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London

Kids with home made go cart
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Kids with home made go cart (photo by Martha Cooper)
In the following article, Streetplay reader Peter Taylor recalls the rich street play traditions that existed around London England and how he and his friends would develop new games and activities to keep themselves entertained.
I grew up in Woodford, a working class suburb east of London. My friends and I would come home from school, change our clothes and go outside to play. We might end up in the local park or a parking lot, but most of the time we played in the street.

Kicking games

Our main game was a variation of football (the game American's call soccer). Our sweaters and jackets were put down at different parts of the street to mark the goals. We'd have to dash over and pull up the pile when a car was coming so the clothes wouldn't get run over. There was also a danger that the ball would get crushed under a tire or even worse, absconded if it was kicked on to the porch of someone who hated having us play in the block. Whatever the reason, the result was we were always running out of good balls.

Often the guy who had the ball had rights to call the game. We'd devise all kinds of soccer type games that could work with any kind of ball; a soccer ball, tennis ball, kiddie ball, squash ball, whatever. The rules of game would vary depending on the ball and the number of guys available.

If we were only three or five kids, we'd take turns and compete as individuals. The kid who scored three goals first would become the goalie. Since no one wanted to be the goalie so this was the way we could make it work. If we had more guys we'd break into teams with two or three on a side. Whatever we had, whoever we had, we'd make it work.

To be honest, we could spend hours just kicking the ball around. We might keep it up off the ground and pass it between each other or we'd take aim keep shooting at a specific spot. We'd play against a wall in a parking lot, a driveway or even kick it against a door. Balls might get kicked up on a roof and you'd have to boost a guy up to get it or perhaps they'd smash into a window, and one of our moms would come out screaming.

We'd invent other games, such as squash using our feet. Actually, we sometimes played squash using our hands, without rackets, which is similar to American handball.

Street Cricket

If someone had a bat we might play street cricket. We'd usually use chalk or paint to mark off a wicket (3 slots) on the wall of the parking lot. Again, you'd play "street rules," with a gentleman's agreement of whether or not the ball hit the wicket. Sometimes you'd play in teams, most of the time it would be a competition among individuals, with each kid trying to accumulate the most runs. Bowlers would switch after 6 throws, the batsman would stay up until he made an out.

Generally we play cricket in the summer, soccer the other months. In the summer the first guy would go and get a friend, then the two of you would go to the third friend. We might have end up with 20 guys.

Bulldog

In the school playgrounds we had other games, one of the best being Bulldog. You'd have two teams starting with the same number, one attacking and one on defense. The attackers would try to reach the wall behind the defending team, but any attacker that got caught (tackled to the ground) would have to join the defenders team. As the game progressed, there would be less and less attackers. There was no winning, it was just a game of pure attrition, with lots of bruises. You'd get a good reputation in school if you were good at Bulldog. It was a great game for growing boys.

Bikes

Aside from the games, we really centered our play around bicycles. We went everywhere by bike, packs of kids out travelling long distances. We'd also spend time creating all kinds of stunts for our bikes, building ramps and experimenting with all kind kinds of tricks. I remember one time when I had this ramp set up in the back yard and I did my trick but couldn't stop. I went over the ramp, bounced down the steps and went right through the two panel glass door on my back porch. I can still remember now how my mom reacted when she saw me landing in her kitchen.

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