Playing `Kick the Can'
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Of all the scores of games we used to play as children, ``Kick Can'' is the one I think was the most fun. It has such a wonderful combination of long waiting and silent mystery followed by sudden mad action and furious noise. It is the ideal mixture of secretiveness, strategy, and crazy daring. It brings out the commando in you. It's valiant, dramatic, and above all terribly funny. As you poise behind an elderberry bush, preparing a tiger-spring across the wide open space, you know you might well be spotted before you leap, and even after you go, you know only too well you have a 50-50 chance of being, seconds later, either a Popular Hero or a Disconsolate Captive for your risky pains.Skip to next paragraph
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I have to admit that until now I hadn't quite realized how many other children in the world play (or adults have played) versions of Kick Can. But there it all is in Peter and Iona Opie's classic book ``Children's Games in Street and Playground.'' They give it three full pages. The authors comment: ``As the game progresses, and the [seeker] has perhaps acquired a number of captives, he becomes increasingly unwilling to move far from the tin, while the impatience of the captives and those still in hiding grows in proportion. In Scotland the captives taunt `Go oot, go oot, ye lazy hen,' urging him to give them a chance to be rescued: `Leave the den, ye dirty hen/ An' look for a' yer chickens.'''
I must admit that we were politer than that - though if we'd once heard the taunt, I have no doubt we'd have used it too.
The Opies continue: ``If there are many players ... the seeker's task is nearly impossible, and they sometimes make it a rule that if the captives have been released three times the next person `caught' shall become seeker, and the game starts again.'' I think we had some similar rule, too.
``... juvenile enthusiasm, for the game,'' observed the Opies, ``is unflagging. Even a 14-year-old boy said, `I spend hours playing this game. I love it, and so do all my pals.'''
I'll tell you a secret: When we played it as children, the adult members of the family often joined in. I'm sure they didn't do it just to please us, though they probably pretended that was the reason. The fact is that they hadn't in the least grown out of it. Also it is not one of those games which belongs exclusively to boys or girls: Sissies can play too.
All the same it seems that some stuffy persons are anti-Kick-Can. The Opies state: ``There are, nevertheless, clearly two opinions about [the game's] virtues.'' A 13-year-year old girl told them: ``... people where I live don't like us playing [it] very much. They say it is too noisy, and the mothers say it wears out our shoes.'' The authors also quote a headmistress: ``The truth is, it is a perfectly evil game guaranteed to put me in a bad temper.'' I'm glad I never encountered her at school!
But the remark I like best is from a 15-year-old: ``The only inconvenience it causes is when the tin is being kicked about it has a tendency to wake up the neighbours' babies.''
Ah, well, some good things are worth losing a bit of sleep over.
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