games and places


Folk Games I Have Played, 1982-1992

Written for an upcoming folk games zine that George Buckenham and Pat Ashe are putting together.


There was a game where we lay back in swings and closed our eyes, me and my friend Summer. When someone made too much noise nearby we'd sit up and yell DON'T WAKE ME UP at them, loud, leaning forward in our swings, top-of-our-lungs anger. We won if we both yelled. If only one of us yelled, then we lost. This is the first game I remember playing.

There was a game where someone was a Hider. The Hider would hide my lunchbox, anywhere in the school, and everyone else tried to find it and get it back to the handball court before the Hider caught them.

There was a game where Summer and I would phone each other after school, and one of us, let's say me, would get a wooden spoon and I'd hit it against things in my loungeroom, and Summer would try to guess what I was hitting. There was a two-metre circle of things around the phone that I could reach - stretching the coiled cord as far as it would go - and after a while Summer could guess them all. I learnt the sound of her spiral staircase bannisters, and her kitchen sink, and her music stand, and her many many books, though I couldn't ever tell one book from another.

There was a game we called Bockwinkel, because that was the surname of the man who taught us. "It's not called Bockwinkel," he'd say with growing anger. "I didn't make it up."

There was a game where you'd walk along the beach and point at things, slightly disgusting things on the sand: tangled-up seaweed, old ice-cream sticks, some blobs like big transparent jelly-beans that we called jellyfish (though I guess they weren't really). If you pointed at something your opponent had to pick it up and hold it in her hands while she counted down from ten, and if she made it all the way to zero she could throw it at you. Summer with seaweed in her hair, and her mother yelling down at us to stop fighting.

There was a secret version of Spin the Bottle, where you'd be sent into the cupboard with a boy (or just pushed behind a curtain, if someone was already in the cupboard), and you'd kiss each other. The secret rule was that you would stand there and stare at the boy, just stare at him and not smile and not say anything, and then after thirty seconds you would leave and he would follow.

There was a game called Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Kiss, Pash or Torture. "Kiss" was a specific type of dare, to go and kiss someone; "pash" was the same but more so, a really heartfelt kiss. Pash. "Torture" was hitting someone ten times, usually not very hard, just open-handed slaps on the upper arm. We made up a new rule, which was: once someone had picked one of the options nobody could pick it again, not until all the remaining options had been taken. Because it's not much of a game otherwise, right? But nobody wanted to play it with us once we'd fixed the rules, so we sat on a tree trunk instead and ate barbecued sausages and looked out through gum trees into the car park.

There was a game of strip poker. Nobody really understood how poker worked, but we figured out some approximate rules based on a girl's brother's memory of a time he hung out with some older kids. Summer and I were good at games, for eleven-year-olds, so we sat there while the other eleven-year-olds lost more and more of their clothes. "Shall we stop this," we eventually said, one boy down to his boxer shorts, a girl in nothing but her sundress, her undies crumpled up and shoved into her bag in the corner. "Yes," they all said. "Yes, let's stop."