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Backwords: Whips And Tops

…Long before we young lads reached an age where girls dominated our thoughts, spring sunshine heralded the rebirth of other outdoor fun and games…

Mike Shaw recalls the days of whips and tops, marbles and hoops.

Get out the whip and top. And I reckon it’s just about time to launch the marbles season as well.

According to the poet, when spring is here a young man’s fancy turns to love.

But long before we young lads reached an age where girls dominated our thoughts, spring sunshine heralded the rebirth of other outdoor fun and games.

Whips were checked to make sure that the leather or string had not rotted in the toy cupboard in the winter.

And the top of the top was sure to need its coloured circles renewing with the chalks kept in an old tobacco tin.

What needed reviving even more, of course, was the knack of getting the top to spin so swiftly on its sharp end that the circles whizzed round like a revolving rainbow.

The lack of practice inevitably proved a test of patience in the early season lashings until, as the weather warmed, so did the old art of top spinning.

Marble rolling was much easier to recapture, although there was usually a totally different problem to overcome.

It was remarkable how, every winter, many people - to coin a phrase - lost their marbles, or at least some of them. And so the hunt began for replacements, especially for the much-prized blood alleys.

Hopscotch also saw a revival as the lighter evenings arrived, but there were fewer obstacles to that particular resurrection. After all a piece of chalk and a smooth stone or piece of slate were all that was required.

Believe it or not, I’m old enough to remember even the ancient game of hoop-bowling. But only just.

Nowadays it’s a pastime seen only in books dating back around a hundred years or in black and white films made before the last world war.

When I was a youngster we had a couple of the iron hoops, along with a small hook to keep them rolling, hanging on the gable end of the house.

But the game had already gone out of fashion by then, and I can’t honestly say that I remember more than a very few children hooping it up as a previous generation did in such large numbers.

It always struck me as an astonishing phenomenon that as if by instinct boys and girls suddenly appeared with whips and tops at this time of year.

Try as I might in later years, I could never find anyone who admitted to being the first of the season to produce these harbingers of Spring.

It was a betting certainty however that in no time at all he or she would be joined by hordes of others eager to prove how long they could keep their top spinning.

So far as I am concerned it remains a mystery, except to surmise that it must be a part of nature. Just as hibernating squirrels pop out along with the crocuses at the end of Winter.

Like the rolling hoops before them, whips and tops are on their way out.

It’s all too primitive I suppose for the computer whizzkids of today.

But when they’ve deserted these simple pleasures of yesteryear what will today’s youngsters get up to when Spring is bursting out all over?


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