Tag Archives: skipping

free-range kids.

(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – June 2022)

(Header image from ‘Stuff Dutch People Like’ website.)

(Image from the Global Influences website.)

Growing up throughout the 1960s and ’70s my brothers and I were free-range children, unencumbered by the pressures of an adult world. There were only two grown-up rules: don’t talk to strangers and be home in time for tea.

Running barefoot through seemingly endless hot Virginia summers, climbing trees with skinned knees, riding our bikes and make-believe, we played-out our childhoods in the limitless landscape of our imaginations. We were free to negotiate and establish our own play rules with our friends. Through the liberty of play we took risks, established our own boundaries, solved problems and developed social, emotional and physical skills: life skills. We didn’t know it at the time but we were the lucky ones. 

(Andrea doing a handstand in her Virginia back yard, 1970)

On rainy days, Mom would tell me to ‘go play’ which opened up countless possibilities: making paper dolls from old magazines; dressing-up; playing make-believe as I flew into space inside an upturned kitchen stool (this was, after-all, the Space Age of  Apollo 11). After school clubs and activities didn’t exist and the notion of ‘quality time’ hadn’t been invented yet:  my brothers and I were rich in our parents love and our family life. We ate dinner together and talked to each other.

My parents read, told stories and sang to us but pretty much left us alone to play.  If I said, “I’m bored!” Mom would say, “Good! Children should be bored at least once a day. Use your imagination.”  Without a PC, tablet, mobile phone or social media, I had to look inside myself for adventures.

(Mmnnn! Mud pies for dolly!)

I made mud pies for my dolls; sat on the driveway and burst tar bubbles in the searing heat with a stick and watched the tar ooze; made a jewellery box for my mother with matchsticks; sailed the high seas from a sail boat in the dining-room with two chairs and an old sheet. I did cart-wheels, handstands and backflips; played ‘tag’ with my friends; looked for fairies in the pine glades and inhabited the Magic Faraway Tree.  I was Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, clicking my heels together three times before rolling down a grass bank to go ‘home’ to Kansas.

My bed served as a covered wagon where I’d sit with my feet hitched on the footboard and “gee-up” my team of horses as I headed west across the great prairies in search of gold. Wearing an imaginary calico dress and bonnet, I fought off wild critters including howling coyotes and Grizzly ‘bahrs’ with my bare hands and sang songs beneath the stars around a campfire in the middle of my bedroom floor. Why – there wasn’t a more feared hunter in all the west!

(Pioneer wagon.)

In 1970 when I was ten, my family left behind my small-town American childhood idyll and moved to Birmingham, West Midlands where I encountered not only a strange new dialogue called Brummie but a wholly new culture to draw from in my playground games: ‘tag’ became ‘tig’; ‘British Bulldog’ replaced ‘King of the Hill’; ‘Red-Light, Green-Light’ became ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf’ and ‘Conkers’ became a playground favourite. Suddenly I was thrust into a Betjeman-esque land of 1930s suburban streets, cul-de-sacs, alleyways and gulleys to explore with my new best friends Denise and Becky.

(What’s the time, Mr Woolf?)

Mom used to say that ‘if a child isn’t filthy by teatime, they haven’t had a good day’ and we didn’t disappoint; revelling in street games,  making dens, clapping rhymes, ‘Dolly Bobbin’, ‘Cat’s Cradle’, ‘French Skipping’ and  rhymes:

‘George, Paul, Ringo, John

Next-door neighbour follow on…’

as we skipped in and out of a large rope.

‘Mother’s in the kitchen, doing a bit of stitching

In comes a burglar and out she runs

(Girls skipping – pic from British Library)

 We quickly established ‘The Gang’ with neighbourhood kids whose overriding mission was to own our own ponies. I asked my beleaguered dad every day if I could have a pony and scoured the livestock ads of Pony Magazine. I entered the annual WH Smith ‘Win a Pony Competition’ regardless of the fact that we lived in a semi with a small back garden. (I did once win a runner-up mention when I designed a sew-on badge in a competition. It said, “An apple a day keeps the vet away” with a picture of a horse’s head. )  Becky and I both kept grooming kits under our beds “just in case.”

When one of the girls in The Gang, Sam, really did get a pony, we became obsessed with trying to get a free ride. An hour’s riding lesson was £1.50 in 1972 and my pocket money was 25 new pence per week. Sam finally allowed us to sit on her pony Jet – “Just sit, mind!” – and we were thrilled.

(Andrea almost gets her wish, 1972)

Becky and I made horse jumps in my back garden out of old orange crates and bits of wood and held gymkhanas on our space hoppers, which took on the names and personalities of our favourite ponies.

(Space Hopper)

Mine was ‘Fred’ (in real life a bony old grey pony who took a shine to nibbling my jumper) and Becky rode ‘Firefly’ – a strawberry roan mare with a shaggy mane. Becky’s mum made us ribbon rosettes and as we flew over our jumps against the clock, we imagined we heard the roar of the crowd at the Horse of the Year Show. We cantered around the ring for a victory lap before our glory faded as mum hauled me indoors to do my homework and Becky had to go home. I watched through the net curtains as she bounced away down the grass verge, before tackling my History project on Neanderthal Man.

At weekends The Gang would take to the Clent Hills on our bikes; our saddlebags stuffed with cheese spread sandwiches and beakers of orange squash which leaked. We were gone all day without phones (imagine), safety helmets or a care in the world. Our parents had no idea where we were but trusted us to be home in time for tea.

(Clent Hills)

I played with dolls until I was at least twelve or thirteen (imagine kids today taking time out from their devices to play with dolls).  I had a doll house my dad made me which absorbed my imagination for hours-on-end; baby dolls, ‘Barbie’ dolls and a ‘Tressy’ doll whose hair grew out of the top of her head and could be pulled back in a chord on her back. Our dog chewed her hair off on Christmas Eve.

(Tressy)

I even had a go at making a ‘Sindy’ doll settee from a cereal box and sticky-back plastic as seen on Blue Peter; along with an Advent candle holder from two wire coat hangers and a bit of tinsel; neither of which were successful but kept me occupied on those long boring wet weekends.

(I bet there’s not ONE reader whose attempt looked ANYTHING like this!)

Young people today wouldn’t believe it; attached to their virtual worlds and virtual friends, where gratification is instant and the pressure is on to grow up too quickly. I told you we were the lucky ones.

(Copyright Andrea Burn – June 2022)

let the children play

(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –April 2021)

Look at you, sitting there staring down at your crotch, pawing and fiddling about. It’s disgusting ! You should be outside getting some fresh air. You can’t use the lockdown excuse for ever. How many games of Candy Crush have you played anyway ?

How did we amuse ourselves back in the 60s and 70s ? We played games.

On that hallowed patch of blaes, Primary 7 boys utilised the full pitch and goalposts with a regulation rubber football. Primaries 6 and 5s played either side, piled up jumpers and schoolbags marking the goal line, kicking a deflated bladder. Primaries 4 and 3 played across field with anything from a tennis ball to a smooth stone. In this mixed melee of minions every boy was focused on their own particular game.

Meanwhile the girls did girlie stuff on the playground.

Truth be told, what the girls played at was far more complicated than any boy could ever comprehend. The mathematical complexity of peevers (or hopscotch) or the secret knowledge of rhyme when skipping.

 “A sailor went to sea, sea, sea,

To see what he could see, see, see

But all that he could see, see, see
Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.”

These sacred songs must be handed down in ancient rituals by wizened old maidens of knowledge from secret covens far from the meddling of mere men.

Very occasionally boys would be allowed to enter the world of swirling jute and caw the rope – that is hold the end of the skipping rope. A great responsibility only given to a few –  and a fixed point on a solid structure. Tie it tae a waw an it’s jist yin ye need tae caw the rope. Many a skipper has been garroted ankle high as a sensitive wee lad has abandoned the game full flight by the taunt of “Ya big Jessie” from fellow male classmates. Gender fluidity wasn’t even a fizzy drink back in the 60s and 70s.

Then there were Chinese ropes. I’m sure throughout the ages of the many dynasties of the Chinese Empire through to the formation of the People’s Republic, progress wasn’t reliant on interlocking rubber bands. Anyway, another hopelessly complex game purely a spectator sport for the young hormonal boy as skirts were shortened and eventually tucked into knickers as the elastic rope heightened.

Tig (your het) and all it’s variants was a popular playtime pursuit. There was the brutish British Bulldogs or when the girls joined in it morphed into catch & kiss or kissy chasey. Then there were those parties where the guys put their car keys in a fruit bowl and……………. wait a minute. I seemed to have fast forwarded a few decades. Forget that last bit !

Indoor versions and the mainstay for kid’s parties were Blind Man’s Bluff or What’s The Time Mr Wolf ? (Marco Polo as it is known in the US I believe.)

A more sedate activity were marbles and jacks. I don’t think I ever got beyond a foursie (What! You don’t remember ? Google it). For the child with the sadistic bent there were conkers. Clackers for the masochists. What could be more fun than the deafening rat-a-tat echoing around the school corridor before the blood curdling scream, as knuckles and wrists were shattered by wayward spiraling hard acrylic balls on string ?

For the more creative among us there were cat’s cradle and the origami fortune teller (several steps up from the humble paper plane). A combination of numbers and colours that could make you the Uri Geller of your time (although a bit of spoon bending would really seal the deal).

The world of the 60s and 79s seemed to have a rubber fetish. Superballs were small hard rubberised balls with an incredible bounce. Similar but more solid than those used in squash (which only over 40s men in tight shorts played). Many a time I would throw the projectile into the school shed only for it to ricochet off various surfaces before returning at twice the speed, smashing me in the face. And I thought clackers were fun !

If you wanted to lose all dignity you could get yourself a space hopper. The sort of fad that had your attention for all of about 3 minutes. The best thing was to leave them around for adults to surreptitiously jump on and end up either flat on their backs, legs akimbo, or sliding down the wall face first. You think they would have learnt with pogo sticks.

Not all play was confined to the playground. There was always the street. Next door Frankie had a cool looking bike with cow horn handlebars and a long banana seat. He could do all sorts of tricks on it, bouncing and balancing on either front or back wheel. I had the family heirloom that moved forward in one direction. An ex Royal Mail 3 speed beast of a contraption dating back to the early 50s. If Frankie had a mustang, mine was a cart horse. Barely able to start on level ground it slowly built up speed over a long weekend. Give me a slight decline and I swear there was a sonic boom. I lost several fillings from the G-force alone. Braking wasn’t an option so I usually ended up miles from home pushing the monster up hill.

There were also attempts at assembling bogeys and go karts but these were lucky to survive more than an afternoon’s test drive.

A Winter flurry brought out the old trusty sled (another family heirloom) which travelled a few feet before sinking into the snow with only a couple of embarrassing rusty skid marks to show for it. Frankie’s aluminium framed sleigh swooshed by. My brother came up with the idea of using a discarded plastic toilet seat which glided over the ice at warp speed before splitting in two and up ending big bro in a ditch.

“But someone could have been seriously hurt !”

That’s it. Game’s a bogie. Back to the safety of the sofa and an afternoon of Freecell on the mobile (with only 2 cushions for protection though !)