When I ask the boys at school how they spent their evening or their weekend, the most common answer is, “played games.” Even before the pandemic eliminated almost every possibility of outdoor activity, the majority of their leisure time seemed to be spent on electronic devices. Phones, tablets, X-boxes, Play Stations, the platforms vary but the activities are similar.
“I have twenty-five games of FIFA to catch up on,” said one student, “and only one evening to complete them.”
“How long does a game take?”
“Eight hours twenty minutes, you don’t have time.”
“Eight hours twenty minutes.”
“How did you do that?”
“Three twenty minutes in an hour. Divide twenty-five by three. You could do it if you spent more time on things other than playing FIFA.”
He smiled. He had no intention of giving up his electronic football games.
What, I wondered, did I do with winter evenings when I was young?
I have clear memories of spring and summer and autumn. They are memories of being outside at every opportunity.
In all three seasons, there are memories of playing football in Henry Vigar’s field at the side of the house, with jumpers for goalposts and with arguments about shoulder barges and crunching tackles and handballs.
In summer, there are memories of playing cricket in Henry Vigar’s field at the front of the house. (Henry Vigar must have been most indulgent farmer of boys’ games in the county, if not the country). Cricket demanded more participants than football. There was need for a batsman, a bowler, a wicket keeper and at least two fielders. Sometimes girls would be drafted into the number, but they soon grew tired of boys’ bickering. If football could produce disagreements, then cricket could be the occasion of twice or three times as many arguments about the rules of the game. Imagine trying to settle an argument about whether or not the batsman was run out when you are playing in a meadow with no crease to show where he is out and where he is in, and when there would only have been a single stump at the bowler’s end.
Spring, summer and autumn are clear, but as for winter, there is a blank. What did we do when the evenings were dark and when the rain poured down and when the roads were as muddy as the fields beyond the hedges? Reading? Television? There is no recall.
Before TV dwindled our ranks, and it was very late in coming to our wee Scottish town, shaded from radio signals by hills and distance, we played outside all winter, gathered round a dim street light. Boys and girls, all ages. The street light was a base for hide n seek, leevo, tig, others now forgotten and just talking. Rain chased us all inside but anything else – hail, snow, wind, hard frost was no deterrent.
Frost was an excuse for slides and sometimes these were enhanced with pails of water smuggled out of houses. In for “tea” and then out again until the final call.
Then home to a roasting, environmentally unfriendly fire.
Fear seems to have driven many children inside, a constant anxiety about “stranger danger.” Yet a group of secondary school age boys out playing football would seem safer than a solitary twelve year old playing games online.
We used to have coal and coke. Once the fire was hot, the coke would go on. You could have smelted steel in our fireplace!