In the 20s and 30s there was neither television nor computers, and radio (the wireless) was in its infancy. As a result children had little incentive to remain indoors and, weather permitting, most of the activities were of the outdoor variety, summer and winter. Indoor pastimes were limited, depending on the family resources and, in a small fishing village at that time; many were on the bread line. Maybe I was a bit luckier than most as I had a Meccano set, a Hornby train set and other toys, to help me while away the long dark winter evenings. Card games, Snap, Sevens, and Old Maids etc. were played, as was the occasional game of dominoes.
Here are some of the outdoor games we used to play and things we used to do.
There were three versions of the game of Bools (Marbles) and two different kinds of Bools -- Ordinary and Glessies (made of glass). The glessies were a prized possession. Normally it was with the ordinary kind that the game of Bools was played.
1. -- Throwy
Two boys who had a collection of bools played this game. After the order of precedence was established, normally by tic-tac (See below). The first player threw a bool approx. one meter away; the next competitor threw his bool trying to hit or to get within a span's distance from the first bool. A span is the distance between the tip of the thumb and pinkie of an outstretched hand.
Obviously the owner of a big hand had an advantage. If the second thrower was successful he collected his opponent's bool, and so the game continued until the loser had no bools left, or by mutual agreement. If the second thrower was not successful the first thrower had another go and so on, alternately, until the bools were cleared.
2. - Dykie
The same rules applied, but the method of delivery was different. A suitable wall had to be found with a reasonably level bit of ground below it. Pavement wasn't very good as the bools were inclined to roll too far on the comparatively smooth surface. Delivery was effected by holding the bool between forefinger and thumb, striking it against the wall so that it would bounce back on to the ground. The challenged then had to bounce his bool off the wall in such a way so that it would be within spanning distance of the original.
3. -- Hitty.
(The picture is a bit before my time!)
The boys in the picture are playing Hitty. The first boy plays it throwing his bool a short distance in front of him and the next boy tries to hit the bool by flicking his bool towards it. The fist is clenched and the thumb is placed slightly below the forefinger, and the bool is placed on the thumbnail, it is then flicked towards the bool on the ground. Each boy takes it in turn, trying to hit the bool. If there is a hit the hitter wins the bool and then it is his turn to throw first. If no one has a hit, the bool is saved and the next in turn has to throw a bool.
Two boys stood facing each other, then, in turn, each would place the heel of one foot against the toe of the other until they nearly met each other. The person who could not get his foot down in the final intervening space was the loser. The reason for this was to choose a boy who would get first choice in selecting his team for whatever game we were going to play.
This is quite a complicated game to describe and I'm not sure if I have remembered it all. To play the game, five small stones preferably rounded and all roughly the same size are required. Two or more boys can play the game. To decide who would start first the boys took it in turns to throw all five stones in the air, turn the hand over and try to catch as many as possible on the back of the hand. The boy who caught most had the first go. The game had several different processes, from onesy --- up to foursy (as far as I can remember.... there may be more). I'm sure there are many permutations of throwing a chuckie in the air and picking up others!
· Onesy -- Scatter the five stones on the ground, pick up one, and throw it in the air, picking up another stone immediately, and then catching the one in the air as it comes down. Repeat this with the other three stones.
· Twosy --Scatter as above. This time when the stone is in the air you have to pick up two stones at the same time. Of course this has to be done again with the remaining two stones.
· Threesy -- Scatter again. You've probably guessed. Three stones together have to be picked up followed by the remaining stone. You have a choice here, the single stone can be picked up first and then the three.
· Foursy -- After a gentle scatter, all four stones have to be picked up in one go.
· The Finale -- Four stones were placed in the form of a square. With the remaining stone held in the hand, tap each stone in turn, at each corner of the square, while reciting the following doggerel:' My wee curly doggy sells clay pipes'
On the word 'pipes' the hand held stone was thrown in the air while the other one was picked up and then laid to one side. The object was not to land on an empty space, but to land on a stone each time. You had to make sure that you started in a corner that would enable you to collect a stone.
The more mathematically inclined boys could always work it out. Of course, if you missed out on picking up a stone or stones in any part of the game, you lost your turn till it came round again. The winner was the boy who first managed to pick up all the stones in the final 'curly doggy' stage. While playing any of the games above, if a mistake was made, the next boy in turn had a go. Starting from where he left off on his last turn.
Catchin'... really meant fishing. The question would be asked. 'Are ye gawn catchin' thi day? (Are you going fishing today). If the answer was 'Aye' (Yes), bait had to be gathered and a fishing line may have to be made. The fishing line used depended on the type of 'catchin''. At the pier end, doon the 'blocks' or at John's Rock. At the pier end, or 'doon the steps' at the east pier, a fairly primitive type of line would suffice. For the less affluent, a piece of string and the proverbial bent pin were used, with an old nail for a sinker. Some fortunates would have a proper line, consisting of a square shaped contraption made from four bits of wood. This came with a thin line complete with a small lead sinker and hook. These could be purchased at either of the two grocers/ship chandlers. Jimmy Miller's or Watty Reekie's, as could a proper line, separate hooks (of different sizes) and lead sinkers, with a small hole to allow them to be fixed to the line. Fish caught in the harbour were of little use, except, perhaps as cat food! We caught 'geets', very little fish, and 'potlies' a bit larger but I'm sure, never used for human consumption. A bit of excitement always arose, if a conger eel was caught (they were considered dangerous) and a bit of boyish sadistic fun was had if a 'snotch' was caught. The 'snotch' was a squat dumpy fish, with a spike on its head. A cork was stuck on the spike and the fish thrown back into the water, of course the fish couldn't submerge and it swam furiously along the surface. A streak of boyish cruelty!! I'm not sure if I've got the names of the fish spelt properly, or even if they had proper names, but that was what they sounded like. For the more venturesome, and for the chance of a more profitable catch, the end of the blocks was the place. The blocks consist of a large breakwater, extending from behind the east Pier, due south, for quite a distance.
An iron ladder affixed to the harbour wall had to be climbed, then, over the wall and down another ladder on to the blocks. If the tide was in and a bit of a sou'-easterly breeze blowing, the waves broke over the blocks and you had to watch your chance to get to the end. (In fact when the sea was rough a game of dare was often played, trying to dodge the high waves. On looking back it was an extremely dangerous practice). Codling or the occasional 'flookie' (flounder) could be caught there at any state of the tide, though it was better if the tide was in. The blocks, as you have probably realised, were there to give protection to the fishing boats when they were leaving or entering harbour.
Fishing at the John's Rock was for bigger boys and grownups. The shore to the east of the harbour consists of long ridges of rock running roughly from West to East, approximately two or three meters apart, separated by channels, or what we called 'goats', (nothing to do with the animal). On the furthest out ridge, at low water, was the John's Rock (there is a story of how it got its name). There, with the proper fishing gear, fairly large rock cod could be caught. There was a wide strip of tangles in the sea, at the edge of the rocks so a very long rod was required. The rod was none of your slim rods that anglers as we know them use, but this was a substantial wooden affair, custom made, and, I'm sure was about 2/3 meters in length, with a very strong line. The time for fishing on John's Rock was limited, because of the tide. Only a short time before the tide went completely out and for a while after it turned to come in again. There was always a danger of being 'gairded' (cut off by the incoming tide) as the 'goats' quickly filled up with water. Prior to going catchin', as I've already said, bait had to be acquired. Limpets could be used, but were a lot inferior to 'safties' or 'pelns' (?). A 'peln' was a crab that was just about to shed its shell. It was an easy matter to break the shell and get the soft flesh for bait and, of course a 'saftie' was a crab just after it had shed its shell and before the new one hardened.
HOWK THE DIVOT
This game was played mainly during school breaks, at piece time ('leevin oors) or dinnertime, when the weather was good. Just outside the school there was a very large expanse of grass, known as the 'Mair' (Muir/Moor?). The Mair is mentioned elsewhere and it was there that we played Howk the Divot. A small square was marked off on the grass (approx. 1 ft. square). The challenged had to turn his back on the proceedings, when the challenger would, with his knife (we all had knives), 'howk' (dig) a small divot within the square then carefully replace it, disguising, as best as possible, where it was. Then the challenged had two attempts to stick his knife into where he thought the divot was.
Here follows some of the more active games.
GEEIN' IN. (GIVING IN)
'Geein' in' was a very rough game and could be quite painful at times. One chosen boy had to stand in the middle of the street, the remainder on the pavement and, on a given signal all the boys ran across the street to the other side. The boy in the middle had to catch one of them and make him 'gee in' (give in), by trying to hurt him till he cried for mercy, twisting arms, pulling hair were just two of the methods adopted. I cannot recollect if there was a time limit if a boy just wouldn't 'gee' in'. I'm sure most boys eventually did and then they got a turn to be the catcher.
I think the game of tig is a universal one and is probably played to this day, so there is no need to describe it. We did have a version, however, which may have been local I think we called it 'Horny'!! (Why, I don't know.) It started off in the normal way one person (girls were allowed to play this game!) was 'het' and had to try and touch one of the others. On doing so they joined hands and continued to tig. This went on until all, except one was not in the joined hands group.
Girds or Hoops are also universal. There was no object to girds. We just ran about with them with differing amounts of skill. The common or garden gird was just some sort of wheel. An old bicycle wheel was probably the most common, although there were large pram wheels, which served the purpose. Some prams had at least one pair of very large wheels in those days. Those girds were propelled by means of a short piece of stick, probably about 9 inches long, which was used to strike the 'gird' to keep it turning. The more sophisticated girds consisted of an iron hoop (custom made, probably by the local blacksmith), approx. 2 feet in diameter, which was propelled by a 'cleek'. The cleek was a long (1 to 2ft.) iron rod with a hook at one end. The gird was started off by propelling it with the left hand then running after it, inserting the cleek against the gird and pushing it along. It was quite a skilled operation.
The supremo gird had the cleek permanently attached. I suppose that type wasn't really a cleek, at the end of the rod was attached a ring of metal and this in turn had the gird through it. The gird after starting off was pushed along in the same way as with the cleek.
HIDE AND SEEK
Again this age old game needs no description from me. There was, I think, a variation called Kick the Tin. I cannot remember exactly how it was played but was something like this:
The seeker had a 'den', where there was an upturned tin can. The 'seeker' with his back turned to the others counted an agreed number was counted while all the others hid themselves. The seeker left his den to look for the others. If someone could run out and get to the tin and kick it, he was next in turn. If the seeker managed to get back to the tin first, he would put his foot on it and shout, '1,2,3, don't kick this tin!' In the same way if a hider was found, there was a race to get to the tin first, to kick it or prevent it being kicked.
BOATS and SUBMARINES
The memory of the first World War was still fresh in the minds of the grown ups at that time and we children heard of various naval encounters from returned sailors and so the game, Boats and Submarines, was invented. For the life of me I cannot remember how we played it. I do recollect that we were split into two teams and there was a certain amount of violence involved.
Of course, football was played at all times of the year. Not always eleven a side. It depended how many boys foregathered or it may have been pre-arranged. Teams were chosen, first, there were two captains - it was always self-evident who they would be. They performed the tic-tac ritual and the winner of this had the first choice of player. Players were then picked in turn by each captain. It was a bit of an ignominy to be last picked!!!
Not really a game --- but.
There was always rivalry amongst different parts of the town. East the Tooners versus Wast (West) the Tooners. Station Road and the Broad Wynd was the dividing line. On the East side, where I lived, there was another faction, Miller Terrace versus George Terrace. Living in Rose Street, I qualified for the Miller Terrace gang, I suppose the boys who lived in Hope Place were members of the George Terrace crowd. Many fights were fought, generally being started off by two groups of boys jeering at each other, then missiles would be thrown and on occasions fisticuffs were employed. I cannot recollect any particular reason for this rivalry, probably just the fact that we lived in different areas was enough reason.
HURLIES and BOGIES
Nearly every boy had in his possession, or was a part owner of a 'hurly' or a 'bogie' at one time or another. Both were home made means of transport and two or three boys would join together to build one or the other. A 'hurly' was a sort of two wheeled barrow, made from a largish wooden box, mounted on wheels (old pram wheels, generally) and two lengths of wood nailed to each side of the box for handles. The hurly was a bit inferior to the bogey, which was a more elaborate contraption, it had four wheels! Again a fairly large wooden box was required and instead of handles being nailed the sides, a short plank of wood was nailed to the bottom of the box, leaving a length of 2/3 feet projecting. Two pairs of wheels were required, one pair being firmly secured to the back of the box and the other pair secured by a large nail or bolt through the middle of the axle to the front end of the plank. This was to allow the bogey to be steered, using a piece of rope, like reins attached to the axle. Materials for the construction were reasonably plentiful, there always seemed to be old prams. Wooden boxes, supplied by the local grocers' shops, had probably contained apples or oranges (I seem to remember that the orange boxes had two compartments). Nails were found on the beach. The two boatyards dumped the shavings and sweepings from the sheds over the sea wall. There were often rich pickings there. With a bit of luck, brass and copper nails would be found and sold back to the boatyard! The clinker built dinghies and small craft were riveted with copper nails and roves
There were some girlish games, which, on occasions the boys deigned to join in.
BEDS (Really a girls game)
Beds or Peevers (a game of hop-scotch). Peever was the name given to the block of wood or whatever, that played an important part in the game. Hopscotch is universal and is probably played to this day.
The area to play on had to be chalked out on the pavement. There was a straightforward game and one, I think, called aeroplane beds.
The first contestant stood in front of the peever, raised one foot off the ground and, hopping, pushed the peever into bed 1, then hopped into the bed beside it and so on until bed 4 was reached. Some respite was then allowed. You had to jump into the next bed, feet astride the horizontal line. Then jump up in the air again and about turn, landing with the feet astride the line. The peever then had to be returned, in the same way to its original starting position. If the peever landed on a line or outside its proper place, or if you hopped on to a line or put your other foot on the ground --- you were out.
SKIPPING ROPES (Also a girls game)
A game with skipping ropes the girls used to play was to find out the name of their 'young man'. While skipping, --- at each skip, they would recite: 'Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackcurrant Jam, Tell me the name of your young man'. Then the skipping was increased to a furious speed and the letters of the alphabet were repeated at each skip until the skipper became unstuck. At which point the letter they were at was the initial of the 'young man's' name.
A popular skipping rope game involved quite a number of children, girls and boys. A fairly long, substantial skipping rope was required and was turned by two people, one at each end. The remainder would line up and follow each other, in quick succession, to skip, jumping one, two or three skips and then joining the end of the queue again. This was very popular with the grownups at our Sunday School picnics. (As was the game of rounders). A complicated variation of this was when two ropes were used. (Dutch Ropes?). The turners had a rope in each hand and turned the ropes alternately. It was quite a feat to skip over the two turning ropes without getting fankled up.
STOT the BA'
I doubt if that was what it was called. It consisted of stottin' (bouncing) a rubber ball on to the ground many times, in quick succession. While doing so doggerel rhymes were spoken out loud. One such being:
One, two, three, a-leary.
I saw Kitty Cleary
Sittin' on her Bumbaleary
Early in the morning.
At intervals one leg would be raised and the ball bounced under it.
This was another ball game. One girl would throw a rubber ball, high up against a wall and while doing so, she would call out the name of one of her pals who then had to catch the ball on the rebound, and so it went on. The trick was to delay calling the name until the last possible moment, without cheating. If the ball was caught, it was the catcher's turn to throw, if not the same thrower threw again.
The equipment for this game consisted of a small round piece of wood about 5 or 6 inches long, shaped to a point at each end, something like the illustration below.
The Catty was placed on the ground and hit sharply on one of the ends. The Catty rose in the air and the object was to hit it with the bat as far as possible. Of course, the one who hit it furthest was the winner.
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