideally suited to pavement play, and was almost entirely a girls’ game.

A boot polish tin was the only requirement. (And doesn’t that bring back memories all its own — who remembers the little cardboard box kept under the stairs or in the scullery, with worn brushes for brown and black, and almost-empty tins with hardened scraps of polish left, used energetically on Saturday nights in preparation for Sunday? Most modern shoes, made of heaven knows what in huge factories far away, don’t require polishing.)

You put small pebbles or gravel in the tin, to make a satisfying rattle. A stub of chalk (was that pinched from the classroom?) was used mark out the squares with their different numbers and ranking.

The idea was to hop on one leg and kick the tin just far enough but not too far (a bit like shove-ha’penny in pubs). All the skill was in the gentle movement of the tin. And balancing on one leg of course. Which you had perfected from playing Grandmother Steps above.

When you could still find gas lamps on their tall poles with side bars to support the lamplighter’s ladder, these were used as city swings. Many survived up to recently, having been converted to electricity.

An old Corkonian phrase was ‘waxing up a gazza’, or climbing such a slippery pole. For swings, a rope was thrown over the sidebar, and children gleefully swung back and forth or right around the lamp post.

Again, that was mostly a girls’ game. Boys, in the meantime, chased in and out of laneways playing at cowboys and Indians or ‘cops and robbers’, with ideas gleaned from visits to the cinema.

The thing to grasp here is that expensive- bought equipment didn’t feature. In the first place, such luxuries weren’t generally available, and in the second place, money was in short supply in those post-war years. You made do with what you could find, either at home, or, more usually, all around you.

A short, thick stick with a bend in it made an ideal gun, while whippy ash branches made splendid bows and arrows. What more did you need? Well, some string for the bow, but your household always kept a box of little rolls of string, carefully saved from parcels.

Don’t you do that still? Or do parcels only come with self-sealing strips now — the kind that are impossible to open without tearing everything to bits? Ah, sic transit gloria mundi...

Country children could find cockerel feathers to make decorative head dresses, and many a rooster must have crowed plaintively after losing most of his splendour.

Handkerchiefs were borrowed from Dad’s drawer to do duty as masks. And you could make great hats out of the Echo pages if you had the folding knack.

Marbles were played endlessly in back streets, both the cheaper solid ones and the magical big glass type, known as ‘glassy alleys’.

They, in their season, gave way to ‘conkers’ for country kids. Savvy rural children kept last year’s tucked up the chimney, where they hardened into little cannon balls that were undefeatable.

Tossing a ball in the air or against a handy wall was ubiquitous. There were special chants to accompany this exercise of skill. “Plain-ee, clap-ee, roll-ee, pol-ee. A step in the wood, a run in the wood, a jellybag and a basketball!” This illustrated the movements to be performed as the ball soared up and bounced back.

Or “Wallflowers, wallflowers, growing up so high, high high. Except (insert child’s name) — she’s the only one! She can dance and she can sing, so turn her round from the wall again!”

Boys often honed their skills here before going on to the older lads’ handball alleys which required both a good eye and a tough hand. No special indoor courts, no top of the range racquets, no expensive sports gear. Just you, a small rubber ball, and the nearest wall (but mind that window!)

Skipping, now part of carefully-organised training programmes, was an everyday game back then, although mostly among the girls, for some reason.

It too had its own special chants. “Salt, mustard, vinegar, cayenne pepper…” “One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Five potato, six potato, seven potato, MORE!”

The great thing about skipping was that you could do it by yourself or in a group. The group skipping sessions, with a longer rope, could be extremely challenging, with the requirement to ‘run in’ or ‘run out’ at different times, which was by no means an easy action to execute successfully.

Having been an avid skipper in childhood, this writer was terrified when faced with a gigantic skipping rope and at least 20 other pupils already in action, when secondary schooldays arrived.

Small children enjoyed joining hands for Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosy or The Farmer Wants a Wife. And playing ‘shops’ in the garden, utilising sticks, stones, flower petals, as goods and chattels, chattering in make-believe adult style as they bought and sold.

Similar fun could be had by those possessing a few of those old lead farm animals or soldiers, making little fields and huts and forts with nature’s materials.

Country children made cowslip balls, and poppy or potato dolls. Daisy chains — how many of those were made on long ago sunny summer afternoons, to bedeck small necks, or drape over pet kittens?

Those who lived within easy reach of Goulding’s Glen, had a magical world in summertime, where you could spend the whole day exploring, paddling, playing exciting games.

Glanmire Woods, Carr’s Hill — everywhere around the city was within reach for those with adventure in their minds.

If dressing up was demanded for a particular game, or even a party, you made your own, and used your imagination. Sheets, pillowcases, mother’s shoes or hat.

One creative child turned up at a party as Maggie Flour Bags, wearing several of those old cotton sacks fastened together with safety pins.

There was certainly no going into special shops to buy sparkly Disney dresses. If you could afford a pack of brightly-coloured crepe paper from Woolworths, the possibilities were endless.

Later, making telephones with two tin cans and a long piece of string became a fad. It didn’t matter that the concept of long-distance conversations rarely made it into fact — just trying to achieve it was the fun part.

And later still, when the concept of television began to be discussed, although not really understood — since rental, much less personal ownership, was still in the future — kids would wander up streets and look in lighted windows at families having tea. They called that ‘television’.

Nowadays, doubtless, it would be attacked as ‘peeping’, but not then.

When television finally did arrive, and your household didn’t boast a set, you went downtown for special events and stood in a crowd at the window of an electrical shop that kept one TV going all night. That’s how this writer saw Butch Moore singing Walking The Streets In The Rain on Eurovision.

We had a father who disapproved strongly of television. It would ruin children’s reading habits, he said. He was right. It would take the place of playing outside, creating your own adventures, he said. He was right. It would breed a nation of adults trained to watch a flickering screen instead of the stars in the night sky, he said. He was right.

Nevertheless, when we were old enough to club together defiantly and rent a set, my father became an avid watcher of The Avengers. With Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. “Well, at least that’s worthwhile...” he said defensively.

Can you remember the games you played when you were young? Tell us about them! Email [email protected]