Malta Diary Street Games our children used to play – healthy, communicative, innocent outdoor activity
Today its sickly solarity indoor laptops, ipads and play stations featuring rubbish
Unless you lived on a major thoroughfare, a main road or an arterial connection, traffic was sparse. In my boyhood it was common for a family to have five or six children and during holidays and with the weather permitting, crowds of children gathered in every street and played together.
Boys played football (mainly crushed and rolled up newspapers rolled up into a ball held with glue of netted string) and engaged in their normal rough and tumble and occasionally came to blows amidst a load of howling and screaming. Girls were more genteel, pushed toy prams and pushchairs, cuddled dolls and played beads.
It’s September 2020 and all is gone. My seven-year-old grandson has not been to school since mid-March and has not played with another child since then because he is an only child. Since then he has been in the company of adults – moaning and groaning most of the time and losing their tempers. This is another toll of cursed Coronavirus.
Notwithstanding, most if not all, street games have gradually disappeared well before the pandemic as road traffic increased and exploded, pollution abounded and the menace of human depravity rendered it impossible to leave children playing outdoors all alone.
Technology continued to accomplish the killer blow, enabling communication from a distance, making face-to-face unnecessary and absorbed in hours of viewing rubbish while slouched on a couch.
The games that Maltese children played were identical to that of other children worldwide, the dfference being that as poverty was widespread, a lot of improvisation had to be made. For example, wooden carts and trolleys substituted a car. This consisted of four wheels from a discarded pram or pushchair secured to a piece of plank and a rope secured up front for a boy to sit on the cart and another upfront pulling the cart. Scooters were more or less made in the same manner.
Another favourite with boys was a discarded bycicle wheel being prodded with a large hooked wooden rod and rolled along the street for as long as it could remain upright.
Thankfully, as street play began to dwindle, playgrounds with swings and roundabouts were initiated and now – after we have bunged everywhere up with bricks, stone and mortar – there is a craze for the creation of “open spaces”
Here are some of the more traditional games that were enjoyed.
Making A Den/Tent
This involved gathering absolutely everything one could from around home, including blankets, duvets, pillows and cushions to make a hideout in the living room in the shape of an Indian wigwam or a jungle hut.
Various games could be played, where children would compete for beads dealt out by every player. The most common involved making a shallow depression in the ground into which beads were flicked. Sometimes the beads’ colours had different values.
Before the advent of glass marbles, children played bowls using hazelnuts.
A rough diagram with nine, numbered compartments was scratched or chalked on the ground represented the nine months of pregnancy, with the ninth-month section drawn with a bulge.
Kids cast a stone from the starting point, hop towards it, to trip it on to the next number. Completing the set results in ‘having a baby’.
To spin a wooden top, children wound a string several times around it and learned to throw it sharply while holding on to the end of the string. This made the top spin for a short while.
This popular game could be played in several styles but all involved a boy at the front, well bent forward, while the other vaults over him, using his hands, in leap frog fashion.
There were a number of other popular games like leapfrog, flying kites, blowing bubbles, hide ‘n seek and of course playing football and going fishing.
“If you cut off a pig’s tail it will remain a pig.”
The equivalent of leopards never change their spots.