Royton, Lancs, 1950s.

The following games were recalled by my sister-in-law Elaine Bundell (née Vacher). She was born in 1952 and lived as a child in Royton, near Oldham, in the general vicinity of Manchester, in what was then part of the county of Lancashire, in the North of England.

1.

Ping pong pee and the P C lantern
My black cat can play the pianer
He can play for two and a tanner
Kerb or the red brick wall ?

“This was a “choosing” rhyme for a running race game.  The children wanting to be chosen stood  in a line with both hands held out, palm up. The “chooser” went along the line tapping each hand in turn.  The child whose hand was tapped at the end of the rhyme on the word “wall” was the challenger and could choose either the kerb or the wall.  (I played this game in the playground at Byron Street Junior School in Royton.  I seem to remember there was an undercover area with a kerb to step up into it and a brick wall at the back.)  If the challenger chose the kerb then she (again, it was usually a girl) ran to the kerb from a chosen line some distance away, back to the line then to the wall and back to the line again.  Meanwhile the chooser ran to the wall first then to the kerb.  The winner was the person back to the line the second time.  I don’t remember whether the winner became the chooser or if the challenger became the chooser.  Even if there were only two people playing, the formality of the rhyming and hand tapping took place.”

This is the game which the Opies[1] call kerb or wall, preceded by a counting out or choosing method commonly used to begin this game. They give the following example of the game’s rhyme:

Bim, bam, boo, and a wheezy anna
My black cat can play the piano
One, two, three, kick him up a tree
Kerb or wall ?

This was reported from Stockport, which is not far from Manchester, and therefore Royton. Both rhymes are noticeably nonsensical, especially their first lines, which leads the Opies to add the following disparaging note to their example : `Versions in various stages of decomposition throughout the north country’. It is not clear, however, what the more composed original might have been.

2.

Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Jews
Bought his wife a pair of shoes
When the shoes began to wear
Nebuchadnezzar began to swear
When the swear began to stop
Nebuchadnezzar bought a shop
When the shop began to sell
Nebuchadnezzar bought a bell
When the bell began to ring
Nebuchadnezzar began to sing
Doh ray me far so la ti doh !

“A rhyme for doing “two-ball”.  Bouncing two balls alternately against a wall underhand.  On each rhyming word, doing a different action, eg throwing one ball overhand, bouncing one ball on the ground before hitting the wall (I seem to remember this was called for some reason “tobogganing”), throwing under the leg against the wall and, the hardest of all, behind the back.  Each action lasted for the complete rhyme, saying the rhyme again and doing the next action until the ball was dropped then it was the turn of the next girl (I don’t  remember boys ever playing two-ball).  I also think that when reciting the “doh ray me”  the action was done on every word.”

Steve Roud[2] reproduces the same rhyme, word for word, reported from Kent in the 1940s, also used for games involving the bouncing of balls.

Elaine remembers another rhyme used for playing two-ball:

Lady, baby, gypsy, queen,
Elephant, monkey, tangerine.

“I think it was simply a case of throwing the balls against the wall and doing a different action on the rhyming words.”

Such ball- bouncing games, says Roud, were exclusively girl’s games. They were also `immensely popular’ – which makes it all the more striking that they `seem nowadays to have disappeared’.
3.

Alabalabusha
Who’s got the ball ?
See I haven’t got it
It isn’t in my pocket
Ala-balabusha
Who’s got the ball ?

“This was a ball game where someone threw a small ball over their shoulder to a group of waiting children.  Whoever grabbed or caught the ball put it behind their back.  Everyone then stood in line with their hands behind their backs saying the rhyme and showing each hand in turn.  At the start of the rhyme the thrower turned round and watched the action then at the end of the rhyme had to pick out the child who had the ball.  If they guessed right then they had another go and if not then the person with the ball became the thrower.  (I remember playing this at the Mission Infants School in Royton and the first thrower was often one of the dinner ladies.)”

This is a version of the game Queenie. ‘Queenie is the perpetual delight of little girls aged eight and nine’ write the Opies. The commonest version of the rhyme begins ‘Queenie, queenie’ but the Opies note that` in Scotland and North-east England’ the rhyme begins instead with` Alabala’. They do not specifically give any example from the Oldham (or Manchester) area .

`Alabala’ (also, ‘Ali baba’ and ‘Ala wala’) also occur in examples of what the Opies call Chinese Counting, so-called not only because a Chinaman often appears, but also – perhaps more so – because the rhymes are made up of nonsense. Elaine remembered this one :

Ah-ra chickara
Chickara rooney
Rooney poony
Ping pong piney
Ala- bala-basta
Chinese Sam

“This may have been a choosing rhyme but I remember girls just walking around arm-in-arm chanting the rhyme.”

*

  1. “Children’s Games in Street and Playground“, Iona and Peter Opie, 1969.
  2. The Lore of the Playground: One hundred years of children’s games, rhymes and traditions, Steve Roud, Random House, London, 2010.

4 thoughts on “Royton, Lancs, 1950s.

  1. I came across this by accident when looking for the origin of “my black cat can play the piano”

    In Newton Heath some three miles east of the centre of Manchester the verse you quote above started
    ‘Im-bam-boo an’ a wheezy anna
    my black cat can play the pian-a
    one, two, three kick ‘im up a tree
    Kerb or the wall

    This would then involve a dash to the kerb or across the street the winner to be selected.

  2. Thanks John. Your version sound more likely/realistic than the Opies’ ‘piano’ ! But what might ‘wheezy anna’ come from ? Louisiana perhaps ? An unusual and fun sounding word that children might well have popped in to their rhyme.

  3. Manchester,Wytheshawe 1952 .Ala pala busha who’s got the ball ?
    I havent got
    you havent got
    ( screaming and shouting)
    She’s got.
    Ball get thrown in the air and the bunck playing the game run off in all directions maybe ten yards .
    Someone catches the ball and it begins again.

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