Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Lost Games #6 Stepball

click to enlarge image

That's Wimbledon over for another year and still no British winner.
Tennis was a traditional Summer High Wall game, but more often or not there was little or no access to proper courts. Granted there were a rake of courts in the Meadows but they cost money and the surly guy in the wee ticket shed seemed keen to maintain standards so took a dim view of scruffy wee laddies with one ball (grey not thon new fangled green yins) and a few auld bats.

Never mind the High Wall had it's own Centre Court, namely the steps at the side of the Dick Vet. A wee bit of innovation and inspiration and the game of Stepball was born.

Now here was a proper game. The idea was that you stood at the bottom, hit a ball up the steps and took turns trying to return it, a bit like Squash (which we had never seen or played) or Shapes (played all the time with a fitba against a flat wall)
The steps were irregular and so the random angle of return idea is what turns Stepball into a real challenge. This was perhaps derived from the ancient childhood game of Kerbie.

The real breakthrough was when the tennis ball got lost and was substituted by a golf ball.
Returns were faster, even less predictable and could "gie ye a sair yin"
The fact that golf balls and tennis bats are not all that compatible added to the speed and mayhem. These fellys were flying at you at some lick from aw angles.
An array of protective helmets were then introduced giving the game an even more surreal quality. If I recall they ranged from pots, cardboard boxes with eye holes, a light blue 60's puddingbowl style motorcycle helmet with leather ear flaps, all the way through to a WW2 ARP helmet. What a braw laugh we had. A real "Oor Wullie" moment

Now there were not a lot of cars around the High Wall in the early 70's but the owners of the few vehicles parked in a 50 yard radius of the Stepball arena started to get a bit humpty about the sound of golfball against metal.
They were always met with innocent looks and protestations of "No mister we never hit your car"

Eventually Stepball was hounded out due to the narrow-mindedness of a tiny minority of selfish motorists. Shame cos it was a barry game and could have caught on globally.

Animals of the High Wall #4

The Toad, in this case Gunga Din, was a common High Wall animal that after being taken from his natural habitat at Dunsapie loch, was introduced into the High Wall area. On finding that he was not really taken with the idea it was decided that he should be taken back to where he was found.
The problem was it was quite late and nobody could be bothered going all the way back to Dunsapie Loch. The younger members of the High wall community were told that Gunga Din would not survive the night and that it would be a much better idea to put him out of his misery.
So it was that the fish hammer was used to release him from this world and his mortal remains ended up in the notorious Black Cat tin.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Animals of the High Wall #3 The 10p White Mouse

These were not technically indigenous to the High Wall but were a species imported from a tiny wee petshop on Fleshmarket Close.

They cost 10p and were great companions who lived out their short lives in the pockets of snorkel parkas. Given that there was no way we would be allowed these in the house (High Wall tenaments having their own supply of mice back in the day) alternative accommodation had to be found. Alas most of them did not survive the night in a badly ventilated black cat tobacco tin or tupperware prison. Most froze, overheated, starved or dehydrated. This invariably led to an autopsy to establish cause of death and a Viking style cremation ritual.

Luckily they were plentyful and cheap.

Thinking back on it they were really not meant to be pets and were stocked mainly as live food for better quality pets such as snakes.

So maybe they had a happier few days being played with and pishing and shiteing in the lining of a parka, than they would have had being eaten alive by a snake.

Mind you, that is only because we didnae own any snakes !!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Animals of the High Wall #2

I know that this does not come under the category of animal normaly but who cares, the good old Devils Coach Horse. A description of which follows.

The devil's coach-horse beetle ("Ocypus olens") is a very common and widespread European beetle, belonging to the large family of the Rove beetles (Staphylinidae). It was originally named "Staphylinus olens" in 1764, and some authors and biologists still use this older name. The species has also been introduced to the Americas and parts of Australasia.

This black beetle usually shelters during the day under stones, logs or leaf litter. It is most often seen in forests, parks and gardens between April and October.

I, we found it under stone alright usually behind Alec Bissit's back windae. hey were never very chuffed to see us coming because they knew that the boys were on the hunt for coachers. They had a wierd smell about them that remained on the hands even after the slaughter. They could be used to fight against each other or just killed outright. I don't think we have done much for our Karma in this department. The coachers did offer hours of childhood exitement and should not be fogotten.