Gourdon Childhood Games
First published in the Leopard Magazine in the December 2014 / January 2015 issue, the article by Celia Craig is reproduced in full below.
Our thanks to Celia and the staff at The Leopard for their permission to reproduce this article.
While it is lovely to recall childhood ploys, pursuits and pastimes in retirement, it is strange to reflect that that period of time - the late 1940s, 1950s - and the games we played, the songs and the chnants we sang, and the locations we frequented, are now history. Indeed, some of the places where we Gourdon children played have fallen into decay or are changed utterly.
Many of our games and pursuits seemed to follow the seasons, but also seemed to occur spontaneously, almost arbitrarily. Suddenly, everyone would be playing balls or beddies, and then, just as suddenly, skipping. The songs and chants stay fresh in the memory - they were sung so many times. Comparisons with the pursuits of today’s children would form a fruitful study, or useful class project in school, befitting the new Curriculum for Excellence. I suspect the picture for today would be focused far more on organised pursuits than on imaginative and communal games, and perhaps also more on indoor than outdoor activities. We, too, had organised pursuits, be it swimming, or Brownies, or music lessons; but we also had so much more - and so much more freedom. We had far less technology, although playing my father’s new reel-to-reel tape recorder was also great fun! It would be interesting to hear from other readers about the games they played and how they varied from, or echoed, ours in a North-east fishing village.
Many games were played in the playground, outside and after school, in all seasons, starting in spring and extending throughout summer. Different, more heat-inducing, games were played in autumn and winter. Warnie and tig could be played at various times of year. Warnie, in the Gourdon version, involved each tigged person in turn joining hands until there evolved a long, snaking line of children swooping across the playground. Stoney Tig, presumably named after the nearby town of Stonehaven, involved a pre-game confab, when two or three children were secretly chosen as ‘free-ers’, unknown to the person selected to be the chaser. These special children could free those who had to stand, arms outstretched, after being tigged, thereby lengthening the game considerably and making it very hard for the chaser to catch everyone!
Skipping was not just the individual kind, but also the communal/jump-rope kind, where two children turned/‘caa’d’ the long rope ends (occasionally two ropes were used), while others skipped in and out to different chants, with different movements. One of the more exciting varieties was called ‘one keep-in’ or ‘two keep-in’, or whatever number was chosen. Depending on the number playing, the game could become hectic, as each player from the queue jumped in for one or two skips of the rope and out the other end, rushing round to start the process again, with no gaps allowed between skippers. Other skipping games included ‘A House to let’ and ‘Granny in the kitchen’, both of which ended with the keep-in call, “I have doggie”, where the skipper was required to finish with the rope between her feet; ‘Black sugar, white sugar, strawberry jam/ Tell me the name of my young man’, which would begin with the letter of the alphabet being chanted when the skipper tripped; ‘Up the streets and down the streets’, ‘Down in the meadow’, ‘On the mountain stands a lady’ and ‘The wind and the wind and the wind blows high’ - a standard game, customised
to fit Gourdon. Here are the words of two of our skipping games - the first would reveal the name of the skipper’s boyfriend, and so I have used my own name and the name of the boy I liked at that time!
Down in the Meadow
Down in the meadow where the green grass grows,
I spy Celia hanging out the clothes.
She sang and she sang and she so sweet,
Till she saw Robbie coming down the street.
“Robbie, Robbie, will you marry me?”
“Yes dear, yes dear, half-past three”.
Ice cakes, cream cakes, all for tea,
All at the wedding at half-past three.
Up the Streets
Up the streets, and down the streets,
Windows made of glass.
Go into Mrs Craig’s house,
You’ll find a bonnie lass.
Her name is Celia.
Catch her if you can.
For she’s going to marry Robbie Ritchie
Before he is a man.
Oh Celia, Celia,
Your true love is dead,
And I’ll send you a l-e-tter
To turn about your head.
I can’t remember clearly if that rather worrying final verse used the name of the boy or the girl, but I recall that the word “letter” was dragged out to fit the metre. All these chanted skipping games led naturally and fluently, as it seemed, from one to another.
We also played ‘Kaiypy, clappy, rolly, backie, under leggie, through the moonie, birlie’ with balls that were flung against a wall and different movements executed, as indicated by the song. Widely popular for stotting a ball below your leg was the well-known ‘One, two, three a leerie’, and a newer game at the time required a special, bought ball attached to a bat, which used a chant referring to new-fangled chewing gum: ‘PK, penny packet’. One song, for a playground game about a great ship sailing through the ‘Alley, Alley-O’, or the ‘Ellie,
Ellie-O’, may have been about the ship passing through a canal - perhaps the Suez or Panama? The game was played with a linked line of children passing under the arm of the child who was the stanchion post and whose free arm, under which we passed, was propped against the wall.
Of course, the pursuits that related to the harbour, the shore, the beach and the rocks, were central to Gourdon bairns. When allowed ‘doon the brae’, or ‘doon the toon’, we would spend hours at the harbour, particularly in the summer holidays, watching and waiting for the boats to come in from the sea, and then spectating the fish sales, enjoying the steady, rhythmic chant of the fish salesman and trying to detect from their faces and various tics which fish merchant had bought the box of haddock, cod, or whiting. The fishing was of the inshore variety, typically long line fishing, with the notorious mussel-baited 1200 hooks in winter and creels in the summer, fishing for crabs (partans) and lobsters, sent by rail to Billingsgate, in London. I loved waiting for my father to come in with his boat, the Trustful ME 132.
As the year came full circle, turning inexorably towards spring, with pale primroses speckling the braes, the games and pursuits followed nature’s course. In retrospect, I appreciate how well-blessed we were - the many pursuits and ploys, the freedom, the community, the emotional and physical and spiritual rewards.
In his later years, my father suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, and so I feel glad to have recorded these memories of our childhood games while they are still so fresh in my mind.
The below poems, also written by Celia, accompanied the article:
A Gurden Childhood
It wis bonnie in Gurden in springtime,
Yalla primroses specklin the braes.
We githered them up fae the Cauldwall
For wir mithers ti pit in a vase.
There was Warnie and tig in the playgrund
And ca-the-rope skippin and baas.
Each game hid its sang - say the Alley-O -
As ropes slapped and baas stotted aff waas.
On fine summer days in auld Gurden
There wis games, games galore ti play,
Crawlin across the fitba pitch
In deserts - the haill lang day.
There wis hoosies and dallies and shoppies
And dashin around on wir bikes
There wis cowboys and Indians and others
And jumpin aboot o’er dykes
The back gairden swing was excitin,
My Dad’s navy hammock gid fun,
Lazily swingin and drowsing
And the tentie was shaded and dim.
Sugarellie water was lovely
Though taakin a lang time ti maak,
Shaakin the bitties o licorice
In a bottle ere a drap ye kid taak.
There wis dookin and fishin for podlies
Bandies in rock pools at the beach,
Turnin up steens for crabbies
That scuttered awa oot o reach.
Bonnie lemmies were placed in rock hoosies,
Then we louped rock ti rock, steen ti steen
Sure-fitted but somebdae aye slippit
On the seaweed, sae slimy and green.
We played follow-the-leader like dare deils.
We strung syrup cans, walkin on high.
We climbed doon the horse-shoe braak wattter
Till recalled by my Deddie’s loud cry!
We hid stilts o wid - tennis bats, swords,
Aa widden - my Uncle wis good.
And efter a dook in the herber
To Granny’s - a shivery bite o food.
We spent oor eftir oor at the herber,
It seemed like the best place to be.
The haill, lang, glorious summer
Watchin the boats comin in fae the sea.
On lang summer nichts in oor village
We daundered awa doon the toon
Ti watch cricket, play rounders and kick-the-can
Till the darkness began ti come doon.
Then alang ti the Den in the autumn
For rosehips and haws - plenty there.
We threeded them, maakin fine necklaces.
There were rowan berries ti spare.
Next came guisin and turnip lanterns,
The candle grease smellin sae strang,
Then awa ti the tattie pickin
Gid fun, though bits were o’er lang.
Then came bangers and squeebs and sparklers,
The bonfire flames rising high
But already cauld winter was threatnin,
Wi snaw dingin doon fae the sky.
Sledgin wis best in the winter,
Doon the brae as the back o the Hall.
There wis snawbaas and snawmen and slideys.
Watch oot! Dinna crash on the wall!
We hid perties and concerts and Sinty,
Hame-made garlands deckin the waas
And a new velvet frock, sae bonnie,
Wee gold sandals ti dance in the haas.
Christmas and Mission Hall services
Hogmanay and First Fittin wis fun.
Then New Year, followed by Burns Nicht
Wi Easter soon comin on.
Syne snawdraps heralded springtime
Pale primroses specklin the braes.
We githered them, up fae the Cauldwall
Fir wir mithers ti pit in a vase.
Celia in her "wee gold sandals" as mentioned in the poem