All in a game

We played lots of playground games when I was at primary school in Ampleforth in the 1970s (I’m sitting in the middle of the front row in a fetching waistcoat)

I live not far from a school and I can hear the happy sounds of the children in the playground enjoying the respite from lessons. I often wonder what kinds of games they play, and whether they still enjoy those that my generation did as youngsters. 

There was a whole host of them, the rules not written down, but we all knew what to do, such as Wallflower, Leapfrog, Kiss Catch, Cat’s Cradle, Marbles, Conkers, Hopskotch, British Bulldogs, and Stuck in the Mud. In his column from 21st February 1981, my dad describes games from his own youth, and one that he calls ‘Sheep and Wolf’ sounds very similar to what I would call ‘What Time is it Mr Wolf?’

In Sheep and Wolf, one person would be a shepherd and another the wolf, while everyone else was a sheep. The sheep and shepherd would stand facing each other at either end of the playground while the wolf would loiter at the side. The shepherd would shout ‘Sheep, sheep, come home’ while the sheep replied, ‘No, no, we can’t, there’s a wolf.’ After this has been repeated a few times, the shepherd then says, ‘The wolf has gone home’ and the sheep then have to race across to the shepherd without getting caught by the wolf. Whoever got caught would become the next wolf. 

‘What Time is it Mr Wolf?’ was similar although there was no shepherd. One person was the wolf at one end of the playground facing away from the sheep at the other. The sheep would ask ‘What time is it Mr Wolf?’ and the wolf would say a time, and the sheep would creep forward. This would carry on a few times, with the sheep getting closer and closer, until Mr Wolf would suddenly reply ‘It’s dinner time!’, and turn around to chase the sheep.

Some of these games meant that you could target a boy or girl that you liked, and I remember not trying too hard to run away if the wolf was a boy I had taken a shine to.

When we were very young it was ‘The Farmer’s in his Den’. You all stood in a ring holding hands with everyone else singing the well-known song. The farmer, who was in the centre, chose a ‘wife’, usually a girl he liked, then the ‘wife’ chose a ‘child’, the ‘child’ chose a ‘nurse’, the ‘nurse’ a ‘dog’ and the ‘dog’ a ‘bone’, and at the end, for some reason I have yet to fathom, everyone patted the ‘bone’. Some of us were rather over-enthusiastic with the bone-patting and teachers occasionally had to intervene!

A game from Dad’s childhood was called the ‘Sally Waters Kissing Game’ (Others have it as ‘Sally Walker’, but who was this mysterious lass, I wonder?). The girls danced around a circle of boys, and one boy had to choose a girl and the rest would form a ring around the pair and everyone sang:

‘Why don’t you marry the girl you love?

Why don’t you marry the girl?

You’ve got the ring, and that’s everything,

Why don’t you marry the girl?’

There was a similar game known as Mana, Mana, Minetail, or Kissing in the Ring. Everyone stood in a circle, and each boy in turn had to call the name of a girl, saying ‘Mana, Mana, Minetail.’ The girl would shout ‘For what?’ and the boy would reply ‘Drink a glass of thinetail,’ to which the girl would reply, ‘Thank you for that, but catch me first.’ Obviously it was a way that a boy could let a girl know he had his eye on her, and no doubt if the feelings were mutual, the girl would not try too hard to get away.

Some of my favourites were hide and seek games, and one that I loved was ‘Block 123’ , where someone was ‘It’ and the rest of you had to run and hide. There was a place that was the ‘block’ and when someone was found they became imprisoned on the ‘block’. Those still hidden had to try and rescue the prisoner by getting to the ‘block’ without  getting ‘tigged’. 

Incidentally, in my corner of North Yorkshire, we called the famous chasing game ‘tig’, although I do know many who called it ‘tag’. What did you call it, and what playground games do you remember?

Contact me, and read more, at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug


This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 26th February and the Gazette & Herald on 24th February 2021

5 thoughts on “All in a game”

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