A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast of The Danny Baker Show, broadcast on BBC5Live every Saturday morning. Danny’s show is a phone in, where Danny gives a list of themes (have you ever been locked in? Mundane conversations with sports stars; ‘Don’t talk to me about umbrellas’) and the public phone in with their stories, very often nothing to do with Mr Baker’s agenda.
One particular call was from a man who was head teacher at a primary school, on the theme of the playground game ‘British Bulldog’, a particularly lively tag game where participants have to run from one place to another without being ‘tagged’. If they’re tagged, they become the tagger, until only one person remains to become, I suppose, ‘British Bulldog’. Wordpretzels from across the world may have their own version, although I’ve never heard of ‘New Zealand Kiwi’, ‘Australian Wallaby’ or ‘American Eagle’ (discounting the reasonably priced clothes shops).
Anyway, this head teacher explained that British Bulldog was banned in his school because of health and safety concerns. However, on a residential school trip, which involved lots of activities that require reams of health and safety forms, he decided to throw the rule book out of the window and organise a massive game of ‘British Bulldog’. After explaining the rules to a whole generation of children who had never experienced the exhilarating violence of a playground tag game, battle commenced.
Within ten minutes, the game was abandoned when ‘Sir’ broke his arm in two places and had to be taken to hospital, proving that ‘British Bulldog’ is indeed a dangerous game and no laughing matter. Except for the kids, who must have been in hysterics.
I suppose this was a tremendous indictment to health and safety, but reminded me of a playground game that involved a large number of junior school boys when I was at school, in the days before health and safety and allergies were invented.
Firstly, you had to recruit participants. This involved two boys linking arms and chanting, “We won the war, in 1964”. Other boys would then link arms and chant along, until there were a collection of boys in a long line, staggering around the playground.
I’m not sure where this chant originated, but I’m sure that the Sunday Times would have leapt on the opportunity to show how appalling the teaching of history was in our state schools. This was the 1960s, when Great Britain, as we were called then, still thought it ran the world. We lived with people who fought in the war and subliminally convinced us that the Germans were still the enemy. We read Combat magazines. We cossetted toy machine guns with grenade launchers and a tripod to stand it on so you could evenly spray the advancing imaginary Hun with imaginary bullets.
Also, you may notice that I refer to boys, not girls. In the 1960s, girls didn’t run about. They played hopscotch and a mysterious game with metal objects and a bouncy ball. They did not go near boys, unless they were made to do so (country dancing on a Thursday after lunch).
Once enough boys were collected, the game could commence. One boy would be picked to go in the middle, usually one of the more athletic ones. The rest of us would gather at one end of the playground, against the wall. The object of the game was to run as fast as possible to the other end of the playground and the safety of another wall.
The people in the middle had to tag you. Sounds easy? Well not in this game. It wasn’t a simple case of touching the runner and shouting tag, oh no. The tagger had to hold onto you long enough to say:
“Two, Four, Six, Eight, Alleevio Knockout!
The essential tactic was to be able to say this as fast as possible. You didn’t want to hold on for too long.
After which the runner was ‘it’ and joined the middle.
Can you imagine a game where you have to hold a muscular school bully for longer than a couple of seconds? The arguments over whether you had finished saying ‘Alleevio Knockout’?
Very often, these games would look like a cross between rugby, Aussie rules and cage fighting. Lots of small children left bleeding in the council bushes; staggering across the tarmac, trying desperately to fix their spectacles or find their missing teeth. Although, in the 1960s, very few children wore glasses and teeth were a luxury. Ergo fat boys – in the 1960s, government education guidelines allocated only one fat boy per class, preferably with ginger hair to concentrate the bullying factor and hence save other children. These boys would often be found during our Alleevio Knockout sessions vainly grasping at fresh air in the middle of the playground, wheezing and purple from their exertions. Upon reflection, obese people in the 1960s had a lot more resilience.
Most of the time, I was fast enough to evade capture well into the game. Graham McGifford, the fastest boy in the school who modelled himself on Billy Whiz from the Beano comic, usually won. However, during one particular round of 2,4,6,8 Alleevio Knockout, I found myself in the middle early on, with a ripped shirt sleeve and scuffed shoes. Running towards me was Ray Reynolds.
Now, Ray ‘Razor’ Reynolds was a trainee secondary school bully. He’d mastered Chinese burns and menacing looks and was half way through his investigations into farting on people’s heads and obtaining dinner money with the minimum of beating before graduating with the module ‘using a weaker boy’s head to clean a lavatory bowl’.
I braced myself. Ray was bulky, but not particularly fast. Due to his 5 a day smoking habit, his fitness also left a lot to be desired.
At the last moment, he veered to my left, but I was on my toes and took off, knowing I had the speed to cut off his escape. I took a hold of his shirt, just above the elbow.
“Twofoursixeightalleeviokn…” I started, before all the breath left my body.
Ray had deftly lifted the arm I was holding and driven his elbow into my advancing sternum. However, the pain in my chest didn’t last long, because Ray followed up with a second swing of his left arm, landing neatly across the bridge of my nose. The world disappeared in a cloud of sparkling stars as I sank to the inky blackness of the playing arena.
‘Razor’ continued his run to the other wall without interruption. He was caught two runs later by four kids jumping on him at once. I believe two of them survived to tell the tale.
I doubt very much whether the kids are allowed to play ‘2,4,6,8 Alleevio Knockout’ at Saffron Green Junior School any more. In fact, I should imagine that the head teacher is probably young enough to have been banned from playing it at school as a child as well.
The one puzzling thing I haven’t addressed is the name of the game. I have no idea of its origins. I can’t find anybody outside of my home town who played it. What’s an Alleevio? Why 2, 4, 6, 8? Yes, it’s a good way to learn your times tables. When concussed.
Wordpretzels, if anybody has the answers to my questions or has actually played ‘2,4,6,8’, please let me know.