Ayrshire accent: Janet recalls childhood games of the 1920s



This recording is an example of an Ayrshire accent.

Playground language

The game Janet here calls peevers or beds is clearly a variation on the traditional game known in many parts of the UK as ‘hopscotch’. Pioneering research by Peter and Iona Opie in the 1950s and 1960s unearthed an enormous range of regional names for hopscotch, including peevers, pallie, pickie, pickstone, London to York, beds, beddy, hoppy-beds, hecky, hitchy-bay, hitchy-dabber and hitchy-pot, all of which demonstrates that playground language is a fascinating area of linguistic study.

The creativity and imagination involved in the games is reflected in the rich variety of terms and phrases associated with them, from skipping rhymes, clapping songs, tongue-twisters, jokes and riddles to truce terms, ball games and chasing games. The playground community is by its very nature made up of young speakers who spend a great deal of time together and develop a common vocabulary isolated from speakers in other parts of the country. This often perpetuates the names and phrases used in games that have been passed down across several generations.

Janet also mentions a number of other traditional pursuits, such as marbles, which she calls boolsgird (or gurr) and cleek – a home-made variation on such pastimes as ‘whips and tops’ or ‘hoops’ – skipping and games with horse chestnuts, commonly known among children nowadays as ‘conkers’. The Opies discovered a number of regional terms to refer to marbles, such as marlies, mabs, marbs, marries, miggies, muggles, bools, chonk and taws as well as numerous names for specific marbles games, including bobs along, knock along, longy, dobby, itsey, keggy, chasie, clicksy, hitty three times, sticky follow and straightsies.

Enduring traditions

Although games such as marbles and conkers are no longer as popular as with previous generations, many traditional songs and games remain part of mainstream child lore. Contrary to popular belief, children still play impromptu hiding and chasing games in playgrounds, parks and streets, and young children spontaneously break into action songs, ring games and skipping or clapping songs the length and breadth of the country. These traditional games always were and indeed still are adapted to incorporate local rules and quirks and thus require local terminology. Even the simplest game of ‘chase’ has a number of different names depending on which part of the UK we live in – these names include it, tig, tag or tiggy. Similarly, the incredible range of verbal innovation and wordplay involved in the counting-out rhymes used to decide who is ‘it’ is a tribute to children’s linguistic creativity. A brief survey of regional ‘truce terms’ – the practice of saying a word or phrase (such as barley, scribs, fainites, pax, skinchies, cross keys and full stop) while crossing our fingers to indicate we are briefly withdrawing from a game – demonstrates how rich an area of research this is for anyone interested in the areas of language variation or language play.

About the speaker

Janet McConnachie (female, painter & decorator)



Interviewer: But what, what do you remember playing as a child?

Janet: As a child? Eh, skipping ropes.

Interviewer: Oh yeah?

Janet: Eh, peevers, eh.

Interviewer: What sorry?

Janet: Peevers, you know, wi, with the 'beds' we called it: you dr, you, you chalked out the beds on the, on the ground. Eh, I don't know what they call them now, but you know, it's a, it's a, it was on old polish tin filled with dirt to make it heavy, you know, and you did, you did it with your foot from square to square. Have you never seen it? No? Well, it was called 'beds', so it was squares, like, you had a, a square, then it went out like that and, like an aeroplane and a, a wee square and another big one and a circle at the top. And the aim was to get to the circle without your landing your polish tin on the line, you know, you, you did it on one, hopped on one foot. So it was called one, two, three, four, five, six up to the circle. You've never seen it?

Interviewer: No.

Janet: Well, you need to come to Waterside for a day; we'll let you see it there.

Interviewer: What was it called again?

Janet: We called it 'beds', but it w, 'peevers', eh, some people called it 'peevers', but these things, these things had a, what would I say, kind of season: there was a season when the skipping ropes were all the go. When I talk about skipping ropes, each girl, that was a great thing to have your own skipping ropes, but there was also the longer length of rope, where ea, you know, a girl at each end and, and the other girls jumping in - two in, two out, two in, two out - eh, then you got the per, the person who had the rope in hand got relieved and she got a shot at jumping out and in.

Interviewer: And did you sing?

Janet: And, and there was songs, you know, there was, there was

Interviewer: Do you remember any of them?

Janet: Aye, there was one about the school – 'Doctor Brown' – no about the doctor, 'Doctor Brown is a very good man' or was it the school? And he was, 'Mister Brown is a very good man; he teaches children all he can; first tae write and then tae read' – is it first is it to write – I can't rememember the last line. But you chanted that and skipped through, eh, turned, went on, come back in the other side. But there was quite a few, eh, I think, songs of that time that you could sing any sort of song to the rhythm of getting into the, to the rope. And, and, eh, they seemed to go in season, just the same as for the boys, eh, with the marbles. The boys played at marbles and, you know, they drew a ring on the, and, and, uhm, a boy's 'bool-bag' as it was called – they called it 'bools' – a boy's bool-bag was his pride and joy. Eh, and then if he could win some off the other boys so much the better. Eh, he would be looked on as the champion of the bools. Eh, then came the chestnut time for the boys. These are things that you don't, children nowadays miss out greatly on that, because you seldom see children, you never see children playing bools; that would be, well, it hasn't got a, it hasn't got a, you know, a handle to click back and forth, so, eh, like the television. But the kids miss a lot by not; when these games all died away, children, had, they don't have the same memories of playing outside. Eh, gurrs, a gurr and cleek, which was a great thing. You know what I mean when I say as a gird? Eh, it was a piece of metal, circular piece of metal with a, a cleek, you know, and you, a boy could, you could run with the gurr, with the gurr and cleek. You don't know? No? Well, the gurr and cleek was another, a boy's great possession. Eh, to this day my broth, my brother who live, he lives quite near me here, he has his scutcher, which was the bigger, you know, he, the big boys had a scutcher, so my brother drew still with his scutcher and cleek: now very much a relic of bygone days; people will ask him what it is.

Interviewer: Where did you get them from?

Janet: No, they were, they were made. They, they, they, we had a brother who was a blacksmith; we were very lucky. So he kept the fam, the, the other boys in a supply of gurrs and cleeks. Eh, these are in the, the, in the local museum you can see the gurr and cleek.

Ayrshire accent: Janet recalls childhood games of the 1920s
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