Childhood games

Childhood games

Back in the 1940s and 1950s children were deprived of material goods, which today might be considered useless items. But back then, we discovered ways to fill our time and keep our minds occupied, we used our brains to invent new games, so the satisfaction and joy was even greater.

 

We invented or learned many team games, the first of which was our version of cricket. Both boys and girls played it, since there weren’t enough children of either gender in the neighbourhood to make up a team.The boys made sure we had all the necessary equipment for the game. In other words, a broomstick from an old broom instead of a bat (we called it a “mourouna”), and a makeshift ball we called a “tsiliki”. The “bat” was a metre- long piece of the broomstick, and the “ball” was another piece of the stick, some 12cm long, into which the “big boy” of the group would deftly carve two pointy ends. We roughly followed the basic rules of cricket, but there were many differences too, starting with the “tsiliki” we used instead of a ball. This would be set in the ground about four feet away from the wicket, with one end on the ground and a stone under the other end, lifting it off the ground. The “batter” would strike it right on the end, so it would spin in the air, and while airborne, the batter would strike it again to send it as far away as possible, so he would have time to make as many runs (“ronia”) as he could. For the rest of the game we more or less followed the conventional rules.

Another game we played that dates back to antiquity, was “kotsi”, a game for at least three players, though the more, the merrier. We used the knuckle bone of a sheep as a dice, and because it is irregularly shaped, the edge on which it lands would determine the fate of the thrower. The players sit in a circle and throw the “kotsi” in turn until it lands on one of its broader surfaces. One player is dubbed “King”, and wears or holds some identifying item of regalia. The first player to throw the kotsi so that it lands on its broad surface, is dubbed “executioner”, and holds a handkerchief knotted at one corner as a source of punishment. The remainder of the game consists of all the players throwing the kotsi in sequence, and should it land on its narrow side, the convex edge upwards, then punishment is called for.

The punishment consists of any number of blows with the handkerchief, to the palm of the extended hand of the recipient. The king orders the number of blows and whether they should be soft (oily) or hard (vinegary). The use of the power of the King is tempered by the knowledge that the throw of the “kotsi” can transform a victim into a King and vice versa, thus reversing the roles in a matter of seconds. A player can be both King and executioner if the “Kotsi” lands in the appropriate manner. The titles of King or executioner are lost as soon as another player throws the “Kotsi” in the prescribed manner. If the kotsi is thrown and lands on its long side, concave upwards, the player escapes punishment for that turn. The King and executioner do not attract punishment, but each continues to throw, in the hope of gaining the other’s title.

This “Democratic” game, in one form or another, and no doubt with more exacting forfeits that a smack with a hanky, has been played in Greece for over 3000 years.

Kotsi have been found among the effects of the ancient Greeks, carved from ivory, made of gold, as well as simple sheep’s bones as mentioned above. Some of these can be seen at the British Museum.

Tradition had it that kotsi should be played on Easter day, when roast lamb was on the menu, and so we children would wait for Easter Sunday to see whose portion of the communal meal would contain the precious kotsi. This foreshadowed an afternoon of endless games, which would often end in tears for me if one of my sisters happened to have a grievance against me and end up in the post of executioner, as they’d be overzealous with that knotted handkerchief when my little hands were on the receiving end!

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