I don’t know how popular street games are in these days where everything from football to snowboarding can be participated in on a games console. When I was a kid, and even the rudimentary tennis game Pong was some way off in the future, most of my compatriots loved to be out in the street, and I was out there with them.
The street was our domain, where we played some of the coolest outdoor games ever devised. But more of the games later; before we could begin, we had to go through the selection process. For just as these street games had their own rules, which were adhered to rigorously, choosing who would be ‘on’ (or ‘it’) had a strict protocol too.
Dip and Spuds Up
The contestants would gather in a ring and each would put one foot forward, making a circle of shoes with a small ‘well’ in the centre. The counter would stick his index finger into this well and say “Dip”. Then he would chant a rhyme, tapping his finger on each shoe in turn in rhythm with the rhyme until it ended. The owner of the foot he landed on at the end of the rhyme withdrew and the counter continued by dipping again and picking up where he left off. This went on until there was only one person left. He was the one to count while the rest of us hid.
There were several rhymes to go with the dip process and I’m fairly sure the one we used involved a train but I can’t remember it. Eventually most people adopted the rather unimaginative “Ip-dip-sky-blue-it-is-not you”.
The cry of Spuds Up brought the combatants hurriedly into a ring. Each would hold his two fists out in front of him as though gripping an invisible magazine. The counter would start his rhyme of “one potato, two potato, three potato, four, five potato, six potato, seven potato, raw”.
As he chanted this rhyme he would tap the fists of the others with his own fist. He would start by tapping his own left fist and then moving on to the boy on his immediate left. When he came to ‘raw’ the owner of that fist put it behind his back and the rhyme started again from where it left off. When a boy had lost both of his spuds he withdrew from the process, happy in the knowledge that he would not be on. So it went until there was a last man standing.
So with the selection process over, we can move on to the games.
What’s the time, Mister Wolf?
A fun game for younger children, this used to fill me with excitement and terror.
Someone is chosen to be Mr Wolf (a teacher often took this role when the game was played in the school yard), and he or she turns away from the other players, who stand in a line some twelve yards behind. The children chant in unison;
“What’s the time, Mister Wolf?”
Mr Wolf replies with a random time, e.g. one o’clock, two o’ clock etc., and the children advance by taking that many steps forward. The question is repeated and as the children move closer to the wolf, the tension increases, until finally, on being asked the time again, Mr Wolf shouts “Dinner time!” and the children flee back to the safety of their starting point, chased by the hungry wolf. If Mr Wolf tags a fleeing child, then they take that role, and the process starts again.
I am happy to report that this game is still played in some first schools, although I suspect it will only be a matter of time before some authority or other bans it for depicting wolves in a negative manner.
We played an unusual game called shooty doon (or shooty down without the north-east twang). This was played on grass and one player, the 'shooter’, would lay down facing the others, who stood some distance away.
To get the game going, each player would nominate the way he or she would like to be killed. They would then take turns running at the shooter, who would oblige by mowing them down with an imaginary machine gun, blowing them to bits with a pretend hand grenade, or perhaps throwing an invisible dagger with great accuracy.
The victor was the player the shooter judged to have performed the best death throes, with extra points being awarded for overacting. The winner would then become the shooter.
Like rugby without a ball, British bulldog was physical stuff. The lad who was on (the bulldog) would stand with his back to the wall he was defending. Facing him were the rest of the combatants across the road or playground (these could number twenty or more if played at school). He would select someone from this group and the chosen one would run out, his aim being to pass the bulldog and touch the wall. The bulldog had to try and stop him by any means: blocking, barging, tripping, clotheslining etc.
Local toughs would swagger about with their chests puffed out like they were daring the bulldog to pick them, while more timid creatures tried to hide behind the bigger lads. If the runner reached the wall, then the rest of the pack stampeded across, and the bulldog tried to stop any that he could. Anyone who failed to make it to the wall joined the bulldog’s side and it became more difficult to get across. As the game progressed, there became more defenders than attackers, and reaching the wall became almost impossible.
I wasn’t the most robust of schoolboys and so when I was chosen I usually opted for agility over strength. I remember once doing a skilful side step but the bulldog managed to grab the back of my jumper. I tried to keep running but he had a grip on me like a leopard on a gazelle and it was just a matter of time before he dragged me down. As I failed to make it across I became a bulldog, and I nominated the next kid to try and get past us. The mauling I took in the bulldog arena was nothing compared to the one my mother gave me when I got home and she saw my stretched jumper.
Some versions don't have the individual run, but just the stampede - as can be seen in the video below.
How to play British Bulldog
This is almost a one-legged version of British Bulldog, which we played in our back lane. The lone defender of the wall would take up his position as before, and the rest would gather across the road. The defender would suggest a subject, say TV shows, and the attacking group would go into a huddle where the individuals would each state which they would be. When everyone had chosen a show, the nominated leader would shout across to the defender what the options were and the defender would choose one.
At this, Bonanza had to hop across the road, his aim being to pass the defender and touch the wall. The defender was also obliged to hop and his aim was to obstruct or barge the attacker so that he was forced to put his raised foot onto the road. If this happened then the defender had won. Bonanza would be the new defender and the original defender would join the ranks of the attackers for the next round. If, on the other hand, the attacker successfully reached the wall, then the cry of Tally Ho! went up and the rest of the attackers hopped across, with the defender trying to take one of them out. If they all got across safely then the defender had failed and he chose a new subject.
This is a favourite of mine. A playing area, such as the schoolyard, a field or the back lane, was determined. Using one of the democratic systems of selection mentioned above, a hunter would be chosen. He would be given a tennis ball (or a ‘sponger’) and would count to ten while the others scattered, staying within the prearranged boundaries.
The hunter’s objective was to hit his prey with the ball and after every successful hit, that person switched sides and became a hunter. The acquisition of even one extra player made things a lot easier for the hunter, as the ball could be passed between players, covering a lot of ground very quickly. This went on until the hunters outnumbered the prey and, eventually, when all but one had been hit, the sole survivor was declared the winner, and he would be the hunter in the next game.
I don’t know how similar this is to the American game dodge ball.
There have probably been many professional footballers over the years who honed their crossing skills playing spot.
A target area would be marked out, a stretch of wall, a fence or even a garage door (till the owner chased us) and the aim was simply for the players to kick a football at the target in turn.
This sounds easy enough but the skill lay in making the next player’s shot as difficult as possible, either by blasting the ball so hard off the target, it travelled some distance, or by striking a glancing blow off the target that sent the ball off at such an acute angle it made the next player's shot virtually impossible. Every time someone missed they lost one of their five lives, and the next player started the game again from directly in front of the target. The game went on until there was a ‘final’ between the last two players.
The scoring system was unusual in that, after the first miss, a player would be on the letter S. After his second, P, third O and when he missed for a fourth time he became T and he was on his last life.
One of the best street games, kerby is a great bonder between parent and child and it is as relaxing as a round of golf.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the game involves two players standing on opposite sides of a quiet street or road. They take turns in throwing a football at the kerbstone opposite, aiming for the right-angled edge. When a shot is good the ball bounces back to the thrower. He (or she) scores one point for this, and two points if they catch the ball. The first player to score twenty points wins.
Some versions of the game have a rule where, after making a successful throw, the player is allowed to move to the centre of the road, from where he must score as many points as possible (a sort of power-play), but as soon as he misses the target, he must return to the side of the road.
I spent many an hour idly chatting with my kerby opponent. There was no running around involved and so topics such as football, films and girls could be discussed,in an atmosphere of honed skills and keen competition. I was thoroughly heartened to see a father and son playing this game only last summer.
One for the girls: Queenio
I suspect this game was developed to train a young girl for her wedding day, when she would throw the posy over her head.
One girl would be Queen and she would stand with her back to the other players, who would line up a few feet behind her. The queen would throw a small ball over her head and one of the others would catch it. The players would then stand with their hands behind their backs, including the catcher, who would conceal the ball, and they would then sing as one,
Who’s got the ballio?
I haven’t got it
It isn’t in my pocket
Who’s got the ballio?
The queen would then turn around and guess who had caught the ball. If she guessed right, then the catcher became the next queen.
Some of the more timid boys would join in this game, but they were soon spotted by the rougher element and dragged into the bulldog arena.
I don’t know if there were any psychological benefits to be gained by taking part in these games, but I certainly believe that they made our childhoods happier and healthier. The fresh air and exercise we got turned us into role-model kids, until we took up smoking at 12.
Still, we appreciated what it was to compete in games that were challenging, often physically gruelling but always tremendous fun. I can’t see a child of today getting that level of healthy development by sitting in a chair playing online soccer against an opponent on the other side of the planet.
venetia7r on May 29, 2018:
These are great!
Thanks for sharing....
Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on May 29, 2018:
Very unique games of past times. I also used to play some similar weird street games. But, I don't know whether anybody plays them now in this modern age.