SKINCHIES – The Vicious Games Of Childhood And How They Become The Vicious Games Of Adulthood
Kids are very creative when it comes to making up games. It’s great preparation for the trials lurking in store in their adult lives. It’s a little while since I was at primary school, but as far as I remember boys and girls played separate games until they started to be vaguely interested in each other and the girls realised that them doing handstands up against the wall was suddenly a lot more interesting to the boys than it had been previously.
Then just as they were starting to get the hang of interacting, the full awkward horror of puberty oozed its way into their lives. Whereupon they avoided each other like the plague for two or three years until everything had settled down a bit. But before all that were the complicated rules and rituals of innocent playground fun.
The most popular game we never played at school was a Victor Magazine inspired thing called “Japs and Commandos.” A couple of lovable, politically incorrect scamps would link arms and wander around the playground chanting: “Who wants a game of Japs and Commandos?” If you wanted to join in you tagged on the end of the chain.
By time the chain was judged long enough, playtime was at an end, so the game was never actually started. Which is probably for the best, because none of us knew the rules or indeed how to actually play it. An interesting metaphor for how we would conduct most of our affairs as fully formed dysfunctional adult males.
British Bulldog was also a favourite. This consisted entirely of running at each other and punching each other as hard as our tiny fists would allow. To illustrate how messy this got, my school’s authorities eventually banned it, and this was way back in 1979 before the Health and Safety industry got going in earnest.
Odd really, because at Big School we were encouraged by our PE Teacher to play something called “Murderball” which was essentially just British Bulldog, only there was a ball involved somewhere. Presumably in preparation for the full on violence that was the compulsory Rugby Union we played to fill in the punishing gap between the one week of cross country and the one week of cricket at either and of the academic year.
The oddest game was something called Squashed Tomato. This consisted of one of the prettier girls standing against a wall faced by a line of boys some distance away. She would then point to boys at random and give them a task to facilitate getting closer to her. There was a Cabbage, where you hawked up some phlegm and spat it as far as you could. Where your spit landed was where you got to stand.
This act went by the wonderfully onomatopoeic description “Hockling” where I grew up. I hockle, you hockle, they hockle etc. There was also a Lamppost, where you lay down full length and got to stand wherever you fingers had reached. If the girl was feeling particularly cruel she might give you a Lamppost where someone’s Cabbage had previously landed.
There were other instructions too: so many Baby Steps, so many Giant Steps, but the biggie was Squashed Tomato. She pointed at you and said “Squashed Tomato” that was game over. You went straight to the wall and got to give her a kiss. It was all just a highly ritualised version of Kiss Chase. And an interesting metaphor on how the girls would run their personal lives as fully formed dysfunctional adult females.
All this impish tomfoolery aside, most of our “games” were just codified bullying and ways of expressing our distrust of each other. The “Pile On” is the best example. You would be innocently wandering around, minding your ten-year-old business and someone would grab you, throw you to the floor and shout “Pile On!” and every boy in the vicinity would jump on top of you until the weight of bodies became so great you couldn’t breathe and you either passed out or threw up. The “Warrior Hoy” was different. It was the first stupidly macho rite of passage you’d be challenged to.
If you accepted, you would be grabbed by the wrists and ankles and swung like some sort of human hammock then let go to see how far you flew. It really hurt, but we only ever did it on grass and it was fun in a very odd kind of way. If it was your birthday you got “The Bumps”, which was a bit like a “Warrior Hoy” but more vertical in nature and they didn’t let go, just pounded you into the ground however many times your new age dictated. Be foolish enough to submit to a hair cut, and “Bats” was your reward. Everyone in the school slapping you on the head four times and crying “One, two, three, Bats!” All fucking day.
Outside of school, playing on the streets with your mates, it was advisable to call “Full Ebbs on the ball” should the ball you were all playing with happen to be your ball. This meant that if the ball was run over by a car or kicked into a sub station or something, everyone had to club together to buy you a new one. This was sometimes negotiated down to Half Ebbs if the ball was a leather caser, or the area being played in was deemed by consensus to be particularly high risk for such incidents. What I’m trying to say is that children have their own rules, and nasty vicious little rules they are too. But children grow up and something of the playground still hides in the proper grown up rules we all have to live by.
We’ve already established the relevance of “Japs and Commandos” and “Squashed Tomato”, but there are other parallels. Full Ebbs on the ball is just the insurance industry. Even though loss adjusters usually ensure it’s just Half Ebbs, despite the fact that Full Ebbs is what you’ve paid for, the thieving bastards. Warrior Hoys and the like are just all the crap you have to go through at work. When your boss insists you get up and do the Karaoke in front all your drunken, baying colleagues, that’s your Warrior Hoy right there. None of these things are to your advantage.
But there is one playground remnant that very much does work in your favour. Skinchies. If you were being hounded into a corner in one of the many evil little games we’d chosen to torture each other with that day, you had a get out of jail card. If all was lost and the tiny fists were about to descend, you could cross your fingers on both hands, hold them up in front of your face and bellow “Skinchies” at the top of your lungs. And they had to leave you be; no grumbling, no questions, you were safe.
Enjoyable as all this nostalgia has been –for me anyway, how you feel about it might be a different matter- it is not really the point of this piece. The real point is to educate on what to do when bigger, more metaphorical fists are about to descend on the child that has become the adult you now are. How to make the bullies go away with the grown up version of Skinchies. Bankruptcy.
In many ways, Bankruptcy is even better than Skinchies. When you called Skinchies, all that happened was that your persecutors left you alone. There were no consequences to them afterwards. Not so when you’ve filed your insolvency papers at the local court. All those hounding phone calls and passively vitriolic letters you’ve been receiving have to stop, or your former creditors can get in big trouble. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and watch it I have.
A good friend of mine went bankrupt, and the process was a thing of joy to behold. If you ever have to consider it as an option and the idea that it is somehow shameful holds you back, then listen to this. All of those companies who have given you sleepless nights and went back on their word by jacking up their interest rates whenever they felt like it are now scared of you. The shoe is well and truly on the other foot.
When my friend went bankrupt, we adjourned to the pub and waited for the phone calls to roll in. And my how they rolled in. And my how he enjoyed saying:
“Actually, I have just been declared bankrupt and you are breaking the law by contacting me in any way shape or form.”
The funniest part was the abject apologies. It was like seeing someone kicking the shoe shine boy and then the shoe shine boy producing a very large gun and pointing it in their face.
“We’re so sorry. We didn’t know. We only rang up to confirm your middle name.”
Please don’t report us Mr Bankrupt Man.
Ha ha. Fucking skinchies.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013