The Law of the Playground is quite specific. “Games shall be as brutal as possible, and there shall be no snitching to the teachers if you get hurt.” Are we absolutely clear? Good. Because break time at our school came with a public safety warning. It was tough out there.
Take the gentle game of “One Touch” for example. You’ve got to kick a ball against a wall. You’ve only got one touch of the ball to do it (hence the name, stupid) and if you fail, you’re out. Last person left is the winner. Simple enough.
But at Piggott this pursuit mutated into “One Touch Dobbings”. Nobody dared to miss the wall because not only were you out, but you had to make it to the edge of the pitch without receiving a kicking from the other players. The later into the game, the worse the “dobbing” as frustrated “out” players waited for a new game to start by dealing out harsher and harsher punishments. A particularly good game of One Touch would actually attract non-participating spectators whose sole purpose in life was to “dob” the vanquished. The more the better, and one or two of the lads would resort to wearing protective clothing.
Woe betide you, however, if you played One Touch Dobbings with Jonno. His idea of a good dobbing was a steel-capped boot in the testicles. You only played One Touch Dobbings with Jonno once, usually minutes before you crawled into a quiet corner to die.
One Touch? Pah! Why play that wusses game when you had Kingy. In America they’ve got Dodgeball. It’s played with a huge great ball that is impossible to throw with any great force and nobody gets hurt. Much. Hell, there’s even an International Dodgeball Federation for crud’s sake. And leagues. And twenty foot high trophies that you can only get in American minority sports. I bet it’s even got a TV deal somewhere.
Another breaktime of Death Kingy
Hell no. That won’t do. We took the wussed-out game of Dodgeball and turned it into Kingy. We didn’t have no truck those great big soft balls. We wanted action. We wanted power. We wanted pain. Being the maniacs that we were, we had tennis balls injected with water. In skilled hands, they were deadly weapons, and some people actually preferred the risk of playing One Touch with Jonno over the painfest that was Kingy.
The rules were simple: One person is Kingy. He has the ball. He has to chase the other players round the playing area chucking the ball at them. If he scores a hit, the two then team up against the rest until everyone is hit. The last guy left is the winner and is Kingy for the next game.
Early on in the game, you’re more likely to get a fluky hit that won’t hurt so much. The longer you last, the greater the odds against you and the bigger the chance of reciving a close-range whupping. And that, I’m afraid is the price you pay for being so bloody good at it.
And boy could you get some power with half a pound of water-filled tennis ball. A good hit would leave a bruise that would stay for weeks. I saw with my own eyes Jim taking a hit from close range right between the arse cheeks by a member of the school cricket team. The ball was travelling with such force that it actually got wedged in there and James just silently keeled over forwards, the ball still clenched up his arse. As far as I know, it’s still there.
We carried him from the field, face down, and dumped him outside the classroom door, ready for the next lesson. Unfortunately for him, it was physics, and those science lab stools hurt your butt at the best of times...
But playing this wide-ranging game of chase and pain on the school field was not enough. We wanted more! One damp day, with the field closed off, we decided to play Kingy in the enclosed space between the maths block and the sports hall. Holy Mother of Donkey Poop. There was nowhere to hide. Mal didn’t even have any trees to run into. It was brutal.
A whole game, which would normally last twenty minutes out in the field would last maybe two or three. Bodies would lie scattered across the playground nursing wounds or crawling to safety. If you were hit and went down, they’d hit you again “just to make sure”, or resort to the time-honoured tradition of “Dobbings” in a horrific playground crossover that maybe took the genre just a little too far. Breaktime, once a fun refuge from the rigours of the classroom soon became something to dread; and wary of breaking the Rule of the Playground and wimping out, we’d grimly get stuck into our brutal task.
However, the line had been crossed and there was no going back. And like drug addicts, we wanted more. And Mad Jonno of the bollock-crushing boots provided it. “Screw the tennis ball”, he said, “Look at what I’ve got”.
It was a golf ball. One ounce of white plastic malevolance. Not only did it hurt, it had the ability to draw blood. And in the enlcosed maths block/sports hall space, the thing would ricochet around to catch you unawares, leaving you in a groaning heap on the deck, just ripe for a dobbing prior to your trip to the emergency dentist.
One breaktime of that was more than enough. People were about to crack. To hell with the Playground Law, teachers would have to be told. Luckily, honour would be preserved. One breaktime of Golfball Kingy was all we got.
The trouble with golfballs on a hard surface is that they bounce. A lot. And once it’s going, no bugger on Earth is going to try to stop it. So come lunch time, out came the Ball of Fear and off we go with another game. Jonno is Kingy and lets fly with the Mother and Father of all misdirected throws. We watch with astonishment as our nemesis bounces once, twice, three times, right across the playground, younger kids diving out of the way, scattering in abject fear.
There is a sickening crash of glass as Jonah’s Exocet missile scores a bulleye on the dining hall. Witnesses on the inside speak of an explosion of glass, panic, outrage and a free meal to anyone who claimed they’d got glass in their food. And there, at the very epicentre, was Mrs Taylor, the fearsome dinner lady, who had taken the full force of a supersonic golf ball right in the left tit.
The shit hit the fan. Mrs Taylor’s tit had to be avenged, and the head stormed out of his office like a big fat, sweaty angel of death to collar the culprits. There are times when you have to say bollocks to the Playground Law of landing your mates in the shit, and this was it. Month upon month of Jonno’s steel-capped boots in the nuts was enough for all of us, and his time had come. One day we might want to have children, or at the very least, See A Lady Naked. He was handed to the authorities on a plate, and our ordeal of Death Kingy was over. And thank God for that, we could get back to regular brutality.
If there’s a moral to all this, it’s that sometimes we have to bend the rules. Playground Honour is one thing. A boot in the nads is another.