CHILDREN’S GAMES

Boys at play, 1960/

Boys at play, 1960.

Hop-Scotch was a popular game among my contemporaries when I was a youngster, with an important proviso; it was only played by girls. I can find no reference to this fact in any writing on the subject, where it is referred to simply as a children’s game, as if it were played equally by boys and girls. Scotch-hop, as it was called two or three hundred years ago, does appear to have been a game played by boys – perhaps solely by boys – but by my time this was no longer the case. My father, in talking of the games he played as a lad, used to mention spinning tops, hoop and stick and skittles but never spoke of hop-scotch, so I think it was already banished from the boys’ playground by the early twentieth century. It was certainly the case in East Anglia; I wonder how widespread this feature is? On Wikipedia there is a picture which says it is of boys and girls playing the local version of hop-scotch in Cuba (known there as“pon”), but the photo shows only girls playing it. I wonder if the same gender division applies there?

Because I never played hop-scotch I have only a vague idea of the rules of the game. I know that one started by scratching the court into the ground with a stick, and then began the game by throwing a stone, but the finer points of the game, like which foot goes into which square as you hopped along, was something I never mastered. I was fortunate to go to a mixed school to have learned even this much. My sisters, who were both educated at a girl’s school, did not realise that boys did not play hop-scotch until I mentioned it late in life. When I moved on to a boys school hop-scotch disappeared from my firmament, to be replaced by such masculine sports as conkers and marbles, British bulldog and tag.

Skirts tended to get in the way as one played hop-scotch, especially as certain positions required the player to freeze in a rather unladylike posture with your legs wide apart, and so often the girls would tuck their skirts into their knickers before starting a game. It was a very popular game too. While we boys went off to play football or Cowboys and Indians, or dig in the sand pit, the girls would spend most playtimes at a game of hop-scotch.

I haven’t seen anyone of whichever sex playing hop-scotch for many years now, but that does not mean it isn’t played. I am merely an old man who does not mix with the young to any great extent. But with the modern tendency to play computer games I wonder if it is so popular as it once was. When it is played today perhaps the gender of hop-scotch players has changed. I have seen hop-scotch courts laid out on paving stones in school  play areas, and I am sure if it is supervised by a teacher as part of a PE lesson it would be played by boys as well as girls.

The official games that children played were part of the school timetable. Football and cricket are not children’s games because they are played by adults too. For girls the sports included rounders, but sometimes the boys joined in too. I suspect that this was because all the teachers were female. Although Miss Maudsley our head was quite happy to referee a game of football I think some of the schoolmistresses were more at ease taking a game of rounders.

I have already mentioned some of the other games I played as a lad. Doctors and Nurses and of course Mothers and Fathers were played with the girls, but most games were as rigidly segregated by gender as if we had gone to single-sex schools. We boys never scratched out elaborate plans of houses in the earth and the girls never joined in our endless games with our Dinky toys. Maybe some tom-boys would have liked to join in, but you had to be a very brave child to go against the gender stereotypes.

At home I played too, but play was different there. Parents, sisters and friends could sometimes be roped in, but much of the time I was on my own. A game of catch with a tennis ball was excellent from this point of view, because by bouncing it against a wall you needed nobody to play with. But most of my play at home involved lots of imagination – and toys.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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