Playing `Kick the Can'

I HAVE to say it: If you haven't played ``Kick Can'' you haven't lived. You don't have to call it that. In some places it's called ``Kick the Can'' or ``Kick the Tin.'' In Sydney, Australia, there are kids who know it as ``I-acky.'' It's played all over the world in slightly different forms, in Germany, France, Holland. In Britain (where I live) it has been given all kinds of local names - things like ``Tin Can Tommy'' and ``Kicky-Off-Choff-Choff'' and ``Tin in t' Ring.''

I'd be surprised if you don't know the basic rules. But to remind you (if you're a 104 and it's slipped your memory for a moment):

You need ...

(1) An empty tin can.

(2) As many players as you can get together.

(3) A fine long summer evening.

(4) Bags of energy.

It also helps, if you happen to be the unfortunate Keeper of the Can or ``seeker'' (or ``canner,'' ``den keeper,'' ``slave,'' or just plain ``it'') to have a good loud voice, eyes on four sides of your head and a v-e-r-y sus-pi-cious na-ture. Also it's quite useful if you are not inclined to despair too easily, because your job is absolutely impossible. Well, difficult, anyway.

First you put your can in the middle of the largest open space you can find. You could draw a chalk circle around it. That's where it belongs. Next you put your right foot on it, close your eyes, and count a hundred. This is to give time for all the other players to disappear off the face of the earth. Depending on where you are playing, this means they hide behind garbage containers, cars, down alleyways, the other side of doors or walls, in the bushes, behind fat tree trunks, at the back of the house.

Now everybody is against the poor ``it.'' Your job is to tentatively see if you can't spy any one of the hidden enemies. But beware! - you mustn't stray too far from your can. Your opponents are maneuvering. They are plotting and planning. They can see you even if you can't see them .... Then, suddenly, you see one of them! You must yell out ``Seen you, Froggy!'' (or whatever the name is) and rush back to the tin, put your foot on it and count ``One, Two, Three'' before Froggy can belt out of her/his hiding place and kick the can. If Froggy gets there first, you have to go and fetch your can (which Froggy, being a first-class footballer, has kicked three streets away) return with it to the original spot and count 100 again, allowing Froggy and his invisible friends to hide or rearrange their hiding places.

If, however, you get to the can first, Froggy is your first Prisoner. He now has to stand by the can looking pathetic and ill- treated, and can only be released if one of the other players manages to break cover and rush and kick the can before you spot them and beat them to it. If you get there first, and count three, you have another Prisoner.

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.

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.

`Kidspace' is a place on The Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event.

These articles will appear once or twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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