One of the books I keep at my right hand is The English Year by Steve Roud. A month-by-month guide to the nation's customs and festivals from May Day to Mischief Night.
How else would I be able to wish you all a Happy Plague Sunday today, or suggest you start sourcing your mangold-wurzels for Punkie Night which is fast approaching, and you know you'll wish you'd bothered when you see the rest of us with ours.
Did you used to say that when it was time for a truce... when you wanted temporary immunity??
We did and who knew why or where it came from, but when the book fell open at the fainites pages I was intrigued. It's a word with ancient origins, possibly derived from the French 'defendre', or possibly 'fain', perhaps 'feign' and if you lived further north you may have said 'barley' or 'keys' instead apparently.
Then I quickly found just about every other game we had played and I'm afraid I was wallowing, and wondering whether I might still be capable of juggling two balls against a wall whilst chanting a version of
Each peach pear plum
I spy Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb in the wood
I spy Robin Hood
Robin Hood in the cellar
I spy Cinderella
Cinderella in the stable
I spy Betty Grable
Betty Grable is a star
S T A R.
and then you'd try and hand over to someone else without dropping the balls.
That rhyme typical of 1950's London (Steve Roud offers clear regional variations and specific eras for many games and sayings) so slap bang in the middle of my days at Sherwood County Primary in Mitcham.
I started in the infants in 1958 in something called The Wooden Building, now explained as I read this from the school website..
The school opened as a nursery in temporary wooden buildings during the 1930s. The present main building was begun in 1948 as a junior school with an age range between 5 and 11 years for 500 pupils
Which also explains the huge class sizes, only eight classes as I remember for 500 of us it seems, crikey, it was a much bigger school than I realised and the main school only ten years old when I arrived...it seemed battered and ancient then.
Now quite spookily having discovered the school is still very much there, it would seem it remains in the same incarnation because those are the very same windows, and as I'm typing this I think I can almost smell the wax crayons and Miss Butteriss's store cupboard in Blue Class.
There's every chance that window looks out onto what would have been called the Girl's Grass back in the 1950s. This was our segregated safe haven from the boys and the British Bulldog that would have been going on illegally in the playground for as long as they could get away with it, because as Steve Roud confirms it was banned in just about every playground in the land. Bookhound of course now tells me it was his favourite game with his gang at Potter Street Juniors. A lot of running full pelt, chasing, catching, lifting off the ground and fighting whilst we would sit demurely in our smocked frocks playing Cat's Cradle very nicely on our own very nice, lush green grass. Steve Roud mentions Cat's Cradle and I am reminded of its limitations. I'm not sure I ever learned more than about four 'moves' ...tramlines, diamonds and getting the cradle upsidedown, and I was the one who usually messed up and got the long bit of string back again.
The boys did have their own grass at Sherwood lest anyone fear us girls were favoured, and where we weren't allowed to tread either, but 'grass' is a bit of an exaggeration for the dusty patch of earth which contained barely a blade of grass and but one very dead but well-climbed tree as I recall. Now where did I read recently that a high percentage of today's children have never climbed a tree.
I'm wondering if I'd be any good at skipping now, remembering waiting my turn and running in and out of the twisting rope, except we always but always used a length of washing line; rope far too expensive and seemingly unavailable to us. I'm delighted to see French skipping get a mention too and the fact that we would all make up our elastic by knotting together a packet of rubber bands... and then the craze would pass and we'd be onto the next thing.
At 500 pages you can guess there is an awful lot I haven't mentioned but that's intentional because I'd love to know what you can all remember.
Any games or rhymes??
Any more playground crazes??
How did you decide who would be 'it'??
What did you collect and swap??
What about 'making up'??
I'll look them up and see what Steve Roud has to say and report back in comments ... perhaps let's see what we come up with between us.