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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Children's play

There was a fascinating programme on BBC4 last night about children's play from the 1900s to the 1950s. Part 2 is tonight and will cover the 1950s and beyond. I think they're going to say that after the 50s, everyone became more affluent and children more or less stopped playing in the streets and had more toys to play with.

It's certainly true today, but it wasn't the case when I was growing up (which was well after the 50s, before you ask!).

I grew up in the comfortable suburbs of Plymouth, out in the countryside (now replaced by houses). There were fields to roam, streams with tadpoles, a children's plaground that was hideously unsafe by today's standards, and hedges where we picked primroses and blackberries.

We stayed out all day and played games: skipping, fighting "the enemy end" (the children at the end of the road), building a den, and racing go-karts which our dads had made.In the school playground we played "British Bulldog," which the teachers would stop because they said it was dangerous. We played conkers, myself a bit half heartedly because I didn't have the patience to harden the conker in the oven or douse it with vinegar.

As I got a bit older I became obsessed with writing and would borrow the neighbour's typewriter and create my own magazine, "Smash & Grab." There were plenty of other indoor games; creating plays, marrying off the Sindys to the action men, and throwing the gonk down the landing. That was a game made up with my elder brother and we used to play it for hours. Games that came out at Christmas or wet caravan holidays: Frustration, Buckaroo!, Ker-Plunk, Movie Maker, Cluedo and Monopoly.

There were toy trends that would sweep the neighbourhood. Chopper bikes. Deely boppers. Space hoppers (top). And the weird and short lived trend of running and holding a length of coloured tubing in your hand (above) so that it made a strange noise. I sometimes think I imagined those, because no-one else remembers.

What games did you play as a kid?


Playhouses said...

Interesting Post, I can remember playing in my Playhouse when I was a child

Gail said...

Oh yes! I always wanted a Wendy house but parents couldn't afford it. We did play in a neighbour's tent however. I'm ignoring your blatant plug!

Anonymous said...

I had one of those musical tubes (a bright orange one), and kept it for years. They are still sold. Names include "Whirly Tube" and "Bloogle", although I don't think mine had a name. Like a bugle, it will always give the same relative notes, pitched higher or lower with different sizes of tube. And if you whistle or sing into it, it will "autotune" the notes to the nearest note that the tube likes (it has to do with the way the air resonates down the tube).

I remember a few other schoolyard fads, which seemed to come and go over a period of weeks. One was a propeller on a spiral stick. You pushed on a tube, and the propeller would shoot up, spinning into the air. I think it may have been sold as a confectionery, with a cylinder of licorice around it.

This Chinese toy is similar, but ours lacked the circle around the edge to protect you from the blades.

Then there were those spinning disks with a loop of thread running through each side. You held the thread in both hands, and by pulling and releasing, the disk would get up to quite a speed. Some kids used homemade disks or large buttons, but there was also a larger commercial plastic version which was a fairly common sight in the playground.

Another fad was a type of balloon with a long tube at the end. Blow it up, then let it go flying away.

Klackers were popular with kids but disliked by teachers. They consisted of two plastic balls, suspended on a length of string, with a loop or tab of plastic in the middle. Hold the tab and bounce the balls together, then enjoy the sweet pain as they smash together on your wrist. Hard to find today, but fondly remembered by masochists everywhere.

Various knitting fads seemed popular with the girls. One was a "knitting doll" - a wooden device painted like a doll, with four loops of metal at the top. You could use it to make a Useful Tube of Wool. Some kids used a homemade version, made from a wooden cotton reel with four nails banged in the top.

Among the boys, other popular fads included various parachute toys (small plastic soldier or alien attached to a polythene parachute), cheap balsa wood gliders. For a while, a certain tiny water pistol was the toy to have. Spud guns also went through bursts of popularity. One type (still sold) had a squeeze type handle. Another was tiny black metal gun, which used a toy cap to fire a little triangle of potato at an enemy.

How about schoolyard games? Of course, there were the standards - British Bulldog, Lurgy (?), and so on. A kind of piggyback jousting was also popular. A similar fad I remember (again, mostly boys) was to form large groups of kids into what were supposed to be huge vehicles. For example, two kids might join hands, with their arms pointing forward into a battering ram, while two others formed a boxlike shell around them, which could "break away" at critical moments. The biggest structures might consist of 15 kids, carefully arranged into a certain pattern. Ridiculous, really. We'd go running around, smashing into each other, giant vehicles ingeniously breaking up into smaller ones, or releasing surprise missiles of two kids. This was long before anime shows made the idea popular.

Caroline said...

Much the same as you! Building a den was one of our favourites. And cycling through the local forest to the river under the old railway bridge, when I was probably the same age as my son is now (11). Wouldn't dream of allowing him to do similar - how times have changed!

Anne @ The Frump Factor said...

Fun post! We had different toys here in the U.S.. so most of those names are unfamiliar to me. But I DEFINITELY remember how we just wandered around, all over the place, completely unsupervised. Dangerous? Probably. But I do wonder if today's kids will develop differently. They have less freedom, more technology. But I'll bet there are fundamental aspects of children's play that stay the same.